Updated on September 21st, 2023
Would you be interested in a hike which delivers the most beautiful and isolated beach in Scotland? One that can only be reached on foot? How about with abundant heather, peat bogs, sand dunes and peppered with lochs along the way? Even a haunted ruin? The Sandwood Bay walk delivers all of this, with 2 miles of pristine pink sand and a spectacular sea stack to reward you at the end! And what if I told you, you may have it all to yourself? Read on for everything you need to know…”
Sandwood Bay, North West Scotland
After a road trip discovering the best of the Highlands of Scotland last year, I left with a fire in my belly to return. On that trip, I explored castles, swam in lochs, ventured to stunning islands, hiked for miles & even took a ride on the iconic Harry Potter train.
During my research, I had discovered the North Coast 500 drive, a northerly round trip starting & finishing in Inverness. It is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful road trips.
I was in!
Part of my reading led me to Sandwood Bay. It sounded like the wildest & most beautiful beach on a coastline of wild & beautiful beaches! The most important thing about Sandwood Bay is that the beach takes a bit of effort to get to. You cannot drive there as it’s only accessible on foot.
As you’ll know if you’ve read my blog before, I love a hike. I have taken on several iconic walks in my time including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Inca Trail & the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador. However, I had been nurturing a sprained ankle after a fated walking trip to the Brecon Beacons in Wales. I had been focused on my recovery for 8 weeks so that I could start with the Sandwood Bay walk.
After all, where better to test how well it had healed than a 14-kilometre round trip to one of the most remote beaches in Scotland? Clearly, I never claim to have the most logical decision-making skills!”
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Exploring the North Coast 500
I have lots of posts & videos to share about my adventures on the North Coast 500 (NC 500), so please stay tuned. If you fancy following in my tyre tracks but are not able to drive yourself, then there are a couple of tours that can give you a flavour of this spectacular route. Check out these from Get Your Guide:
What can you see on the Sandwood Bay Walk?
The beach itself is of course well worth the effort to see, particularly if you love having two miles of pristine fine pink sand pretty much to yourself. But this walk has a lot more to offer as well. Sandwood Bay delivers a spectacular rock pinnacle, a haunted ruin, sand dunes, lochs, peat bogs, stepping stones & if you’re lucky, on a clear day, views of the Cape Wrath lighthouse.
What more do you need to entice you to the most isolated stretch of beach in Scotland?”
Sandwood Bay Walk – Hiking to the Most Beautiful Beach in Scotland
When to go to Sandwood Bay
Obviously, depending on your expectations, you could tackle the Sandwood Bay walk any time of year. I was there in August, in theory during the height of summer. However, on the day we had originally planned to walk, it was pouring with rain which was forecast all day. We decided to postpone. It was still cold & overcast but at least not raining.
Bear in mind everything you have read so far. We had heard it was the best beach in Scotland & our trip had already delivered some stunning, empty stretches of sand. Each one took my breath away. So, we decided that Sandwood Bay needed the best day we were able to give it (road trip schedule permitting!). I was lucky as the clouds parted to give some spectacular skies once I had arrived at the beach.
If you are expecting predictable weather & unending summer sun during any visit to Scotland, then I am afraid you are likely to be disappointed!”
Instead, be prepared for four seasons in one day. Be aware that there is no shelter either en route or at the beach. If it is raining or has been a lot before you start walking, expect mud & potentially to wade through a few puddles. Sometimes you may struggle to stay dry on the stepping stones & they could be slippery.
My final tip is that whenever in the year you decide to visit, start the walk early. I was hiking from around 10am & barely saw another soul for the whole way there. This meant on arrival, we had this stunning stretch of sand all to ourselves. We saw far more people on our hike back. In addition, the earlier you go, the easier it will be to park.
Distance: 9 miles (14 ½ km) return
Time: 4 ½ – 5 hours
The track is easy to follow & well maintained. It starts as a wide gravel path that gets narrower as you progress. Initially, it is also flat with a slight climb as you get closer to the beach. The final section is a “find your own route” through the sand dunes.
The land surrounding Sandwood Bay is owned by the John Muir Trust which is a charity devoted to preserving wild land in Scotland. It was fantastic to see some of the charity’s volunteers working on the route the day I was there. They were doing some heavy lifting, adding rocks to the path for better traction. Their efforts have made a huge difference in how easy the path is to walk & for this I thank everyone involved.
The Sandwood Bay walk starts from the Blairmore Car Park (IV27 4RU) which is free & has toilets for use before you start. There are no other facilities on the walk so make the most before you leave.
From the car park, cross the road & head over the style at the gate to start your walk. Initially, the route is through moorland before it skirts around the first of several lochs, & develops into peat bogs interspersed with heather & rocks covered in moss & lichen.
The landscapes resemble a tapestry with pops of yellow, purple & orange. Along the way this bed of colour is interrupted by small lochans, providing beautiful reflections & bursts of light in the lush green undergrowth. In the distance, the mountains rise up from the horizon.
Streams run alongside the path, stained orange from the peat it has filtered through en route.”
By the time you reach Loch a’Mhuilinn, the path becomes narrower. Where the water flows out of the loch, there are stepping stones placed to prevent you from getting wet feet (as long as there hasn’t been too much rain!).
The small lochs along the way have their own sandy beaches & the path becomes narrower & sandier as it starts to wend its way on the first climb of the day, up the slopes of gentle Druim na Buainn.
Once you reach the crest of the hill, you get the first glimpse of the bay & sea beneath you. Part of the joy of this walk is that until this point you have no indication of the fact that you are headed for the coast. To the right-hand side sits Sandwood House. It was originally built as a farmhouse in the second half of the 19th century but is now a ruin apparently haunted by a sailor who was shipwrecked here 300 years earlier from the Spanish Armada. Worth a little detour if you fancy exploring further. If you are lucky enough to have a clear day, you may be able to see Cape Wrath Lighthouse from here too.
From here the terrain changes from peat bog to grassy hills before the final stretch of sand dunes. Eventually, the dunes give way to the spectacular 2 mile stretch of pristine pink sand that is Sandwood Bay.”
What to do at Sandwood Bay beach
Arriving on the beach evokes images of Vikings landing their longboats here 1000 years ago. If you head north (right), you can explore the outcrops, created by one of the oldest rocks in the world (Lewisian gneiss). It has been on earth for a mind-blowing three billion years!
Turning left displays a view of 60m high Am Buachaille (the Shepherd), a stunning sea stack. At the northern end of the beach, you can negotiate a narrow river to climb the small ridge. From here are fantastic views back across the bay to Am Buachaille.
I chose to spend my time wandering this wild beach, enjoying the solitude, the stunning reflections on the water & getting my feet soaked!
Check out the video earlier as I failed to get my timing right when the waves were more enthusiastic than I was expecting!”
If you’re feeling (very) brave, then you may want to take a dip in the icy waters of the bay. When I was there, we also saw a few determined souls carrying their surfboards. I hope the surf was worth the effort at the end of the hike.
There is apparently a route you can take which leads you back from the cliffs above Am Buachaille. It offers fantastic views over the Sandwood Bay beach & the sea stack itself, before re-joining the main path. However, I wasn’t aware of that when I visited so took the same route back. Needless to say, it was more challenging on the return journey. Why is it you never realise how steep a slope is when you’re on the way down?
By the time we were returning there were several more people heading to the beach. All asking how much further it was & clearly it was longer than they were expecting!
Beyond the toilet block, there are no facilities at the start/end of the walk so ensure you have any snacks & refreshments with you.
As previously mentioned, you will need to dress for the weather…all of it! One thing you can expect from exploring the NC500 is that the weather can change quickly & you may regularly experience four seasons in one day.
Prepare by wearing plenty of layers. There may be puddles & slippery patches along the route & it is a long walk so I would recommend comfortable shoes or walking boots.”
I stayed for a couple of nights at the excellent Scourie Guest House which is a 30-minute drive from Blairmore Car Park. As with everywhere along the NC500, accommodation is limited & big hotels not easy to find. For this reason, I recommend you book ahead, especially during the summer months to ensure the most choice. In addition, many places will have a minimum 2-3 night stay. If you use the Search Box below, you may need to scroll out to see the full range available in the area for your dates.
I cannot recommend enough that you treat yourself after your Sandwood Bay walk to dinner at the Shorehouse Seafood Restaurant in Tarbet. It is a family-run restaurant & all the seafood is caught by the owner that day. Therefore, you will not eat any that is fresher! The views are fantastic too, looking out over the sea to Handa Island. The menu is limited, as are the tables. The restaurant closes for the night at 7pm & you will need to book ahead. The crab was the best I had sampled in Scotland (& I’d eaten a lot of amazing crabs!) & Langoustines were delicious. If my recommendation isn’t enough, the people we met at our guesthouse had dined there both nights!
I hope I have convinced you to add the Sandwood Bay walk to your itinerary, however you are exploring the very northern tip of Scotland. After all, when people tell you it’s the most beautiful & most isolated beach in Scotland, how can you resist? And stay tuned to read all about my adventures on the NC500 route over the coming weeks. I have a lot to share!
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