Book review: The Beaches of Scotland

The Beaches of Scotland: A selected guide to over 150 of the most beautiful beaches on the Scottish mainland and islands. 2022

By Stacey McGowan Holloway. Vertebrate Publishing. 186 pp. Softback and ebook. £20 RRP. ISBN 9781839810787

Disclosure: Stacey, the author, is my cousin and was kind enough to send me copy of the book.

Sandy beach in foreground with sea and rocky islands, one with a lighthouse, in middle ground and then blue sky
Yellowcraigs beach with the islands in the Firth of Forth offshore.

The Beaches of Scotland is a wonderful invitation to some of the best destinations around Scotland where the land meets the sea. The aim is not to provide an exhaustive survey of every beach across Scotland but to provide a representative selection of beaches across Scotland. Scotland is divided into nine areas in the book and each beach is illustrated with a colour photograph. Given, the reputation of the Scottish weather, some readers will be surprised that most of the photos have been taken in fine sunshine.

Information on the format of the entries for the beaches, safety advice, a good summary of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in relation to the littoral zone and an overview of the geology, geomorphology and seascape of Scotland open the book. This introductory section is rounded off with a set of suggested itineraries for those who are touring.

Stacey, and her husband Max, are both very experienced outdoorsy people. They’ve run wild swimming events around Scotland, the Tyndrum 24 event and are both involved with Oban MRT. As a couple they’ve done vanlife and Stacey offers a broad perspective on the different ways to experience the beach and waters.

Unlike the other members of my household in Edinburgh, I am not the sort of person for whom a beach is, of itself, a destination. They are places I find myself at for other reasons relating to geology, wildlife, hillwalking or running. And that is what really stands out in this book. Rather than being about the pure aesthetics of each beach, attention is paid to the wider reasons why people visit beaches. A wide variety of types of beach are covered, from very remote sites to the hugely popular beaches near the population centres of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow. The book ranges across a wide range of locations with a focus on what the beach offers, rather than striving to offer a ‘bucket list’ or trade on the notion of beaches being ‘secret’. Stacey offers some ‘top tens’ across fourteen categories but no ‘tick list’.

Each beach has around a column of an A5 page, with an information box covering location information, direction the beach faces, activity information and key facilities such as parking, toilets and the like. Where there are particular businesses or features worth a visit those are covered too, along with some explanation of place-names. I’ve visited 30+ of the beaches and the details are accurate to the best of my knowledge. With my geological hard hat on I was pleased to come across numerous mentions of geology and geomorphology for sites such as Luskentyre and the unique machair landscapes and unusual maerl beaches, such as Coral Beach. A small Gaelic glossary is included and if this stirs your curiosity, I would recommend Reading the Gaelic Landscape, which I’ve reviewed previously.

Above all, the book is balanced, practical guide to a collection of representative beaches around the coast of Scotland. While it seems that just about any book about places to go in the outdoors will be met with some harrumphing from people, this book offers a wider range of destinations that might help relieve some of the pressure on particularly well-known beaches. If you are a misanthrope like myself, who reckons a beach is busy if you can see other people, there is always another time, or another beach, to go to. You’re rarely that far from another beach in Scotland, a fact the book showcases so well.

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

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Posted in Book reviews, Books, Geodiversity, Scotland

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