Swimming on Scotland’s beaches

Stacey McGowan Holloway picks her top wild swimming spots from Scotland’s coast and islands, as featured in her guide book The Beaches of Scotland

West Beach, Berneray

West Beach is an all-time favourite beach, with kilometres of sandy perfection. This beach is so picturesque that the Thai tourist board once used images of it to advertise their own beaches. Come to the small outer Hebridean island beach to swim in azure waters, admire the white sand and gaze out to the mountains of Harris and Lewis looming in the background, this isn’t a beach to be missed.

Irvine Beach, Ayrshire

Irvine Beach is a beautiful, long stretch of sandy beach. It is very clean, with lots of bins and an electronic sign with daily water quality information for swimmers during the summer. However, the beach highlight is the mighty Stone Dragon perched high on the sand dunes overlooking the sea and is said to be guarding the coastline from future Viking invasions.

Traigh a Bhaigh, Vatersay

The far-flung island of Vatersay offers some truly breathtaking, golden-sand beaches, the jewel of which is the tombolo beaches of Traigh Shiar and Traigh a Bhaigh, offering both waves and shelter. After passing through the much-photographed gate leading to the east-facing Traigh a Bhaigh, you can take a wild swim or even sunbathe in this sheltered bay and marvel at the clear, turquoise water.

Twin beaches, Isle of Gigha

Travel to the small community owned island of Gigha just off the west coast of Kintyre and discover a mini oasis. The Twin Beaches are linked by a tombolo. The north beach is one of the most stunning open water swim spots with absolutely clear waters, white sands dotted with white and silver shells.

Ganavan Sands, Oban

Of the beaches in Oban, Ganavan Sands is the one to visit and one of the best for families. A gently sloping, wide, sheltered, sandy beach with large car park and a slipway, this is a busy location but never feels crowded, and is also a safe place for children to swim. The perfect place to take in the views of the isles of Lismore and Mull as well as the Morven peninsula. Ganavan Sands is a SEPA-monitored beach rated excellent every year, making it a popular local swim spot for the wild swimmers. Why not join the locals who swim after the Ganavan sands parkrun on a Saturday.

Portobello, Edinburgh

Located a few miles from Edinburgh city centre, Portobello is a charming seaside suburb with three kilometres of award-winning, sandy beach. This is a vibrant beach full of people and families having fun and lined by a bustling promenade. This beach is one of my top swimming beaches as it is such a popular swimming spot for wild swimmers, with several meet ups and swim events you can join.

The Beaches of Scotland, a selected guide to over 150 of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches, is available to order at Adventure Books. This story was originally published in the April 2022 ‘Swim Strong’ issue of Outdoor Swimmer. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.