Whilst most people associate Scottish landscapes with mountains and glens, the coastline is equally magnificent. When it comes to beaches, there is truly an unmatched range from tiny rocky coves to majestic windswept bays of perfect shell sand. There’s really far too much to cover in just one ‘Our picks’ article, so here we look at the beaches of the West Highlands, from the Great Glen heading north to Durness. In further posts we take a look at the unmatched beaches of the Scottish islands, and the best beaches of Eastern Scotland.
Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan
The Ardnamurchan peninsula – the westernmost part of mainland Britain – has several beaches that are well worth a visit, including the Singing Sands near Kentra, but to reach the finest means heading right out to Sanna Bay near Ardnamurchan Point. The beautiful shell sand here is fringed by rocks and dunes, and offers great views out towards the Small Isles on a clear day. Look out for dolphins and whales too!
Port nam Murrach, Arisaig
Continuing round the coast, the beaches at Smirisary and at Peanmeanach both have abandoned villages that are a worth a visit, but our next pick is Port nam Murrach, an isolated couple of sandy coves that make an excellent family walk for anyone staying at Arisaig.
Camasdarach beach, Morar
North of Arisaig the coastline has a whole string of simply stunning beaches. Camasdarach Beach is deservedly the best known, where dunes lead down to a simply stunning sweep of sand with unmatched views out to the Isles of Rum and Eigg. The beach featured in the classic 80s film Local Hero.
Bourblach beach, near Morar
If Camasdarach is too busy for you, take a walk round the north side of the bay at Morar to reach the series of smaller but equally picturesque beaches beyond Bourblach.
Heading north once more, there is a tiny coral beach near picturesque Plockton, but it is on the Applecross peninsula that the large sandy beaches begin once more. The photo above shows Applecross Beach itself, but there is also a wonderful beach at Sand to the north, a pair of Coral beaches, and a little visited stretch of sand at Cuaig.
Gaineamh Mhor, Gairloch
We’re now into another of the west coast’s ‘beach hotspots’ – the area around the village of Gairloch. Gaineamh Mhor lies just south of the village, and has a unspoilt backdrop to the Torridon mountains. There is another equally fine beach at Sand on the road towards Melvaig, whereas the dramatic beach of Camas Mor – backed by cliffs – can be hiked by the more adventurous.
The picturesque Gruinard Bay may seem like a perfect escape from the world, but the island offshore tells a dark story. This stunningly beautiful place was used to test the effectiveness of anthrax as a chemical weapon; the contamination made the island a no-go area until the late 1980s when it was finally decontaminated after a campaign of protests.
Achnahaird Bay, Coigach
Assynt has a string of beautiful sandy beaches, popular with holidaymakers in the summer. Achmelvich Beach offers fine white sand and turquoise waters – a perfect spot on a sunny summer’s day.
A short distance further north is Clachtoll Beach with its split rock. Like Achmelvich, Clachtoll has a caravan site alongside; a short walk from the beach leads along the coastline to the remains of a broch.
Oldshoremore Bay is the first of a whole string of beaches around the northwestern tip of Sutherland. It may seem a long way to go, but those who make the effort are well rewarded as this area has surely the best collection of beaches on the UK mainland. A short but rugged walk from here leads past three more sandy beaches – Bagh a’Phollain, Port Chaligag and Bagh Sheigra.
You didn’t think we’d omit this one, did you? Sandwood Bay may require an eight mile round-trip walk to visit, but its reputation has grown over the years and many people have claimed it to be Britain’s finest beach. More than a mile of perfect sand is backed by dunes and a loch, whilst at the southern end of the bay the great sea stack of Am Buachaille – the herdsman – guards the bay. The bay is a place of legends, with stories of hauntings and sightings of mermaids. These days it is a popular place for wild-camping – a great experience, but do remember to leave it as clean as you found it.
From Sandwood the cliffs lead on to Cape Wrath and round to Kearvaig – another stunning bay. Our next pick though is a little further east. Balnakeil Bay – seen here being enjoyed by its herd of cows – is a stunning spot, and forms part of the wonderful short walk around Faraid Head.
Our final beach in this selection is Sango Bay. There are two superb beaches here, either side of the headland on the Sango Sands campsite at Durness. The eastern beach is more accessible and is made striking by its great jagged rocks. If Sango isn’t secluded enough, there are several more stunners along the coast to the east.
Want to find out more about the sand and beaches of Scotland? Read Ben Dolphin’s fascinating account Shells, Sand and Beaches.