Port Lobh, Colonsay
Port Lobh, Colonsay

The Hebridean island of Colonsay -- like much of the Hebrides -- is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches to enjoy. This isn't an exhaustive list, rather, these are beaches that our family has visited in person and can recommend.

Let's start with the three most popular and well-known beaches on the island, Kiloran Bay, Balnahard Bay, and The Strand.

Kiloran Bay Beach
Kiloran Bay Beach

Kiloran Bay

This beautiful sandy beach in the northwestern corner of Colonsay regularly makes it onto lists of the best beaches in Britain, and with good reason. The beach describes a long, broad crescent, with fantastic views to the north and west. Kiloran Bay is popular with surfers, but I've never found it too windy, nor the waves particularly high.

One of the things that makes Kiloran Bay so popular is that it is extremely easy to reach by road. Just take the B806 north, past Colonsay House. Before you reach the beach, the road takes a sharp left bend, then skirts the machair on the southwestern end of the beach before reaching a parking area at the edge of the machair. From here it is an easy stroll down onto the sand.

Balnahard Bay Beach
Balnahard Bay Beach

Balnahard Bay

Perhaps the most difficult beach on this list to get to, but your reward for your exertion is a stunningly beautiful stretch of sand in a peaceful and remote location with views to Jura and Mull. Getting to Balnahard Bay requires a 40-minute walk or a 20-minute cycle ride. Your trip begins at the Balnahard Farm gates on the B8086, just past the sharp left turn in the road south of Kiloran Bay Beach.

From the parking areas simply follow the farm drive, with Kiloran Bay Beach on your left. The road climbs Carnan Eoin and drops down to Port Sgibinis before turning east and passing Balnahard Farm. Beyond the farm, you come to the ruins of Cill Chatriona, an ancient church founded by monks from Iona. The trail ends at a wide stretch of machair. Cross the machair and you find yourself at the beach.

The Strand
The Strand

The Strand

While Balnahard Bay requires some effort to reach, The Strand is absurdly easy. Just take the B8085 south from Scalasaig. The road ends at a parking area near Garvard Farm. The clean, golden sand of The Strand stretches out in front of you, with the island of Oronsay beyond.

The stretch of water between Garvard and Oronsay is tidal, and you can walk the entire width of The Strand at low tide. It is well worth making the trip to Oronsay to visit the remains of medieval Oronsay Priory. Tide times are posted at the Scalasaig ferry terminal.

The water here is so shallow that it is often warm. I have walked across the strait in my bare feet, marvelling at the warm water and soft sand that caressed my toes!

Look for an outcrop of rock on Beinn Eibhne to the eastern side of the beach. This is Hangman's Rock, and was used for public executions in the past.

But The Strand is no place for thoughts of dark deeds! This is a stunningly beautiful location, with a mile of pure, golden sand between Colonsay and Oronsay.

The Strand is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in Scotland, and I have spent many happy hours photographing the sunrise and sunset here.

Ardskenish Bay
Ardskenish Bay

Ardskenish Bay Beach

One of the finest beaches on Colonsay -- and also one of the most remote -- is at Traigh nam Barc, Ardskenish Bay, in the southwestern corner of the island. Ardskenish Bay Beach can only be reached by a two-mile walk along the shoreline from Tobar Fuar to the north or a one-mile walk from The Strand to the east.

This wide stretch of white sand is backed by machair. There are rockpools close to the shore and the shallow, sheltered bay makes a perfect place for swimming.

As mentioned, there are two ways to reach Ardskenish. Let's take the northern route first. Your route begins on the B8086, where the track leading to the Colonsay airstrip joins the road. You can park along the verge or at the nearby golf course.

The obvious track skirts the golf course, then loops around the airfield and passes close to the small sandy beach at Port Lobh, where you can get good views of Dun Ghallain hillfort to the west, before crossing open moorland. The trail runs close to the coast, beside a rocky outcrop, before dropping down to the wide, sandy beach.

The second, and shorter, route to Ardskenish is from the end of the B8085 at The Strand, near Garvard. A track runs from just north of the parking area, past Garvard Farm, and over the slope of Cnoc Eigbriginn, before reaching the eastern end of Ardskenish Bay.

Loch Staosnaig (Queen's Bay)
Loch Staosnaig (Queen's Bay)

Loch Staosnaig

One of the smallest sandy beaches on Colonsay, this secluded east-facing bay, sometimes called Queen's Bay, is also one of the easiest to reach on foot.

Start from the parking area opposite the Colonsay Hotel on the B8086. Take the path that leads past the parish church and you will soon come to a pair of ancient standing stones to the right of the path. Beyond the stones, the path crosses moorland and crosses the small burn of Allt Staosnaig. You will see Loch Staosnaig to your left.

Alternatively, starting at Scalasaig, you can climb the hill of Cnoc na Faire Mor to the striking obelisk known as the Lord Colonsay Monument. You will get sweeping panoramic views from the hilltop. From there you can simply descend the southern slope of the hill to Loch Staosnaig.

Port Sgibinis
Port Sgibinis

Port Sgibinis

Whether or not you describe Port Sgibinis as a sand beach depends on how much of the sand is exposed by the tide! This is probably the smallest and most sheltered stretch of sandy beach on Colonsay.

The walk to Port Sgibinis starts at the same parking area as the longer walk to Balnahard Bay, just inside the Balnahard Farm gates on the B8086, south of Kiloran Bay. Follow the track across the open moorland to the foot of Carnan Eoin, where the track becomes paved.

The trail winds up the slope of the hill, offering superb views from the summit, before descending towards Port Sgibinis, to the left of the path.

Port Lobh
Port Lobh

Port Lobh

This small beach lies halfway between the island's airfield and the larger beach at Ardskenish. Every time we visited, we saw cattle relaxing on the sand or walking across the beach towards greener pastures on the far side!

The starting point for a walk to Port Lobh begins from the same point on the B8086 as the longer walk to Ardskenish. Park on the verge, at the point where the drive to the airfield meets the road, or park at the golf course further west, off the main road.

Take the obvious trail that runs past the golf course to the airfield. The trail bends around the airfield before heading south again and you will almost immediately come to Port Lobh on your right.

This is one of the most sheltered bays on Colonsay, with the hillfort of Dun Gallain overlooking the bay from the north.

Port Mor sunset
Port Mor sunset

Port Mor (Lower Kilchattan)

I hesitated whether to include this lovely beach, if only because it has less sand than any of the other beaches on this list! That said, the location is fabulous and the sunsets at Port Mor are stunning, as I can attest.

This is the place I came on my first-ever evening on Colonsay, when I realised there was going to be a fabulous sunset. I parked along the verge and walked down to the rocky shore in time to capture some of the photos that accompany this article.

Getting there is ridiculously easy. The B8086 passes within a stone's throw of the beach, just south of the cemetery in Lower Kilchattan.

Machrins beach (Tobar Fuar)
Machrins beach (Tobar Fuar)

Machrins Beach (Tobar Fuar)

Here's another beach that is easy to get to. Traigh an Tobair Fhuair, or Tobar Fuar, is a long, sheltered bay with a wide stretch of sandy beach located directly west of the Colonsay Golf Club, north of the airfield. There is space to park along the verge of the drive leading to the airfield, just off the B8086, and from there you can see the beach to your right.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

Best of Britain Express Art Prints