Sifting Through Western Sutherland’s Beaches

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Achmelvich Beach, Sutherland, Scotland

Scotland’s northwestern coastline is studded with pristine strips of white and red sand beaches. More often than not you’ll find yourself alone with the wind, waves, and gulls with nothing to remind you of the current era. As with so many places in Scotland, hiring a car and exploring into Sutherland’s nooks and crannies yields treasures you’ll never lose and which take up no room in your luggage. These off-the-off-the-beaten-path beaches blossom under the onslaught of north Atlantic waves amidst incredibly ancient cliffs falling into crystal-clear waters. The beaches in this post are for solitude seekers and adherents to inner philosophies, for even a short while among the wind and waves is enough to clasp the unnameable that makes Scotland so special.

In the stretch of Sutherland from the Summer Isles north to Durness and then east to Loch Eriboll, Achmelvich Beach was the first beach to capture my gaze. Down a very narrow track just off the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland, Achmelvich Beach is a swath of beautiful white sand clutched between cliffs. The visual alone has an almost tropical feel, but visiting in June was quite windy and chilly. I tucked my sunglasses under my woolen cap and jammed numb hands in my coat pockets as locals lounged in swimsuits and splashed amongst the waves. There are actually several small beaches clustered together here, and as a whole they represent one of Scotland’s most beautiful beachscapes.

Continuing up the northwestern coastline past Kylesku and Handa Island, Oldshoremore Beach lies a mile or so beyond Kinlochbervie. Following the boardwalk through grassy dunes leads to a calm arc of red-white sand interspersed with reddish boulders. There are actually a pair of beaches here, and in the sun the water takes on a glittering greenish hue.

Just a bit further north lies a beach that requires a 4-mile hike to reach and is considered by many to be the UK’s most beautiful beach. Sandwood Bay Beach, a mile and a half stretch of faintly pink sand, clings to the coast south of Cape Wrath and girds Loch Sandwood from the punishing north Atlantic. With sea stacks, boulders, and great sand dunes, Sandwood Bay Beach presents an attractive destination to get away from it all. As isolated as it is, Sandwood Bay Beach has accumulated many myths and legends, including the sighting of a beautiful Mermaid as recently as the turn of the 19th century. Historically, vikings used Sandwood Bay Beach as a stopping point south on the raids into the western isles and Ireland. Perhaps the best thing about Sandwood Bay Beach is that the effort required to get here means only the most dedicated of beach bums will find their way to this sandy paradise.

Just a short way east around the horn of Cape Wrath lies Kearvaig Beach, a ruddy sand beach tucked between cliffs facing the North Sea. Kearvaig is certainly the lowest profile of the beaches on this list, and yet it possesses of the most beautiful mountain bothies you’ll find anywhere in Scotland just back from the beach. In the sunlight Kearvaig Beach turns a rich golden color, and in poor weather it’s a dark and tempestuous place.

Pushing east leads to a trio of beaches: The long finger of Balnakeil Bay, Sango Sands, and Ceannabeinne Beach. Each of these beaches lies just off the A838 and are very easy to reach compared to the beaches mentioned earlier in this post. Extremely rocky, green sward falls over brown cliffs to fine sand and icy blue waters.

The beaches continue east of Loch Eriboll, but this handful represents some of my favorites along the North Coast 500. This is wilderness, and if you’re hiking out here remember to take the proper precautions: Clothing and footwear, food and water, and navigation aids like a map and compass. Please be careful. Then enjoy some of Scotland’s most meditative spaces.

Original photos of Sandwood Bay Beach by arg_flickr, Kearvaig Beach by jakubsolovsky, and Oldshoremore Beach by igcameron via Creative Commons.

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