9 Great Beaches on Scotland's Adventure Coast by Robin McKelvie

Top beaches to visit

I’ve got a message to anyone hefting off to the Outer Hebrides in search of world-class beaches. Ease off to Argyll and Bute instead! Out west the beaches are truly breath-taking. And they come without the crowds, unless you count seabirds and seals. When the sun is out there is plenty of space to unfurl your towel, and even when it’s not sunny they are always dramatic. The beaches in this spectacular part of Scotland come set amidst a mountain-fringed backdrop that is unfailingly dramatic.

Ostel Bay

Ostel Bay, Credit: Wild about Argyll

We ease off with an absolute stunner. Ostel Bay, or Kilbride Bay Beach as it’s also known, takes a bit of effort to get to as it’s wedged right down on the southern fringes of the Cowal Peninsula. It’s a yomp from Kilbride Farm, where there is a wee café, but limited parking. It’s well worth it as this arc of sand opens up in front of you. Cowal borrows the drama of the Arran Hills across the water, with the hills of Kintyre brooding too out west. I brought my niece Erin here and she squealed with delight on spotting the beach and got in the water as fast as she could; it’s that sort of spirit-soaring beach.

Ganavan Sands

History and sand combine to make this beach two miles north of Oban a charmer. It reclines near ivy-covered Dunollie Castle, the quintessential Argyll fortress that peers out over the Atlantic, guarding the approaches to Oban Bay. You can drive from Oban, but I recommend cutting the carbon and walking or cycling. Paddle or swim around the area, with views out to the wee isle of Lismore and to Mull; paddle boarding is popular here too.

Kayaking from Ganavan, Credit: Wild about Argyll

Shell Beach

This compact gem is a bit of local secret on the very north of the Kintyre Peninsula on the banks of Scotland’s longest sea loch, Loch Fyne. This bijou beach is made up of crushed clam and scallop shells, a legacy of the factory that used to process them. The shells help to give the water real clarity and it looks great when the sun strikes through. It lies at the end of Pier Road – best not to bring a car as it’s not easy parking at this small oasis. It’s a wee scramble to the beach.

Westport Beach

You could ease by on the new Kintyre 66 long distance driving route towards Campbeltown without even realising that this gorgeous beach is here. I almost did, but it was a glorious day and its sands beckoned me. There is parking for the locals who come here to paddle and take their dogs for a walk. The sand is pristine and dazzles against the cobalt Atlantic. If the surf is up I wouldn’t advise getting in the water, but it is truly spectacular seeing the power of the Atlantic.

Westport beach in Kintyre, Credit: Robin McKelvie

Ettrick Bay

It’s over to the Isle of Bute now and another beach close to my heart. When I was a kid we used to come here to paddle, splash around and head for the old tearoom. That tearoom still peers over the wide sands and it’s changed little over the years: they still do a mean milkshake, and a variety of snacks and full meals. They are also wooden glamping pods to sleep over at. A great way to get here is hiring an e-bike and cycling out from Port Bannatyne on the route of the old tramway – you can also stroll out here too.

Views of Ettrick Bay, Credit: Wild about Argyll

Macrihanish

Further down the Kintyre Peninsula unfurls this sinewy white sand oasis. This was much-loved by my late mum and I can hear her favourite song, Amazing Grace, when I wander the sands under big skies gazing at the Atlantic, next stop America. It’s a dreamily romantic spot, the sort of scenery that inspired Paul McCartney’s ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Macrihanish is a golfers’ delight too with world-famous course and is one of the few Scottish beaches you can fly to - Campbeltown’s airport is out at Macrihanish.

Calgary Bay

This is the sort of beach you see in glossy brochures and presume it cannot possibly be real, thinking that they’ve touched up the photos to hook people in. Well the ocean really is that blue and the sands really are starched white here at Calgary Bay on Mull. It’s got the serious wow factor and I love that you can camp here for free. A great place to spend a whole day relaxing by the sands with benches on hand.

Calgary Bay on Mull, Credit: Robin McKelvie

Machir Bay

Islay’s finest is a windblown natural amphitheatre. Descend from the Kilchoman Distillery and the vast dunes and low hills give way to a massive beach-kissed bay. You can walk, run or leap along with an almost infinite amount of space. Look out at low tide for shipwreck wedged fast in the sands.

Machir Bay on Islay, Credit: Robin McKelvie

Coll

I’m cheating a bit as I’m plumping for the whole island! The Isle of Coll really is up there with Harris for its epic beaches and that is high praise indeed. I’ve never quite been able to pin down exactly how many sandy beaches Coll sports. The most common figure I’ve heard is 23, but ask in the bar at the Coll Hotel and the chances are that you’ll hear various figures banded about. Everyone has their own favourite white sand wonder. I recommend taking a bike out and just stopping off in the dunes whenever you can sight of a beach that tempts.

Find out more about things to See & Do in Argyll and the Isles!