Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, USA, may well be blessed with mile upon mile of golden sand and brushed by Atlantic breezes, but for much of the year, it heaves beneath the weight of urban weekenders and hordes of tourists traipsing along the New England trail.
If you truly want to get away from it all, then head for the Outer Hebrides in the extreme west of Scotland – you can’t get much more remote than these rugged islands.
Like Cape Cod, the Isle of Harris has some of the finest beaches you’ll see, yet the Scots manage to keep theirs relatively secret. Strung out along the island’s southwestern coast, these jewels shimmer beside the roaring Atlantic Ocean – and one of the biggest diamonds in the chain is Seilebost.
Approaching by road from the fishing port of Tarbert, Harris’s main town, you traverse a glaciated moonscape of ancient rock exposed between peat bogs and clumps of heather, passing only the occasional stone crofter’s cottage.
If you can tear yourself away from Seilebost, it’s worth exploring the island. Across the bay from Seilebost is the beautiful Luskentyre Beach, and farther south along the west coast are Scarista and Northton. Stop off to see the interesting medieval St. Clement’s Church at Rodel, the megalithic MacLeod standing stone at Nisabost, and Seallam Genealogy
Research Centre, where Celtic expats can rediscover their roots. Alternatively, drive north along a spectacular coastal road towards Hushinish, which takes you right past the front door of Amhuinnsuidhe Castle (pronounced “avan- soo-ee”), a stately baronial manor nestled between the ocean and mountains.
Continue north and you reach the Isle of Lewis, where the highlights include the magnificent Callanish standing stones. Harris is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. It offers some of the best climbing, hiking, fishing, and surfing in the UK. There is a wonderful golf course beside Scarista Beach, and it harbors a dazzling array of wildlife, including whales, dolphins, seals, puffins, and golden eagles.
But whether you are an active type or a sedentary beach-lover, a trip to Harris will be more than a match for Cape Cod.
FORGET COAST GUARD BEACH?
THE BUILD-UP Coast Guard Beach near Eastham is Cape Cod’s finest stretch of beach and is regularly ranked as one of USA’s best.
This broad, windswept beach, bounded by large dunes and marshes and overlooked by a historic Coast Guard Station, is a favorite seaside retreat with Bostonians.
THE LETDOWN The peak season extends from the last Monday in May to the first Monday in September, but it can also be busy in spring and fall. In summer, prices can shoot sky high and the parking lot is closed, so you have to rely on a shuttle bus to get here. 4WD drivers have to apply for an ORV sticker.
GOING ANYWAY? Brace yourself for the crowds and you can have a good vacation. Coast Guard Beach is a great place for the family, with lifeguards on hand. It is also one of the cape’s best surfing beaches. The spit offers excellent hiking, with walking paths revealing stunning scenery and rich wildlife. The end of the spit is ideal for bird-watching and seal-spotting.
4 MORE BEACHES TO RIVAL COAST GUARD BEACH
OCRACOKE ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA, USA This 16-mile- (27-km-) long island on the east coast is one of the most remote on the Outer Banks. It can only be reached by ferry or private plane so its windswept beaches are blissfully empty.
WINEGLASS BAY, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA A brilliant azure bay on the east coast of Tasmania, Wineglass Bay is scooped out in a perfect semi-circle from pink granite mountains. Temptations for outdoor adventurers include bushwalking, fishing, sea-kayaking, and wilderness camping.
SOPOT BEACH, GDANSK, POLAND In summer, locals flock to this Baltic wonderland close to the city of Gdansk to soak up the sun and hang out before partying in nearby bars and clubs.
DOG’S BAY, COUNTY GALWAY, IRELAND Tucked away in wild Connemara, this sheltered bay is one of Ireland’s undisputed gems. Its dazzling white-shell sand seems to have been made for taking a solitary stroll.
Getting There and Around
Getting to Harris can seem like a pilgrimage. You can fly to Stornoway Airport on the Isle of Lewis, then rent a car and drive the 27 miles (44 km) to Tarbert, Harris. Flights depart from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Benbecula.
Alternatively, take your car across on the ferry from Uig, on the Isle of Skye, to Tarbert, or from the Isle of Berneray to Leverburgh in the south of Harris
Where to Eat
Though they’re readily available, Scottish food isn’t all haggis, neeps, and tatties. Other dishes made from local produce include superb seafood. Try Scarista House, Scarista– also a hotel – for wonderful traditional cuisine.
Where to Stay
Accommodations includes B&Bs, guesthouses, cottages, self- catering, and boutique hotels.
Privately owned Hotel Hebrides in Tarbert has plush rooms and is an ideal base to explore the island.
When to Go
July and August are the warmest months. Many places and facilities close during Oct–Apr.
Budget per Day for Two
US$325, including food, accommodations, and rental car