On the west coast of Islay, at the end of a minor road that peters out into a sandy car park, is a breathtaking stretch of sand called Machir Beach.

Exposed and windswept, it faces the Atlantic storms head-on.  We’ve never been there on a windless day;  in fact, I doubt whether the wind ever really drops!   But as beaches go, it is one of the very best.

There are often groups of gannets out at sea, wheeling over the waves before stalling and turning to launch themselves like torpedoes beneath the surface.  If you’re lucky, a small flock of choughs will tumble over the cliffs and start playing in the updraughts, calling to each other in happy excitement.

Somewhere between the low and high tide marks, half-buried in the sand, is part of a wrecked ship.  I believe this might be a relic from the Otranto, an American troop carrier which went down in a storm in October 1918 with the loss of many hundreds of lives.  Many men were rescued, however, with the help of local people.  There is an interesting article about this and another shipwreck on a website called Islay Info.

You wouldn’t want to go into the sea at Machir Bay – this is wild water, with strong undercurrents.   And it is very cold!   The beach is scoured clean, pristine and smooth, with little or no debris;   the few shells and stones that remain form lovely patterns in relief, miniature islands in a vast ocean of sand.

Flanking the beach are rows of dunes, covered with a thick crop of marram grass;  at the south end, a track leads up the cliffs to Dun Chroisprig, an Iron Age hill fort.

Not far from Machir Bay is Islay’s newest distillery:  Kilchoman, which opened in 2005, is the first distillery to be built on Islay for 124 years.  Just a stone’s throw away is the beautiful Kilchoman Cross, a tall (8’ 4”) free-standing cross, believed to date from the 14th or 15th century.  On its lichen-covered disc is a carving of the Crucifixion, together with saints and angels.  (You’d think we would have a photograph of the cross, but no – when we last visited Kilchoman the weather was so bad that photography was pretty impossible.)

This is just a selection of our favourite photographs from Machir Bay;  all images copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf.