west coast wonders

Writing my last post, about the Gauldrons (the intriguing wee bay near Machrihanish) has made me think about all the wonderful coastal locations in the west of Scotland I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. Because my post-stroke walking abilities are rather limited, I now attempt a hill walk very, very rarely – but this has also meant that I’ve discovered the considerable pleasures of walking around glorious beaches, cliffsides, coves, and coastal paths. I find the usual ‘ten best beach’ genre somewhat anachronistic when applied to Scotland: the wind and weather means that you aren’t terribly likely to be able to lounge about in these places with your holiday reading or an ice-cream. But if you enjoy a good walk, a jolly picnic, exploring rock pools, paddling or a refreshing dip, Scotland’s west coast abounds with truly stunning spots to walk to and around while enjoying what is undoubtedly some of the best scenery and wildlife in the country. Here are ten of my all-time favourites:

1. Machir Bay

No trip to Islay is complete without a walk at Machir Bay, and this beach will always be my number one west coast wonder, simply because it is so full of happy memories for Tom and I. We camped here when we first came to Islay and, over the years, this dune-backed bay with it’s wild waters and rocky pools has seen us through many turns in the road. For some reason (which really does elude me, since Machir Bay always seems to catch the wind) we’ve also photographed several of my designs here: most ludicrously, the Birlinn blanket.

Extend your Machir Bay walk up and over the Kilchoman headland for glorious island views – and choughs!

2. Udal

If you walk out, at low tide from Grenitote in North Uist, you’ll discover a group of the most beautiful and atmospheric beaches in the Hebrides. The series of interlocking bays and dune systems around Tràigh Udal are wonderful for otter spotting and weather watching (the photograph above was taken just before a crazy hail storm blew in on us).

otters abound!

You can spend a good half day walking and gradually exploring this intriguing landscape: a longer wander up and over the dunes takes you to the old burial ground of the Macleans of Boreray (there can be few more beautifully-sited small cemeteries than this one) and (most thrillingly of all) a Neolithic round house, whose remains reveal how people have lived among the North Uist machir for over a thousand years. In April, there are larks and lapwings, in June, the machair’s alive with orchids. It’s a wonderful place.

3. Pig’s Paradise

A walk to this magical spot, where you can watch cliff-nesting birds and enjoy Colonsay’s extraordinary coastal scenery is very highly recommended. If in any doubt, read this piece – and watch Tom’s short film (below).

Pig’s Paradise

4. Mellon Udrigle

The dogs enjoy this circular, coastal walk in Wester Ross – which includes extraordinary views and a prehistoric hut circle – just as much as we do.

5. Big Strand

How far do you want to go today? 4 miles? 10 miles? Make your walk as long or short as you’d like along Islay’s breathtaking Big Strand!

6. Berneray West Beach

If your Hebridean beach idée fixe involves white sands and turquoise waters then you need look no further than Berneray’s West Beach.

Extend your walk up Beinn Shlèibhe, and around the island coastline, to enjoy Berneray’s matchless edge-of-the-world feeling! And if in any doubt, take a look at Tom’s wee film.

7. Sanna

Walk out from Portuairk, potter about from cairn to cairn, and enjoy spectacular views of the most westerly spot in mainland Scotland, Ardnamurchan point.

8. Saddell Bay

Here you’ll find a castle . . .

. . . and an evocative piece by Anthony Gormley . . .

“Grip” by Anthony Gormley, standing in the waves, with Ailsa Craig in the background

And it was here, in this glorious spot upon the Kilbrannan Sound, that Paul McCartney and Wings shot the video for Mull of Kintyre (don’t click unless you are prepared for an instant earworm!)

9. Kilbride Bay

We spent a lot of time hanging out in this lovely spot on the Cowal Peninsula when we were working on Argyll’s Secret Coast, including one memorable hogmanay. The winter light is very pleasing here, and Tom has shot many great photographs from Kilbride Bay. If you find yourself in Tighnabruaich, it’s definitely worth heading around the coast for a blowing-the-cobwebs away stroll along the beach (on some maps, Kilbride Bay is named as Bàgh Osde, or Ostell Bay).

10. Port an Obain

Like many Colonsay walks, there is just something very special about this there-and-back route.

which passes a fascinating whale sculpture (you must imagine this viewed from above)

. . . traverses the lovely landscape around Balnahard (the home of Colonsay Wool Growers) . . .

. . . before hitting this gorgeous wee spot at Port an Obain.

Pause here to enjoy your picnic and a swim before heading back!

So there’s ten of my best west coast wonders. Where are your favourite coastal walks?