Pristine waters are what we all yearn for - whether we are swimming, paddling, or even just staring out over a vast, glistening sea. But in these times of alarm over sewage overflows and pollution it can seem as if no beach fits that word.

In fact, many do. Not everywhere, of course, do we have data for cleanliness. But those beaches that have bathing water status are regularly tested for water quality, and the samples done at those sites reveal how astoundingly some spots outstrip others.

Though the worst bathing waters beaches in Scotland, when tested for E coli have revealed measurements of 10,000 colony-forming units per millilitre (cfu/ml), the best comes out at a tiny ten.

Here we list the 13 beaches that never exceeded a test of 100 cfu/ml across the whole of last year.


Beaches are rankes from best to ever-so-slightly less-best according to the worst sample of e coli taken throughout the whole seasonCome on in, the water’s fine. But please do remember to take your rubbish home.

READ MORE: 10 of the dirtiest beaches (with bathing waters status) in Scotland


Dornoch, Sutherland - 10 cfu/ml


Photo from Scottish Viewpoint

Backed by dunes, this long sandy expanse on the north shore of the Dornoch Firth has been recognised by Keep Scotland Beautiful as one of Scotland’s best beaches. Its sand, stretching from Dornoch Point to the mouth of the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve, and its tranquil waters draw swimmers and paddlers. Right next to the beach is a site of special scientific interest that features nesting birds, flora and fauna, as well as, of course, the famous Royal Dornoch golf course, one of the oldest in Scotland and the world.

Achmelvich, Wester Ross -20 cfu/ml

The Herald: Girl with bodyboard on the beach at Achmelvich, Sutherland, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK.

Girl with bodyboard on the beach at Achmelvich

Only last month Achmelvich was ranked as one of the 50 best beaches in the world, in a list compiled by over 750 of the world’s most recognised travel experts and influencers, the only beach in the UK to make the cut. And no wonder. Achmelvich, a destination spot for swimmers, windsurfers, kayakers and other water users, has long been acknowledged as a Scottish treasure. “Who knew,” the list compilers said, “ Scotland had beaches resembling a tropical paradise with bright sand and water so clear and turquoise that you’ll mistake it for the Caribbean?" We did.

Kingsbarns, Fife - 30 cfu/ml

The Herald:

Eight miles down the coast from St Andrews, this golden stretch of sand is backed by grassy dunes and dotted with outcrops of rock in which Carboniferous millipede footprints and fossil forests can be discovered. The Fife coastal trail runs along its stretch, as does the golf course, and, when the beach hunger pangs hit, there is even the Cheese Toastie Shack.

Ganavan, Argyll & Bute - 40 cfu/ml

The Herald:

Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images

A short drive or bus ride out of Oban is this beautiful sandy beach, with breathtaking views out to Mull, Lismore and Morvern. Just don’t look over your shoulder at the housing developments behind. While Ganavan may not have the remote feel of some Highland beaches its 300 metre-long glistening white sands are a big draw, as are its many rockpools. It’s also an easy walk out from town, along the Ganavan road. There are toilets and a changing area, with taps at the beach, as well as a snack van selling hot drinks and snacks.

Gullane, East Lothian - 50 cfu/ml

The Herald: Gullane Beach

Photo by Craig Alexander

To the left is Aberlady Bay nature reserve, and to the right, via the coastal path is Yellowcraig - which, while just as gorgeous in outlook, doesn’t hit nearly such immaculate levels for water quality. Gullane, home to the famous Muirfield golf course, has been named both one of the poshest places to live in Britain, and, in March this year, one of the most desirable, according to research into views over TikTok. Family-friendly, with a car park which, on sunny days, often features an ice cream van.

Elie and Earlsferry, Fife - 50 cfu/ml

The Herald: Lola Murray (6) and mum Mhairi  enjoy the sunshine at Elie Beach in Fife sunday..PIC:Gordon Terris/The Herald.6/5/18.

Photo by Gordon Terris

At low tide Elie Harbour Beach links with Elie's Earlsferry Beach, conjuring a mile-long stretch of golden sand. Home to beach cricket, a seafood shack and other food outlets, as well as a sauna in a horsebox in which it is possible to sweat out your troubles whilst looking out over the bay, this is a beach with something for everyone. Paddleboarders glide along its waters and there’s a thriving wild swimming group, the Elie Blue Tits.

Sand Beach, Wester Ross - 60 cfu/ml

Otherwise known as Big Sand, this is an area of sand and shingle beach to the west of Gairloch village in the North-West Highlands. With a view out towards Skye and Torridon, it’s a popular spot for swimming and boating. Big Sand took the title of Scotland’s Beach of the Year in the Sunday Times' annual best beaches guide last year.

Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire - 80 cfu/ml

The Herald:

Pink sands, rolling dunes that go on and on for 2.5 km. This section of Aberdeenshire coastline is flanked by rocky cliffs and, at its northern end, backed by the granite and concrete cubes of anti-tank defences. It’s also a beach with history - thought to have been the site of a battle in 1012 where the Scots defeated the Danes - and inspiration for Dracula-author Bram Stoker, who fell in love with the area and told a resident that he got all the ideas for his stories while walking the dramatic coast, with its fang-like rocks. “If Cruden Bay,” he wrote, “is to be taken figuratively as a mouth, with the sand hills for soft palate, and the green Hawklaw as the tongue, the rocks which work the extremities are its teeth”.

Cullen Bay, Banffishire - 90 cfu/ml

Famous for its soup, the fish-based skink, Cullen is also home to a long expanse of golden sand, backed by a golf course. Among the beach’s features are the prominent rocks, called the Three Kings, a temptation for many a child, and some adults, to climb. Hot takeaway food is available from Cullen Beach Burgers & Crepes Bar near the golf club. Watch out for the Moray dolphins which are often spotted from the beach and bay.

Balmedie, Aberdeenshire - 90 cfu/ml

Balmedie Country Park is home to a long beach, backed by dunes, with 1700m of boardwalk tracking through the undulating territory - though the area is perhaps more famous now for the golf course Trump built, despite local protest, nearby. Balmedie's marram grass humps are part of a dune system that stretches 14 miles along the coast and are popular with dog walkers, horse riders and families. It also operates a beach wheelchair access project and hot and cold snacks and ice creams are sold from its refurbished Sand Bothy. Parking, toilets, barbecue stands, picnic tables and waste bins are provided, though visitors are asked to take rubbish home.

READ MORE: Tidal pools to lidos. 20 (not too wild) spots to swim outdoors in Scotland

Carrick Bay, Dumfries and Galloway - 100 cfu/ml

A small, sandy unspoilt beach on the south coast of Dumfries of Galloway, littered with rocky outcrops, this hidden treasure of a bay is a well-kept secret. Reached via a small track road and with views out towards a dramatic headland it feels like a bit of the wild, but sheltered and enclosed.

Gairloch beach - 100 cfu/ml

The Herald: The Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club, Machrihanish, Kintyre, Argyll

Photo from Visit Scotland

Not far from Big Sand, this sandy stretch, popular with families, lies just by the village of Gairloch. Though sheltered with a backdrop of dunes, it’s also a spot with the most spectacular views out to the Minch and surrounding mountains. Great for a sunset swim, and there is even, at the headland south of the beach, the North West Highland Snorkel Trail.

Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre - 100 cfu/ml

The Herald: Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club, Machrihanish, Kintyre, Argyl

On the Mull of Kintyre peninsula is this mecca for surfers and golfers. Machrihanish is a beach that provides not just some of the best waves in Scotland, but a beautiful backdrop of dunes, extending back to the famous golf course, which dates back to 1879. And the view out to Ireland and Islay is jaw-dropping.