Duncansby Lighthouse
Duncansby Lighthouse

Duncansby Head is the most northeasterly point on the British mainland. The nearby village of John o' Groats has traditionally been publicised as the most northerly point, but that honour goes to Dunnet Head, to the west. Duncansby Head is, however, the furthest point by road from Land's End in Cornwall, the most southwesterly point on the UK Mainland.

As for Duncansby Head, there are two main attractions (aside from the reward of standing on the most northeasterly point of the Scottish mainland). First, there is the lighthouse, built by one of the famed Stevenson family of engineers, and second, there are the dramatic sea stacks known as the Stacks of Duncansby, reached by a walk along the clifftops from the lighthouse car park.

The OS trig point and lighthouse
The OS trig point and lighthouse

Duncansby Head Lighthouse

Duncansby looks north over the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys. The Firth is a perilous passage for maritime traffic, and its dangers earned it the moniker 'Hell's mouth'. The currents of the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea set up dramatic and dangerous tidal races and eddies that can reach a speed of up to 10 knots in places.

To help ships navigate the treacherous waters, Duncansby Head Lighthouse was built in 1924, replacing a WWI foghorn. The engineer behind the lighthouse was David Alan Stevenson, whose family designed and built many of Scotland most famous lighthouses. The Stevensons' most famous member, however, was not an engineer, but a writer; Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Geo of Sclaites
The Geo of Sclaites

As for the lighthouse, it is a squat, square structure of concrete, painted white, with a balconied tower that reaches 11m high (roughly 25 feet). Its signal is a white light, flashing every 12 seconds and visible 21 nautical miles out to sea. It stands atop an almost sheer cliff, with a drop of 67m (roughly 148 feet) to the water below.

The lighthouse was bombed by German planes during WWII, but no damage was caused and no one was injured in the attack. A radar beacon (racon) was installed in 1968 but this has since been replaced by a low-power self-operating version.

The lighthouse became fully automated in 1997. There is no public access to the building, but you can easily walk right up to it. It is a bit unusual in that the lighthouse was built in a dip, so that it isn't immediately visible until you get close to it.

The clifftop path
The clifftop path

Thirle Door sea arch
Thirle Door sea arch

Stacks of Duncansby

Aside from seeing the lighthouse, the real reason for a trip to Duncansby Head is to visit the sea stacks, located a little less than a mile south of the lighthouse. The going is relatively flat and takes in some of the most stunning clifftop scenery anywhere in Britain.

As you head south from the lighthouse along the obvious and well-trodden path, you first come to the Geo of Sclaites, and narrow crevice that splits the rocky cliffs like they had been cleaved with a giant knife. The Geo is home to a colony of seagulls, whose raucous cries fill the air.

The Stacks of Duncansby in the distance
The Stacks of Duncansby in the distance

South of the Geo of Sclaites to come to a natural sea arch known as Thirle Door, where the action of the wind and waves has carved a hole through solid rock.

And at last you reach the Stacks of Duncansby, a pair of absurdly jagged, knife-edged pinnacles of rock jutting upwards from the sea. The sea stacks are roughly pyramidal in shape and come to sharp points. You can get great photos of the stacks from almost any angle; just be aware that the sea mist can roll in very, very quickly. You can be bathed in sunlight one minute and shrouded in mist the next. Come at sunset when the sea stacks are light by the golden glow of the sun through the mist. Magic!

The Stacks of Duncansby
The Stacks of Duncansby

Mist rolling in on a sea stack
Mist rolling in on a sea stack

Getting There

Getting to Duncansby Head is relatively straightforward. The road is signposted off the A99 in John o' Groats village, opposite the post office. Just follow the lane to the end and you will come to a free parking area in front of the lighthouse.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Duncansby Head
Address: Duncansby Head Road, Duncansby, Caithness, Scotland, KW1 4YS
Attraction Type: Countryside
Location: At the end of a lane from John o' Groats village, opposite the post office. Free parking.
Website: Duncansby Head
Location map
OS: ND404733
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Caithness Broch Centre - 6.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Nybster Broch - 6.7 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Castle of Mey - 7.2 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Keiss Castle - 8 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Tomb of the Eagles - 8.1 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe - 11.6 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Hackness Martello Tower - 11.8 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Mary Ann's Cottage - 12.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating



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