Traigh Mhor (pronounced Tray Vor) on the Isle of Barra is one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches.
Long banks of flowering machair surround the pristine white sand of Traigh Mhor to the north, south, and west, while turquoise waters frame the scene to the east.
In addition to its stunning setting, this beach is also famous for being an airfield which can only be used when the tide is low – the only airfield of its type in the world.
|Address:||Isle of Barra,|
|Opening Hours:||All beaches on the Isle of Barra are accessible 24/7.|
|Admission Price:||There is no fee to visit any of the beaches on the Isle of Barra.|
|Parking:||Barra Airport (Address: Eoligarry, Isle of Barra, HS9 5YD) has a dedicated car park for airport users. Next to this car park is a secondary parking area for beach visitors.|
Traigh Mhor car park is free to use. The surface is compacted gravel.
Additional car parking areas suitable for motorhomes can be found on the side of the road on the southwest edge of Traigh Mhor beach.
|Facilities:||There are no facilities on Traigh Mhor beach other than car parking areas.|
Barra Airport has public toilets, a cafe, and vending machines for drinks and light snacks.
The Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is a popular tourist destination for a number of reasons.
First, it’s joined to the Isle of Vatersay on its southern end, meaning intrepid cyclists that are completing the Hebridean Way touring route can spend a night there while waiting for the ferry to transport them to the Isle of Eriskay.
Second, Barra is renowned for its scenic landscape which comprises a varied combination of heather-covered hills and wildflower-covered moors, all surrounded by a rugged coastline that’s buzzing with wildlife.
Third, the northern end of the island is home to several stunning white sand beaches, the pick of which has to be Traigh Mhor.
Getting to the beach is easy thanks to the single-track A888 ring road which is quiet enough to allow drivers to travel there from Castlebay village in around 20 minutes.
Once past the settlement of Northbay, the landscape opens up to the north where the vast expanse of Traigh Mhor stretches away into the distance around a crescent-shaped bay.
This bay is framed by a white shell beach and has a seabed that is so shallow the water takes on a gorgeous turquoise colour when the tide is in, giving it the appearance of a tropical island rather than the far northwest corner of Scotland.
The size, shape, and flatness of Traigh Mhor las led to its use as an airfield – the only one of its kind in the world – which enables regular scheduled flights to land from Glasgow twice a day when the tide goes out.
For obvious reasons, visitors are not allowed on Traigh Mhor when aircraft are operating, but at all other times the beach is open for tourists to enjoy.
A second longer beach – Traigh Eais – is easily accessed across a wide strip of machair grassland behind the airport which is a superb place to spend a beach day.
Meanwhile, another bay that’s almost the same size as Traigh Mhor is located 2 miles north of Barra airport at Eolaigearraidh (postcode HS9 5YD).
1: Traigh Mhor is best known for being the world’s only beach airfield, so watching and taking a few snaps of the incoming planes is something of a must-do while you’re there.
There are two good locations to watch the planes fly in and out. The first (and best) is immediately next to Barra airport in the car park. The second is the raised grass verge area on the southwest edge of the beach.
2: If you’re looking for somewhere to go for a walk, Traigh Mhor and the surrounding beaches are (in my opinion) the best places on Barra.
From Barra airport I recommend crossing over to Traigh Eais beach, heading north to the end, cutting across the island to Eoligarry, and following the coastline south back to the airport.
This 3.5-mile walk will take a good couple of hours and can be extended with a wander around the islet of Orosay on the north end of Traigh Mhor (when the tide is out).
3: As well as being a great destination for photographers, Traigh Mhor is a superb place to pick cockles. This age-old practice involves raking the beach for shellfish and handpicking only the largest, thus ensuring a plentiful supply of cockles for the future.
Cockles on Traigh Mhor are renowned for their size and flavour and are in such great numbers that the next beach along to the north is almost entirely comprised of broken cockle shells.
1: Due to the changing tides, planes can only land on the Barra airfield twice a day. The best place to find out when the next plane will land is the official Barra Airport website.
With regards to parking, the best place to park while waiting for an incoming flight is the dedicated tourist parking area next to Barra airport. The airport does not allow non-airport users to leave vehicles in the airport’s car park.
2: Entering the beach area near the airport is not allowed before, during, and shortly after an aircraft has landed.
Visitors must keep off the beach whenever the windsock is flying. Security vehicles patrol the beach and will inform visitors to move away during flight arrival and departure times.
3: If Traigh Mhor is off-limits due to aircraft then I recommend crossing the machair to the west to visit Traigh Eais beach instead. This 1.3-mile (2 km) white sand beach is clean, virtually free of seaweed, and is a great location for surfing due to shallow water and Atlantic winds.
The wide expanse of Traigh Mhor is one of the most photographed beaches in Scotland due to the airfield, but the beaches to the west and north are (in my opinion) even more scenic.
While Traigh Mhor can be closed for several hours each day due to transiting aircraft, Traigh Eais suffers no such closures.
This beach faces the open Atlantic Ocean and is the best on the island for watersports, though visitors should take care as there are strong currents on this northern tip of Barra.
Visitors can easily access either beach from the dedicated car park next to the airport which is currently free to use and is large enough to accommodate campervans as well as cars.
However, the car park fills quickly in summer so large vehicles might have an easier time parking on the grass verge 1/4 mile south of the airport.
From there it’s a short walk across grassland to Traigh Eais while the expanse of Traigh Mhor is less than 100 feet away.
Photographers might like to take a 1-mile walk east from Barra airport to capture the best view of the beach across a small bay and a house with a striking red roof, while walkers may prefer to follow the beach of Traigh Mhor as it winds its way north.
On the far northern end of Traigh Mhor you’ll find an islet – Orosay – which can be reached on foot when the tide is out.
It’s a fairly unremarkable, featureless island but the views from the summit of the small hill on it are stunning thanks to the larger islets of Fuday and Hellisay to the north and east and the jagged coastline of Ardmhor on Barra sweeping away to the south.
As far as facilities go, they’re actually not too bad (for the Outer Hebrides) as the airport has toilets, a vending machine, and a cafe in addition to the free car park.
There are no shops though, so day trippers needing more supplies should stock up at the Co-op in Castlebay (postcode HS9 5XD) before leaving their accommodation.
Things to do
Watch the Planes Land: Traigh Mhor is unique because it’s the only beach in the world that serves as an airport runway. Watch small planes land and take off at low-tide times, and capture some truly remarkable photos.
Explore the machair: The beach is bordered by swathes of machair, a unique coastal grassland habitat found only in Scotland and Ireland. There, you can enjoy a peaceful walk, encounter lots of different bird species, and admire the vibrant wildflowers during the summer bloom.
Visit Traigh Eais: Just a short walk from Traigh Mhor you can visit another beach – Traigh Eais – which is wide and straight, making it an ideal location for kite surfing. The sand is power soft and the bay is shallow so it’s one of the best places on the island for family beach days.
Beach Combing and Picnicking: The beach is known for its clean sand and clear waters. Spend a relaxing day beachcombing for shells and sea glass, followed by a picnic with a spectacular view. Don’t forget to clean up afterwards to preserve the beach’s pristine condition.
Night Sky Gazing: With minimal light pollution, Traigh Mhor is a perfect spot for star gazing. On a clear night you can witness the stunning spectacle of the Milky Way, shooting stars, and if you’re lucky, the magical Northern Lights.
Dual-Purpose Beach: Traigh Mhor Beach on the Isle of Barra is not just a spot for sunbathing or coastal walks, it also serves as the runway for Barra Airport.
Tide-Sensitive Airport: Barra Airport is the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use a beach as the runway. Its operation is completely dependent on the tide. At high tide, the runway is underwater, and flights cannot land or take off.
Natural Light Landing: There are no landing lights on Traigh Mhor Beach, so flights are restricted to daylight hours. During winter months, vehicle headlights are used to provide some illumination.
Three Runways: Barra Airport has three runways in the shape of a triangle marked by wooden poles. This allows planes to land in whatever direction the wind is coming from.
First Flight: The first aircraft landed on Traigh Mhor Beach in 1933. Regular scheduled flights began in 1936, making Barra Airport one of Scotland’s oldest operational airports.
Cockle Strand: The Gaelic name for Traigh Mhor Beach is ‘Tràigh Mhòr’, which means ‘big beach’, but it is also affectionately known as ‘Cockle Strand’ due to the abundance of cockles found there.
Things to do nearby
Barra Distillery. Address: Castlebay, Isle of Barra, HS9 5XF. Distance: 9 miles.
Barra Distillery is the only distillery on the Isle of Barra, and is the most westerly distillery in Scotland. The independent whisky, gin, and rum producer has a small shop in Castlebay.
Sea Kayak to Fuday and Hellisay.
These two uninhabited islands are located to the east and north of Traigh Mhor. Of the two, Fuday is the easiest to paddle to as it is just 0.7 miles from a jetty on the northeast corner of Barra.
Hellisay can be accessed from the slipway at the Ardmhor jetty where the Calmac Eriskay to Barra ferry moors. This is the most scenic kayak route as there are a number of picturesque islets between Barra and Hellisay.
Sea Tours. Address: Castlebay harbour. Distance: 9 miles.
There are a few boat tour operators in Castlebay that will take tourists south to the wildlife havens of Sandray, Pabbay and Mingulay.
These wild and uninhabited islands are regarded as having some of the finest coastal landscapes in Scotland, as well as being superb wildlife spotting sites.
Visitors to the islands can expect to see puffins, terns, guillemots and many other seabirds in addition to seals, dolphins, and minke whales.
Kisimul Castle. Address: Castlebay, Isle of Barra, HS9 5UZ. Distance: 9 miles.
This 15th-century castle is situated in the middle of Castlebay bay, so access is only possible by taking an organized boat tour from the village.
Many of the original buildings within the castle have been restored by Historic Environment Scotland which has also installed a shop and vending machine.
See the HES website for the latest updates about visiting Kisimul Castle.
Frequently asked questions
Which Scottish island do you land on the beach?
The island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland has the world’s only scheduled plane landing at Traigh Mhor beach.
Due to the fact that Traigh Mhor is tidal, planes can only land twice a day when the tide is out.
How do you get to the Isle of Barra?
There are two travel routes to get to the Isle of Barra.
The first is to take a scheduled flight from Glasgow to Barra Airport on Traigh Mhor beach.
The second travel route is to take a Calmac ferry which operates from Castlebay on Barra to Oban, Tiree, and South Uist.
An alternative Calmac ferry operates between the Isle of Eriskay and Ardmhor on Barra.
Who owns the Isle of Barra?
The Isle of Barra is owned by the Scottish government with a provision that the islanders can purchase it if they choose.
Ownership by the Scottish government was made in 2003.
Prior to this, Barra was on a 1,000-year lease to Historic Environment Scotland from Clan MacNeil for an annual rental fee of £1 and a bottle of whisky.
What is the main town on Barra?
The main town on the island of Barra is Castlebay. This village is the largest settlement on the island and is home to Barra’s only supermarket as well as a distillery and a harbour.
In addition, Castlebay is the location of Kisimul Castle – one of the few castles in Scotland that can only be accessed by boat.