Great walks in Scotland's far north

What's the most northerly spot in mainland UK?

Well the answer's not John O'Groats as many may think. It's Dunnet Head in Caithness - an area often overlooked by walkers.

But Tina Irving from Active Caithness says the region's natural beauty far outweighs the effort taken to reach Scotland's far north.

Here, she talks about one of her favourite walks...


Dunnet Head is the most northerly point of mainland Scotland and is even further north than Stavanger and Moscow! 

It is a great place to get out and about and enjoy walking, fishing, cycling, wildlife and birdwatching.  

The Head, and Caithness in general, is often overlooked by visitors to the area and marketing focuses on its more famous neighbour, John o Groats.

The scenery across the tempestuous Pentland Firth to Hoy and mainland Orkney is second to none.  Views along the coast to Cape Wrath to the west and  John o Groats to the east are stupendous. 

The Hamnavoe ferry from Orkney can be seen ploughing through the waves and the 100m high cliffs are a sight to behold.

Magellan daisiesSpring is a great time to visit, with birds returning from their winter feeding grounds � fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and kestrels are just some of the birds which visit over the summer, and puffins put in an appearance from May to July. 

The Head is a breeding place for roe deer and otters can be seen on occasions.  Folds of Highland cattle graze freely during the winter months, and are taken to their summer grazing in Brough village at the base of Dunnet Head during the summer. 

There is a resident seal colony in Brough Bay and a small pier from where boats can be launched. 

The harbour was used during the construction of the Dunnet Head lighthouse by Robert Stevenson in 1831 and is a popular place for kayakers, and divers.  It is a great spot for camping and barbecuing.

Dunnet Head is important from an environmental point of view as it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) now manage part of the Head for the landowners. 

There are also 34 archaeological sites listed in the Canmore database, some of which are not visible and some are wrecks, but of interest all the same. 

Peatbog covers much of the Head and each villager has peat cutting rights so fresh workings are evident as well as more established beds.  

There are remains of WWII installations at Burifa Hill and on Dunnet Head which are a source of fascination to the visitor.

A network of tracks criss cross the Head, although none are marked. Walking on Dunnet Head is a delight. 

It is about 17km round the perimeter, the majority of it a useable track. There are many points of interest, and a visit to Mary Ann�s cottage is a must.

Climb the hill from Dwarwick Pier and enjoy the views of three miles of golden beach at Dunnet and Dunnet Forest. 

Continue along the coast, past Peedie Sands, and the Long Byre where cattle used to shelter from the elements in days of yore.  

On arriving at the lighthouse, walkers have the option to walk down the road back to Brough, or continue along the coast past the Lloyds cottages, the viewpoint and Sanders Loch. 

The track is not so well defined on the eastern side of the route so a good level of fitness is required.  Tips for walking on the Head are:

  • Wear stout shoes or walking boots
  • Do not walk on the Head when it is misty � it is easy to become disorientated
  • Carry a mobile phone for use in emergencies
  • Take waterproofs, even if it is a nice day when you set out
  • Take care in high winds


Caithness and Sutherland Walking Festival takes place from May 1st to May 8th this year