Written by Bradt Travel Guides
The impact of the Gulf Stream has created the dazzling, creamy-white beaches of the Outer Hebrides. Here are some of the best sands for you to explore.
Vatersay Island is mainly made up of its beaches © Luca Quadrio, Dreamstime
In Vatersay there are really just two things to do: enjoy the back-to-back beaches and walk. The east-facing beach overlooking Vatersay Bay (Bàgh Bhatarsaigh) is as beautiful as anything you will find up or down the Outer Hebrides. Generally sheltered from any wind, the fine shell-sand runs for 650yds and slips below shallow waters that on sunny days turn a transluscent aquamarine. Show the folks back home a picture of this beach and ask them to name which Caribbean island you are visiting.
The west-facing beach, Tràigh Siar, has more pebbles but is also graceful. There is a concrete plinth overlooking Tràigh Siar in memory of the emigrant ship Annie Jane, which foundered on rocks off Vatersay in 1853, with the loss of more than 350 lives.
Hidden to the south of Vatersay is the beautiful South Beach (Bàgh a Deas), a golden beach that looks out towards Sandray. Getting there can be surprisingly fiddly, as the beach is separated from the two back-to-back beaches by Vatersay township, gates, fences and 650yds of machair. The easiest route is to step over the stile at the southern end of the east beach and walk along the wide grassy tracks between the dunes and find a gate on to the beach.
© Mark Rowe, www.markrowe.eu
Tràigh Mhòr should not be missed. In 2011, the beach topped a worldwide poll as the most spectacular place to land an aircraft, beating off the rival claims of the Nepalese runway of Lukla. Less well advertised is the fact that Tràigh Mhòr is one half of a spectacular tombolo, a rare example in the UK of back-to-back beaches that connect one island to another.
Luskentyre’s beaches are breathtaking © Kenny Lam, Visit Scotland
The beaches, seascapes and hills of Harris combine to create one of the most spectacular landscapes in the British Isles, with mile upon mile of vast sands backing on to a hinterland that can be both extraordinarily lush and austere. The centre of this natural majesty is Luskentyre (Losgaintir), a small township that has come to lend its name as an umbrella term to the succession of beaches sweeping along the southwest coast of Harris.
The first views of Luskentyre sands take your breath away. From the north, the spectacle opens up as you crest the A859 as it flicks west along a passage blasted out of otherwise impregnable Lewisian gneiss. Coming from the south the backdrop of the North Harris Hills is positively cinematic. Either way, it’s no surprise that Luskentyre is regularly cited in pantheons of the world’s great beaches.
© Laurie Campbell, www.lauriecampbell.com
Seilebost pushes into Luskentyre sands creating a beach with a beach. The dunes here can reach 12–15yds in height but change their formation with every winter storm. This spot is internationally recognised for overwintering birds such as dunlin, bar-tailed godwit and knot.
© Whiskeybottle, Dreamstime
Berneray’s West Beach is hailed by many as the best across the whole of the islands. That is some claim, given the competition, but you might just agree. The whole of the west coast is effectively one unbroken strip of glistening shell-sand. Oddly enough, while the beach is the island’s dominant feature it can take some getting to: it is located more than a mile away from Berneray’s modest population centre, can be reached by just the one road, and the back of the beach is fenced off to prevent livestock from straying, with only a few intermittent gates to allow access. Don’t be deterred though, the best way from the main east-shore road is to follow the lane inland to Borgh, which winds its way through the machair for 1½ miles to a picnic spot. From here, it is a short walk through a gate and across dunes to the beach.
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