Dunnet Head, Scotland: Panoramic Views, WWII Bunkers, and a Lighthouse

Written By: KT Browne

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 of the Atlantic Ocean.

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.

Dunnet Head – The Scottish Highlands

views around Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head is a picturesque peninsula located on the north coast of Scotland. It is considered the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain (58 degrees north to be exact!). Situated above steep cliffs, some towering almost 90 meters (270 feet) above sea level, the site makes for an excellent photo opportunity.

Birdwatching at Dunnet Head

puffins at Dunnet Head Scotland

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.

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

Dunnet Head lighthouse Scotland view
Dunnet Head Lighthouse

Stretching back before the world war I, Dunnet Head’s lighthouse was built in 1831 by a man named Robert Stevenson—the grandfather of a famous novelist. 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

Castle of Mey near Dunnet Head
The Castle of Mey is still visited by the Royal Family.

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

Orkney-Islands-from -Dunnet-Head

Dunnet Head is, historically speaking, a very important site for Scotland; it was once a World War II radar station, and the remains of this station can still be seen at certain points throughout the Peninsula in Caithness.

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.

Mary Ann’s Cottage

Farmhouses around Dunnet Head

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

Duncansby Stacks near Dunnet Head Scotland
Duncansby Stacks

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 single track roads and 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.

Duncansby Head

dramatic narrow sea gullies known as the Geo of Sclaites.
geo of sclaites

One of the most notable hikes in the area is Duncansby Head near John O’Groats which is 14 miles east of the village 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.

The villages are quaint around Dunnet Head
The villages are quaint around Dunnet Head

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 Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head Tip: Bring Binoculars
Dunnet Head Tip: Bring Binoculars

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 Dunnet Bayt peninsula, and by the cliffs, they can gust without warning­—be careful! Use common sense and don’t stand too close to the edge.

Jimmy Page and Dunnet Head

dunnet head jimmy page

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.

Restocking of Dunnet Bay

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!

Where to Stay Near Dunnet Head

Ackergill Tower Scotland
Ackergill Tower

Ackergill Tower – It’s 45 minutes from Dunnet Head, but it is a castle! It’s also close to Duncansby Head and John O’Groats and makes for a good base to explore the North. Trip Advisor / Booking.com

Nr Wick, KW1 4RG
+44 (0) 1955698389

Northern Sands Hotel – This is a basic 3-star accommodation in Dunnet that includes parking and breakfast. The hotel has been recently renovated. Free Wifi and modern rooms. Trip Advisor Booking.com

Victoria Place, Wick, KW1 4AP, United Kingdom 
Tel:+44 01955 604555

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.

For more information on the North of Scotland, see our North Coast 500 Complete Guide.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About KT Browne

Check out more of KT's Writing at KtBrown and more articles by KT on ThePlanetD at KT ThePlanetD

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