Scotland is blessed with over 10,000 miles of coastline. It is extremely varied with sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, nature reserves, mud flats, and sheltered natural harbours. Every part of the country has its own distinctive geography and coastal attractions but which coast is best?
The south coast of Scotland along the Solway firth is often overlooked by holidaymakers. This is one of the advantages of a visit as the area retains its peaceful period charm without the hustle and bustle of more popular spots. A string of villages and beaches ring this, the third largest estuary in the UK which is also a Special Area of Conservation that comprises coastal dunes, salt marshes, raised mires as well as agricultural land. RSPB Mersehead reserve is where thousands of barnacle and pink-footed geese arrive in autumn and stay until spring and from the coast. This coastline also has its fair share of stunning beaches like Sandyhills Bay, where the sea looks like a distant mirage when the tide goes out making it great for rockpooling and paddling. The smugglers village of Auchencairn is a typically picturesque spot with whitewashed stone cottages, views across the bay to Hestan island and great beachcombing on the rocky shoreline. Craigie Knowes is a stunningly refurbished Victorian villa that sits right on the shore at Rockcliffe. The sea-facing conservatory affords views over to the National Trust owned Rough Island and this property is perfect for groups of up to 10 who want a tranquil coastal location, but still within easy reach of amenities.
One of the most famous coastal walks in the country is the Fife Coastal Path. Over its 117 miles it passes a remarkable number of historical sights and some of the most famous golf courses in the world. This part of Scotland has it all, from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of St. Andrews to the small fishing villages of the East Neuk. Here you can experience everything from award winning fish and chips to Michelin starred cuisine, from artisan coffee shops to gin distilleries, surfing, biking and hiking. The beach at St Andrews is one of the most famous in Scotland, partially due to its appearance in Chariots of Fire but it is also brilliant for family days out. For those who would like a different challenge, the unique chain walk at Elie, where in Victorian times chains were fixed to the rocks to enable to access some of the spectacular sea cliffs, is a must. (It’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds). Balfour House is a modern apartment located inside a beautiful Georgian building in St Andrews. Everything in the town is easily accessible by foot from here - the perfect weekend getaway for couples or golfers.
The first thing that springs to mind when you think of the north coast is the driving route that goes all the way round it but there is so much to see and do here that you can run the risk of motoring straight past it. This coastline is best explored slowly, on two feet or by bike and a great example of this is Cape Wrath with its sea stacks, cliff top lighthouse and nearby Sandwood Bay, which cannot be accessed by car. Further along the coast you can take a boat trip inside Smoo caves and find some of the best surfing spots in the country. There are iconic photo opportunities at John o’ Groats, hidden harbours to find, isolated beaches, puffin colonies at Dunnett head and the striking Castle Sinclair Girnigoe which sits atop a sea cliff like something out of Game of Thrones. Lybster is a charmingly old-fashioned fishing village with a traditional inn that sits right on the route of the NC500. Hill House is in the centre, just a short walk to the historic harbour that was once one of the busiest in the country. This is a comfortable family house and is a fabulous base for exploring round the far north coast.
Islands and endless white sandy beaches are the main draws of the west. It’s a dramatic coastline best explored from the water - by sea kayak or sail boat or alternatively viewed from the comfort of a Calmac ferry. You can have miles of dunes and sandy shores to yourself and the azure waters are as inviting as anywhere in the world. Dive in, swim, snorkel or skinny dip and then watch the sun set as you look out towards the horizon knowing if you venture any further west the next stop is America. Shellfish safaris, fishing, fresh seafood, and boat trips to remote uninhabited islands are just some of the other draws here. Culkein Lodge sits by itself on the edge of the sea in a quiet highland bay. It’s a place to retreat to and get away from it all. Go for a moonlight swim from just outside the front door then dry off in front of the wood burner, it’s a holiday experience that is a great blend of old fashioned charm and modern luxury.