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Grid Ref: ND 405 733
Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby.
Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby.

Duncansby Head is overshadowed in name but not in stature by its westerly neighbour, John o' Groats. It sits atop high cliffs that rise to the east of John o' Groats and is home to a lighthouse built in 1924 and automated in 1997.

Duncansby Head Lighthouse
Duncansby Head Lighthouse
View of John o' Groats
View of John o' Groats

Duncansby Head is the real north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland, and probably exceeds John o' Groat's distance from Lands End by a good mile or two. But the loss of recognition is not something to be mourned. While John o' Groats is an increasingly successful commercial tourist attraction, Duncansby Head reveals nature at its most striking.

The single track road from John o' Groats emerges at the lighthouse. The visitor's attention is first drawn to the views north over Orkney, and west to John o' Groats and Dunnet Head. The keepers' accommodation attached to most Scottish lighthouses has been sold off since they were automated, and now serves a range of functions from private homes through guest houses to kennels. Sadly, the buildings at Duncansby Head are proving costly to clear of asbestos in preparation for alternative use: and they may be demolished instead.

And More Rock Architecture
And More Rock Architecture
Rock Cleft
Rock Cleft

Many visitors will call it a day once they have admired the superb view north from the car park, get back into their cars, and return to John o' Groats. Which is a shame, because Duncansby Head's real delights lie to the south not to the north, and require a short walk over the highest part of the surrounding landscape, behind the lighthouse.

Following a well trodden path brings you first to the sight of the Geo of Sclaites, a huge cleft bitten deeply into the cliffs. It also brings you to the sound of its vast numbers of feathered inhabitants, and a smell that would convince anyone who needed convincing that seagulls eat fish.

A little further across the clifftop fields, and you come to the day's highlight, the stunning view south to Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby. The first is a rocky arch, the second a group of large jagged sea stacks. This is a spot you will want to savour, with a view that varies as you move along the clifftop path and bring into play different alignments of the stacks and arch.

It is tempting to suggest that everyone visiting John o' Groats should ensure they go the extra mile or two to Duncansby Head. But that would make it a much more crowded place than it is, and not for the better. But Duncansby Head is certainly a must-see for anyone who likes their scenery both natural and dramatic.

Long Telephoto of Duncansby Head from the Pentalina B
Long Telephoto of Duncansby Head from the Pentalina B
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