The Western Isles, or Outer Hebrides have to have some of the finest beaches in the UK. If you stumble upon this page it's more about the sand than the areas or photography. Others linked from the bottom of the page have more photography of the islands. Like other Hebridean pages I apologise for mixing up Gaelic names with the Anglicised versions. Modern maps use Gaelic names, but it wasn't long ago that anglicised ones were used.
Across from Castlebay (Bàgh a' Chaisteil) on Barra these three smallish beaches have some of the purest white sand I've seen. Quite remote, but the local dog may accompany you on a walk. But he may embarrass you by doing a spot of sheep hassling, so you hope no one is around who may think it belongs to you.
Fences keep the cattle off the beach these days so it's quite difficult to find your way onto the beach unless you start at one end or the other, which is advisable. There's a community run café at the Northern end, in the village hall.
The other side of the tombolo is the Western beach (Tràigh Siar), which faces 3000 miles to America. Best reached from the North end, it's wilder than the last two beaches, and the sand's not so white.
Allathasdal beach is reached across a large area of machair and looks out over rocky islands teaming with oystercatchers, seals and the like. Hardly a pretty 'resort' beach but it's wonderful for feeling at one with nature.
A few hundred hundred metres west of Barra Airport across the tombolo, this 2km stretch of sand is a quiet haven away from the hustle and bustle of Barra's much derided Terminal Seven.
This is a lovely beach that can make you feel you're alone in the world, in the nicest possible way. The whole bay becomes beach at low tide. When dry, the sand is almost pure white, but sand exposed at low tide is more like halva - I wouldn't recommend eating it though. Just sit there and eat the view
Facing North towards Eriskay and South Uist this beach curves round to reach Tràigh Scurrival (above).
Tràigh Mhòr is the only airport for the whole of Barra. Expect jumbo jets every two minutes, busy eight lane motorways jammed solid with stationary cars, endless pedestrian subways that seem to go round in circles leading you into a kerosene swamped hell of rampant commercialism, regulations, officialdom and mile long check-in queues that don't move. But, then again, you may be pleasantly surprised.
This is the bay that Bonnie Prince Charles arrived in Scotland in 1745. It's now next to the ferry terminal for Barra, but the small "Isle of Wight" style ferries that chug in and out every couple of hours are a pleasant distraction rather than a nuisance.
South Uist/ Uibhist a Deas
Behind the dunes is a historic golf course, laid out about 130 years ago and then 'lost' from the 1920s until local people recreated it from 2005. The beach is difficult to lose as what is basically the same beach stetches for about 20 miles, right the way up the West coast of South Uist. It has lots of high tide seaweed trails, but is probably one of the longest beaches you're ever likely to have to yourself.
North Uist/ Uibhist a Tuath
Twice I've been to the RSPB reserve here and twice I've seen a corncrake. You can hear them all over the place in parts of Western Scotland but it's difficult to see one. The beach is a beautiful curved bay of 180 degrees that forms a lovely enclosed arena. There's Rockall between here and America, as long as you travel due west for a couple of hundred miles.
Here begins a walk on the Udal peninsula that seemed like it was through paradise to me, with one beach after another separated by headlands of dunes leading out to rocky outcrops. Tràigh Iar is about two miles long but looks like it goes on forever, because of its continuation to the island of Vallay
The Udal beach is on the left of the photo, while the one on the right is Tràigh Iar (see below). Behind are yet more small beaches, each coming as a surprise.
Not to be confused with Tràigh Iar, this is Tràigh Ear (East, "Iar" being West). The beach fills up the bay at low tide, and once a year plays host to the Sollas Fly In of light aircraft. The views across to Harris are stunning.
Another 'infinite' beach, this seems to stretch the four miles to the Udal peninsula. Never very much chance of seeing anyone else on it.
Just over a headland from Hòrnais this beach is shorter but has some shelter from South Westerly winds. In a June gale in 2015 it felt almost spring like.
This is the beach that the Thai tourist board (or more likely someone in the UK working for them on contract) famously thought would pass for a beach in Thailand. Not surprising really! Until you try to take your kagoul off or dip a toe in the water.
Baile is Gaelic for a settlement or town and this beach is fairly close to the village. There's a few houses nearby, but more camper vans on the dunes behind.
Ceann a Deas na Hearadh - South Harris
Two beaches face south west from near Northton (Taobh Tuath). Terns nest on the sand on this further one and will let you know if you get too close. Best to respect them, and that it's their beach more than yours.
The sand at Scarasta is different to most other beaches in the area, being a golden rather than silver colour. The beach faces all directions and one part encloses a large lake just south of Northton that looks like it's part of the sea. A great place to stroll and explore.
If I could go back to primary school it would be to here. The school is behind the dunes and the other views are of Luskentyre beach and the Harris Hills.
Luskentyre is more of a filled up estuary than a beach in the normal sense of the word. The river and tides sort the sand into darker and lighter areas, and I doubt it ever looks the same twice. Most of it can be walked on but it would be tricky to walk across, as the estuary river is quite large.
Rosamol is the northern part of Luskentyre's beaches and faces Taransay and the Hills of Harris. It comes complete with its own graveyard and enormous dunes. Reached down a small path by a river, or from round the corner from Luskentyre you feel you've really arrived when you get there.
© Gordon Stokes, 2001-15