Perhaps one of the pinnacles of Scotland’s wild, untamed landscape lies in the far north of the highlands. Dunnet Head is a located along Scotland's North Coast 500, set against dramatic and sweeping cliffs.
Dunnet Head - The Scottish Highlands
No trip to the Scottish Highlands would be complete without stopping at Dunnet Head, a gorgeous peninsula with no shortage of wildlife (and a lighthouse!).
Make sure your camera battery is charged and your hat is securely on your head before you visit this windy, beautiful place.
What is Dunnet Head?
Dunnet Head is a picturesque peninsula located on the north coast of Scotland and is considered the most northerly point on the UK mainland (58 degrees north to be exact!).
Situated above steep cliffs, some towering almost 90 meters above sea level, the site makes for an excellent photo opportunity.
Birdwatching at Dunnet Head
On clear days, the site offers brilliant views of the Orkney Islands some 15 kilometers away.
It is also a fantastic spot for birdwatching—seabirds of all kinds including shearwaters, guillemots, kittiwakes, and puffins can usually be spotted.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) even conducts annual seabird monitoring as part of a national survey to support the well-being of these animals.
Apart from stunning natural views, Dunnet Head also boasts an old WWII-era lighthouse that can be viewed, along with its surrounding bunkers.
The lighthouse contains 51 steps and 9 ladders that reach its top, though it is not currently accessible to the public.
Though the building only stands at 20 meters high, being situated on a cliff roughly 85 meters high puts the light at an impressive 105 meters above sea level.
The lighthouse became automated in 1989, and today it is completely remotely-controlled from the Northern Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh.
People have always been fond of Dunnet Head lighthouse because of its status as the most northerly point in the UK.
Castle of Mey
Even The Queen Mother was a fan, having visited a number of times, most recently in 1979.
The Queen mother bought and restored the Castle of Mey and Prince Charles still visits each summer.
The History of Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head is, historically speaking, a very important site for Scotland; it was once a WWII radar station, and the remains of this station can still be seen at certain points throughout the peninsula.
The radar station and the surrounding bunkers were built around the lighthouse to protect the nearby naval base of Scapa Flow during the war. Dunnet Head also had an artillery range during that time.
Stretching back before the war, Dunnet Head’s lighthouse was built in 1831 by a man named Robert Stevenson—the grandfather of a famous novelist.
And Mary Ann's Cottage dating back to 1850 is a lovely stop to look back over 150 years of traditional life. It is a living museum frozen in time showing what life was like in Caithness.
We highly recommend renting a car to tour the North of Scotland. But if you can't Get Your Guide has some good tours from Inverness.
The John O'Groats and Caithness Tour from Inverness is a day tour to Inverness that will give you the highlights of the North Coast.
The 3 Day Orkeny Explorer takes you to sights like Dunrobin Castle and Duncansby Head all the way to Caithness and Dunnet Head.
We took a tour with Caithness Wildlife Tours and loved it. If you want more information about the area make sure to look them up!
What to Expect at Dunnet Head
Though Dunnet Head is slightly off the beaten path for those driving along the highland’s main route, the site is, in fact, part of the North Highland Way.
The Northern Way is a collection of walking, horse riding, and cycling paths between the nearby villages of John o Groats and Durness—so why not pair up Dunnet Head with a bit of inter-village exploration?
Once you arrive, make sure you take the time to hike the path behind the lighthouse—it leads to the top of a hill with unbeatable views of the cliffs, and passes a handful of old army buildings along the way.
One of the most notable hikes in the area is Duncansby Head near John O'Groats which is 14 miles east of Dunnet Head. It is here you'll witness the Duncansby Stacks and the dramatic sea gullies known as the Geo of Sclaites.
What makes Dunnet Head so great is the fact that the area is more or less completely untouched; there are no tourist signs, instructions, shops, or even restrooms to be found.
The lighthouse itself is unmanned and not open to the public (a bit of a bummer, sure, but adds to the air of authenticity about this place). Everything at Dunnet Head is nature as nature intended.
Though there is no official Dunnet Head personnel onsite, during the summer there is usually a volunteer from RSPB ready to give visitors information about the seabird colonies.
There are sometimes even group seabird walks organized by RSPB that visitors can take part in.
Tips for Visiting
To get the best possible view of the Orkney Islands, bring binoculars!
Though the islands are indeed visible to the naked eye, seeing them with added magnification really adds a whole new dimension to the experience.
There’s plenty of grassy space to roam and wander, and if the weather is nice, having a picnic is a good idea, especially considering how few eateries there are in the area.
Also, the wind tends to be a bit more extreme on the peninsula, and by the cliffs, they can gust without warning—be careful! Use common sense and don’t stand too close to the edge.
Fun Fact: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was a regular visitor to Dunnet Head. He nearly bought an estate in Caithness for a recording studio and it was his funds that helped to rebuild the harbor. There is a plaque with his name on the Harrow Harbour commemorating the reopening.
Fun fact #2: to preserve Dunnet Head’s ecosystem, its waters are “restocked” every two years with brown trout! Fishing is possible but only allowed with a permit during the summer months.
So if you’re a fishing fan—plan your visit accordingly!
A Visit to the Scottish Highlands is a trip you'll never forget. It may be off the well-trodden paths of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but here you will witness rugged terrain, very few tourists and a way of life that has seemed to stand still.