Vast stretches of golden sand? Tick. Sunlight dancing on gently lapping waves? Tick. Rockpools teaming with aquatic life? Tick. Not a deckchair in sight? Tick.
Back in 2009, the stunning image of a white sandy beach and cerulean blue sea in a holiday promotion for Thailand, turned out to be… a beach in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. This geographical blooper was well-publicised and, while there’s probably an art director out there who still blushes at the mention of Pattaya, there was more than a grain of truth in their sandy mistake. Scotland’s island beaches are absolutely up there with the most beautiful in the world.
Orkney’s beaches, in common with those of the Outer Hebrides, are reputed to give the Caribbean and other exotic destinations a good run for their money. But unlike those more famous and well-trodden stretches of sand, ours are just a little off the tourist track. According to Orkney.com, ‘It’s always worth taking the path less travelled… and finding your own oasis in a quiet part of these islands.’ So our intrepid photographer Kendra Towns has been out with her camera doing just that. Here are her top three sandy havens, but shhh… don’t tell everyone.
East Side Beach
South Ronaldsay is Orkney’s fourth largest island and is linked to Mainland by the Churchill Barriers, built in the 1940s to protect the naval anchorage of Scapa Flow and now providing essential road links. Its East Side Beach may be small, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in stunning setting. As ever, history is never far away and beach visitors are not only treated to a sandy walk in the shadow of St Peter’s Kirk, but to a 5,000-year-old standing stone, a Pictish symbol stone and a hand-carved Millennium Stone put in place by local craftsmen, all within a stone’s throw.
This beach forms the narrow isthmus connecting the parishes of Deerness and St Andrews and is described by Orkney.com as ‘almost a double crescent of gold sand, backed by dunes… plenty of beachcombing finds, shells and seals to spot, bobbing out in the bay.’ The curious name ‘Dingieshowe’ derives from Old Norse, meaning ‘assembly mound’ and according to orkneyology.com ‘covers an Iron Age broch, which in turn stands on a Neolithic site’ – perfect for those who enjoy a little archaeology with their seaside stroll. Tremendous view across to Conpinsay too.
Sand O’Wright Beach
Another South Ronaldsay Beach, this time found on the road leading from beautiful St Margaret’s Hope to Hoxa Head. A 6km stretch of golden sand, the beach is full of gorgeous wildflowers and every August is host to the annual Boys’ Ploughing Match, when local youngsters compete, using miniature wooden ploughs, to create perfect furrows in the sand.