If you have any experience of Scottish scenery, you may well know that Scottish beaches are some of the cleanest and most scenic in the world (I may be biased!) In this post I'll take you on a tour of some of my favourites in the Highlands and Islands region. While some of the big hitters may be well known, some are true hidden gems!
First on our tour (going anti-clockwise on the NC500) is Rosemarkie beach, which stretches from the village down to Chanonry Point.
A key landmark is the lighthouse (privately owned), from which you can view the hills west of Inverness, but the main attraction at Chanonry Point are the dolphins, which you can see very close to shore on a rising tide. The beach itself is stony at this end, with it much more walkable and sandy at the Rosemarkie end.
Heading north up the A9, you can make a stop off at Portmahomack, which is on the Tarbat peninsula and has an award-winning beautiful beach which is worth a visit, but I have a soft spot for Dornoch (see my guide here) - where you can walk for miles and miles.
Our local beach in Caithness is known locally as Sinclair's Bay, but you can get access to either end of the bay at Reiss and Keiss. There's views of Sinclair Girnigoe Castle, sand dunes, and a golf course at the Reiss end if you fancy teeing off.
Heading well and truly off the North Coast 500 now to Westray, one of the most northerly Orcadian isles. We went to Orkney in a blustery November (as if there's any other weather type during November in the north of Scotland!) and absolutely loved this stretch of white sand, which was accessible from a road which passed Noltland Castle.
Along with the white sand, it was a good opportunity to see some huge lengths of seaweed which had been brought in by the incoming tide.
We also had some seals watching us from the edge of the water, obviously keen to keep an eye on their visitors!
Back on the Scottish mainland and we're at another Caithness favourite beach - Dunnet Bay. As you drive east, the dunes seemingly appear out of nowhere, and at low tide, it's one of the widest Scottish beaches I've ever been on. Dunnet is also a popular surfing and swimming spot.
If you're a gin fan, get yourself to the fabulous Dunnet Bay Distillery for a tour which is an easy 10 minute walk from the beach (caravan/camp site end).
Continuing along the north coast, there are so many small beaches to explore.
Melvich Beach is a favourite, partly for the climb through the dunes before seeing a secluded beach. It's also been a favourite place to take some Melvich Hotel takeaway pizza on a weekend!
Scottish Beaches are amazing whatever the weather, but there's something special about them, particularly when we (occasionally) get some hot weather! In April, we had some hot (for Scotland) weather and we hit the road for Torrisdale.
Access is not immediately obvious, but a 15-minute walk from the parking area gives you a huge beach and next to no neighbours as your reward.
In the north-east corner of Scotland, you're rewarded with a beautiful beach at Balnakeil, near Durness.
Driving down the west coast of Sutherland towards Ullapool, another hidden gem - possibly my favourite on the North Coast 500, is Achmelvich Bay. We've been here twice - it's a good 2.5 hour drive from Inverness so take a picnic, as there's not many shops once you are past Ullapool!
It's the only beach on the NC500 that I've swam at and I had the privilege of my own lifeguard keeping an eye on me in the form of our Labrador!
Beaches are also special places in winter, and I had an amazing trip out to Mellon Udrigle near Gairloch in January this year.
Beautiful pastel January light illuminated mountains across the bay - it was amazing!
My final two favourite Scottish beaches are of the outer Hebridean variety. We did a hopscotch trip between Barra and Lewis back in the summer of 2015 and we were treated to gorgeous beaches on Harris, on the only sunny day of our two week trip!
Vatersay (a small island connected to Barra) also had a gorgeous beach. Like all of these beaches (and more around Scotland), it was unspoilt and holds special travel memories. One of the most important things when you travel to Scottish beaches (and applies to anywhere you visit!) is to leave no trace of your trip. Take your rubbish away with you (this includes any dog waste) in order to keep Scotland one of the most beautiful countries in the world!