Perched 40 miles off the north-west coast of Scotland, on roughly the same latitude as Newfoundland, the chain of islands clings along the edge of Scotland, battered by winds charging across the Atlantic.
There are no resorts or hordes of tourists; you are more likely to be joined in the water by seals than people and camping on the sand is allowed. Just don’t expect hot showers. Or lifeguards. Here’s where’s good for what…
1. Skinny-dipping: Traigh Iar, North Uist
No costume necessary, only your birthday suit. This is one of the finest beaches on North Uist; a 4km stretch of pristine white sand backed by high dunes looking across the ocean where herring gulls dive to catch their lunch. If you swim naked it will likely go unnoticed; this is a remote spot for adventurous swimmers. Once you’ve experienced liberation from your clothes, be warned; you might not want to put them on again.
2. Barbecues: Clachan Sands, North Uist
Cook over coals while gazing across the Atlantic. After an invigorating swim, there is little to beat barbecuing with a view across meadow-backed beach and the ocean, which stretches endlessly to the west. Keep your eyes peeled for sea eagles or visit the old cemetery where lichen-covered headstones lean precariously and the epitaphs of long-dead islanders are barely legible.
3. Beach Camping: Traigh Siar, Vatersay
Paddle at sunset and wake up with a splash. On the most southerly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides chain there are two windswept beaches divided by a thin neck of land. The west beach is reached across machair (meadow), which in summer is flecked with wild flowers. Bodysurf until you get cold, then pitch your tent and warm up with a driftwood fire. Pause for thought at the memorial on the dunes; the Annie Jane sank here in 1853 with the loss of 350 lives.
4. Sea Food: Brenish Bay, Isle of Lewis
Cook a sea food feast at this cosy cove. Buy some hand-dived scallops from nearby Miavaig (if you’re not squeamish you can shuck them yourself) and head to this yellow sand beach on the west coast of Lewis where rock pools glint among seaweed-covered boulders. The road runs right next to the bay, which is sometimes guarded by formidably-horned highland cows. There is a small island that can be reached from this beach; a challenge only for very strong swimmers.
5. Sunset Views: Luskentyre Bay, Isle of Harris
The perfect west-facing beach for a sundowner. Luskentyre enjoys huge views across the bay towards the island of Taransay, made famous by the BBC reality show Castaway. The best spot for swimming is the beach at the westerly edge of the estuary where the sand is soft and the water clear. Keep your camera handy on fine nights as the sun sets the sky ablaze.
Images supplied by Olly Davy