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Duncansby Head Stacks

nr John O'Groats, Caithness

Location Guide

Duncansby Head is the furthest point by road, on the north/east coast, from Lands End, down in Cornwall, being a good mile or two further on than the nearby John O'Groats. At it's very tip is situated the Duncansby Head Lighthouse,  built in 1924 and fully automated in 1997. As well as this there are some magnificent views of the Orkney Islands from the mainland as well as the nearby Pentland Skerries Lighthouse, but it also has some fantastic wildlife and within just a short walk over the highest part of the surrounding landscape you can get views of the Rock Cleft, Thirle Door and the Dunscansby Stacks.

The Stacks and Thirle Door

From the main road just outside John O'Groats take the single track road to Duncansby Head and the Lighthouse. At the end of the winding road is a small car park and the lighthouse.

From the car park follow the footpath to the viewpoint and you will get your first site of the Stacks, an amazing rock structure in the distance. For some this view may be enough, but if you want to get closer then follow the path down and you first come to the Geo of Scalites on your left, a huge rock cleft bitten deeply into the cliffs which provides the sea birds with resting or nesting places.

A view from the Coastal Path

Duncansby is said to be one Britians best sea bird colonies. The old red sandstone cliffs have been eroded into irregular blocks and have made ideal ledges for the seabirds to nest on, providing huge numbers of seabirds with the necessary ledges and shelter to provide for chicks and ensure safety. The offshore waters are rich feeding grounds for the birds. Luckily the way the cliffs meander there are great vantage points to view the tens of thousands of birds during the nesting season.  They are just far enough away to feel safe and remain undisturbed by onlookers and yet with binoculars it is easy to see everything in detail.  Even without binoculars it is quite a spectacle as birds come and go non stop in the season to feed the chicks. Mid April to Mid July are the best months for bird watching here.

The birds you are likely to see include:-

Kittiwakes who only come to land during the nesting season. They have regularly spaced nests.

Fulmars who are related to the albatross and glide through the air when displaying to each other.

Guillemots will be nesting on the wider ledges as they don't build nests merely laying their single egg on the chosen ledge.

Razorbills and on the widest and lowest ledges you may spot Shags.

Puffins less easy to spot as they lay their eggs in burrows.

During the summer you may also see The Great Skua, a dark brown bird with white wing patches. They harass the other birds in order to take their food.

Off the coast you may also see Grey Seals, with nearby Gills Bay being a good place to seal watch.

On my visit in May 2012 I spotted Kittiwakes and Fulmars nesting, resting and squabbling but I also saw a couple of Puffins to on the ledges of the Sclaites, but at the car park there were also Skua's flying around.


Once you've stopped to admire the sights and smells of these cliffs and the birds, and like me taken a few photos then continue on your way along the path towards the Stacks. They are two impressive large jagged sea stacks just off the coast and teeming with bird life. Look at the cliff edge ahead of you and you will see what is known as the Thirle Door, this is the rocky archway and next to this is a small bay.

A truly awe inspiring spot and well worth the trek across the field to see.
There are 7 images/views in the above rotator

Location: Duncansby Head Stacks, Caithness

Grid Reference: ND400720 Ceremonial County: Caithness

Map Link: StreetMap

Aerial photo: Google Aerial

Getting there: From the A99 as you approach John O'Groats take the small single track road to Dunscansby Head and the Lighthouse.

Access: No access to the stacks themselves, but views of them can be seen from the viewpoint and coastal path at Duncansby Head.
Other Useful Websites: Undiscovered Scotland    Wikipedia 
Postcode: KW1 4YS Telephone:
Opening Times: All year round

Charges: None

Nearby Locations: Duncansby Head Lighthouse, Caithness  

Pentland Skerries Lighthouse, Orkney

Other Location Pages:
Other Relevant Pages: How to photograph puffins





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By: Tracey Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: duncansby_head Topic: Beaches, Bays and Coastal  Last Updated: 06/2012


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