The Western Isles: stunning beaches in another world
The beaches of the Western Isles can rival anywhere in the world for beauty. But, as Andy Beaven found out, you take a dip at your peril!
For anyone out there scouring the world in the quest for the perfect beach, here’s my – perhaps unexpected – suggestion. Yes, it boasts a broad sweep of porcelain-white sand. And yes, the water lapping the shoreline really does shimmer a beautiful azure blue. But this hidden gem has nothing to do with the tourist hotspots of the Caribbean or the Med. Instead it can be found in a setting that is far closer to home but, in a strange way, even more exotic.
I’ve just returned from a week-long tour of the Western Isles, that long string of islands off the far north-west of Scotland that is technically part of Britain but feels entirely foreign – possibly even otherworldly.
Among the highlights of our trip were spotting a pair of eagles circling above Loch Resort near the mountains of North Harris and contemplating the mysteries of the amazing standing stones at Callanish.
But the standout feature was undoubtedly the breathtaking beaches. You see, many of the islands in the archipelago have rocky east coasts that are studded with deep, fjord-like bays. These are the rocky wastelands that were chosen as a stand-in for the barren planet Jupiter in the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In contrast, the western shores have been smoothed by the Atlantic to create mile after mile of glorious level sands. My favourite was Traigh na Beirigh near Bhaltos in the north-west of Lewis where the crofting community, whose families have long eked a living from the fickle sea and the hard ground, have set up a campsite – a wonderful place to pitch a tent and watch the sun go down.
We camped beside the machair, which is a unique feature of the Western Isles – a type of meadow on the seashore that becomes a riot of colour as wild flowers bloom in June and July – then spent a fabulous couple of days exploring the shoreline, scrambling over rocks, peering into rockpools, gazing inland to the jagged hills and, most of all, relishing the purity of the air and the astonishing clarity of the light. And thanks to Jennie’s efforts at early morning fishing we feasted on fresh fish for breakfast! Later, we waded in for a brief swim at Luskentyre, another beach that could easily compete for the title of Britain’s best.
Even though the turquoise water looks positively enticing and is – allegedly – warmed by the Gulf Stream, it remains heart-stoppingly cold. You have been warned!
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