Duncansby Heads Stacks

Walk the North Highland Way

8 days
2.5 / 5 from 2 reviews
Walking & Trekking
Activity level:
Activity Rating - Moderate
Trip code: 
Way to Travel:
Guided Group
Walking & Trekking
Max group size:

Walk Scotland's less-travelled North Highland Way for the perfect combination of scenery & history

Lesser-known, lesser-travelled, but no less spectacular. A train journey north from Edinburgh is the stepping stone into our adventure. Beginning with three nights in Thurso, the northernmost town in Scotland, highlights include a visit to Duncansby Stacks, John O’ Groats and Dunnet Head Lighthouse. As befitting the most northerly point of the UK mainland, the views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands cannot be done justice with mere words.

Equally, history and culture here cannot be ignored.  We take a ferry to the Orkney Islands, rich with Viking heritage and folklore. We also visit Wolfburn Distillery to witness a process that's been going hundreds of years.

We then head west to Bettyhill and onto the village of Durness where we continue walking across some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, none more evocative than Cape Wrath. The final walk of the week is to the magnificent beaches of Sandwood Bay on the wild Atlantic coast before bidding farewell to the North Highland Way and returning to Edinburgh where our journey ends.


  • Cliff-top views & white sandy beaches with the opportunity see to puffin bird colonies (in season)
  • Day trip to the magical Orkney islands; famed for its Viking heritage, rich folklore and ancient Neolithic UNESCO sites
  • Visit the Wolfburn Distillery, the most northerly whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland
  • Walk to Sandwood Bay, one of the most magnificent beaches in Scotland


Key information

  • 7 nights in family-run hotels and guest houses
  • 6 days walking
  • Group normally 4-12, plus leader. Min age. 16 yrs
  • Low altitude throughout
  • Travel by private minibus and train

What's included

  • All breakfasts included
  • All accommodation
  • Transport as listed in itinerary & luggage transfer throughout week


What's not included

  • Travel insurance
  • Visas & Vaccinations
  • Single supplement (available on request and subject to availability)
Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for private group trips:
020 8772 3936
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.


Days of Walking & Trekking

Low altitude throughout; varied coastal paths; sandy beaches and occasionally rugged and/or steep paths

Day by day breakdown
Day 25.0km/3.0miles
Day 324.0km/15.0miles
Day 411.0km/7.0miles
Day 523.0km/14.0miles
Day 620.0km/13.0miles
Day 724.0km/15.0miles

Tourism can be a real help to local communities, providing income, positive cultural exchanges and a financial incentive to protect their natural environment. Ours is a 'total approach' to responsible tourism, covering everything from the way we plan and operate our trips to the practices of Exodus as a company. 

In March 2019, Exodus Travels launched the Exodus Travels Foundation where we support initiatives all around the world. But it cannot exist without travellers who care. Get involved or learn more about what Responsible Travel means to Exodus here


  • Day 1

    Start Edinburgh; morning departure by train to Thurso; arrive late afternoon

    The trip starts this morning from Edinburgh Waverley Station where you will meet your tour leader and the rest of the group to depart by rail just before 10am. Today's journey north, provides the perfect opportunity to admire Scotland's stunning landscapes whilst getting to know your fellow group members and leader along the way. Throughout the train journey, there will be two changes required; first in Stirling and then in Inverness, arriving in Thurso by 6pm. 

    Thurso is the northernmost town on the UK mainland and will be our base for the first 3 nights on the North Highland Way.

    Due to the relatively early morning train departure from Edinburgh to Thurso on day 1, we do recommend arriving in Edinburgh the day before the trip starts if you would also like to explore Scotland's captivating capital. Exodus can provide pre-tour accommodation (on request- additional cost) in Edinburgh, please enquire at time of booking.

    Pentland Lodge House & Pennyland House or similar

  • Day 2

    Morning transfer to John O' Groats; walk to Duncansby Head and Stacks followed by a day trip by ferry to Orkney

    After breakfast, we transfer (approx. 30 mins) by private mini-coach to John O’Groats. Upon arrival, take a walk along the coast to the lighthouse and Duncansby Heads to admire the breathtaking scenery and impressive sea stacks.

    We then depart to Orkney by ferry (approx. 40 min journey crossing). This archipelago of islands is renowned for its rich folklore, history and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and is home to some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe.

    Upon arrival, we enjoy a tour visiting all the iconic sights such as Scapa Flow (where the German fleet was scuttled in WW1), The Churchill Barriers including the Italian Chapel (built by Italian prisoners of war while constructing the barriers), Skara Brae; the Neolithic site on the west of island along with the Standing Stones and Ring of Brodgar at Stenness. Finally, we will also the beautiful capital town of Kirkwall with the Nordic Cathedral.

     We return by ferry back to the mainland in the late afternoon before transferring back to Thurso for the evening.

    Pentland Lodge House & Pennyland House or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 3

    Dunnet Head walk; back to Thurso via Castletown Bay. Evening walk to Scrabster Harbour and out to Holborn Head

    This morning we take a short private transfer to Brough to the start point of today's walk. We first walk out to Dunnet Head Lighthouse. This wild and remote location is the most northerly point on the British  Mainland. From here, we can view the Orkney Islands on the horizon over sweeping sea views with bird colonies on the cliffs below. Continuing our journey, we then take a coastal walk around Dunnet Bay to the town of Castletown back to Thurso.

    In the evening, we walk down to explore Scrabster Harbour and out to Holborn Head Lighthouse.

    Pentland Lodge House & Pennyland House or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 4

    Visit Wolfburn Distillery; followed by transfer to Bettyhill; Torrisdale Bay and Ard Mor walk

    After breakfast, we check out of our Thurso accommodation and visit the Wolfburn Distillery in the town where we join a 10am tour to learn how they craft their award-winning whiskies.

    In the afternoon, we transfer (approx. 45 min) by private mini-coach to the small village of Bettyhill, where we will stay overnight. Upon arrival, we head out for a walk around Torrisdale Bay and Ard Mor overlooking Farr Bay. This afternoon's walk takes in a striking beach, dunes, riverside, moorland, visits an iron-age broch with stunning views and also passes an area considered a special scientific interest due to rare plants found in there.

    Bettyhill Hotel or similar 

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 5

    Transfer to Loch Eribol; walk to Durness

    This morning we take a private transfer (approx.1 hour) to Loch Eribol where we will be dropped off at Polla (located at the head of the sea loch) to be begin our walk. The path for today's walk runs mainly on sandy beachside taking us to the thriving village of Durness, that is surrounded by dramatic landscapes. We stay overnight in Durness.

    Smoo Cave Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 6

    Morning ferry; Cape Wrath Lighthouse walk; transfer to Kinlochbervie

    Early morning transfer to ferry point at the Kyle of Durness for a 10 minute crossing to the Cape Wrath ferry port.

    Upon arrival, the group will either take an onward minibus transfer to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath and then walk back to the ferry port or walk to the lighthouse upon arrival (with a minibus transfer back). Today's walk can be completed in either direction and your leader will advise on your departure. The lighthouse at Cape Wrath is the most north-westerly point on the British mainland and was built in 1828 and manned until 1998. Located in a landscape largely untouched by man, Cape Wrath has a wide diversity of wildlife, including red deer, fulmar, hooded crow, rock pipit, golden eagle, cormorant and gannet.

    Please note, the ferry is a small boat (5 persons max), so for bigger groups, the group will need to split across a couple ferry trips. 

    For those who would like to opt for a quieter day, there is the option to walk around Balnakeil Beach or visit Smoo Cave from Durness.

    Later in the afternoon, the group will transfer (approx. 35 min) to the harbour village of Kinlochbervie where we stay for the next 2 nights.

    Please be advised, in the event of adverse weather, it may not be possible to take the ferry and complete the walk on Cape Wrath. If this occurs, your leader will offer a suitable replacement walk around Balnakeil Beach and Durness.

    4th September 2021 departure: This tour departure will stay a 2nd evening in Durness, instead of transferring to Kinlochbervie. Please refer to Is This Trip for You section of the trip notes for more details.

    Kinlochbervie Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 7

    Walk to the picturesque Sandwood Bay

    Our path will follow mostly moorland track and will culminate with spectacular views of Sandwood Bay, arguably the most beautiful beach in Britain. Here we can spend time exploring the 1.5 miles of golden sand and dunes, with rocky cliffs and a giant sea stack to complete the scene. The roaring sea completes a feeling of sheer isolation at the isolated location, considered one of the most un-spoilt beaches in the whole of Scotland.

    After the walk, we will transfer (approx. 2 hours) down to Tain, to spend the final night together and stay overnight at the Royal Hotel. 

    Royal Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 8

    Train journey south to Edinburgh; end of trip

    This morning, the group will depart Tain by train for the journey back down to Edinburgh (there will be one change of train in Inverness), arriving back into the capital mid-afternoon where the trip will end.


    Meals included: Breakfast
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Essential Info

Eating and Drinking

All breakfasts are included.

Lunches can be purchased from local bakeries, shops and mini-markets which will offer you the opportunity to try lots of local produce and delicacies. Packed lunches may also be possible to organise with accommodations stayed at during the trip.

Dinners will be taken at accommodations we stay at or traditional local pubs along the way.


The North of Scotland provides an opportunity to experience vast landscapes and open skies rarely found in any other part of the UK.  The climate is generally mild between April – October with changeable days when it is entirely possible to have rain, wind and brilliant sunshine in a short period. 

Waterproof clothing is therefore essential and should be carried at all times as should a light thermal vest / jacket as the wind that blows west to east off the Atlantic can be fresh. Temperatures rarely fall below 12 degrees but can reach the mid 20’s during the height of the summer when daylight dims for only 4 hours at the Summer Equinox period in June.

Is this trip for you?

Activity Level: 3 (Moderate)

The terrain and type of tracks will vary but most of the walking is on coastal paths (not always clearly marked) that also include walking through moorlands, grassy paths, sandy beaches and the occasional rough, rugged or steep sections, with little shelder. The walks are not technically difficult and are low altitude through-out. However you will need to cover distances of up to 24km so a good level of fitness is required. Equally you must be prepared for inclement weather. 

You will only need to take a daypack with you on the walks and luggage will be transferred between the accommodations during the trip.

4th September 2021 departure:

Due to limited accommodation availability, please be advised the 4th September 2021 departure will not stay overnight in Kinlochbervie on day 6 & 7 of this departure. Instead on day 6, the group will stay a 2nd night in Durness. On day 7 the group will complete the walk to Sandwood Bay as per day 7 of the trip notes (with a transfer down to Kinlochbervie in the morning to start the walk). After finishing the walk on day 7, the group will then transfer (approx. 2 hours) down to Tain, to spend the final night together and stay overnight at the Royal Hotel. On day 8, the group will arrive back into Edinburgh mid- afternoon where the trip will end.

Following a review of all our trips we have categorised this trip as generally not suitable for persons of reduced mobility. However if you are a regular traveller on such trips, please contact customer services to discuss the trip and your personal condition.

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for private group trips:
020 8772 3936
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.


Hotels & Guesthouses

Throughout the week, you will spend 7 nights in locally owned, family-run hotels and guesthouses. The accommodations have been selected for their charm, character and offer a comfortable stay. All accommodations offer rooms with en-suite.

Please be advised that for bigger group sizes, the first 3 nights in Thurso will be accommodated in two properties located closely to each other. 

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for private group trips:
020 8772 3936
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for private group trips:
020 8772 3936
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Expert Blog Entries

  • Reviewed September 2021

    Trip is now much better

    Having just completed this trip I can report that the concerns raised by the reviewer of the July version had been addressed and I found it a most enjoyable trip well led by Brian and more than ably supported by Susan. All the walks were really good, some having been revised to ensure safety levels were suitable and the scenery is spectacular. A highlight was seeing otters on the beach on the walk back to Thurso from Dunnet Head. The day trip to Orkney was also well worth it. made memorable by the knowledge and enthusiasm of our driver. The accommodation generally was better than I expected, although the hotel in Thurso was not as good as the others. We had a good group who all got on well and meant that the atmosphere throughout was sociable, although some of the jokes left a bit to be desired!! I would definitely recommend this trip to others.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The otters.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Very sociable and enthusiastic.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    As this is a fairly new trip approach it with an open mind and expect it will continue to be refined based on feedback from previous trips.
  • Reviewed July 2021

    Shambolic chaos: a crushingly disappointing trip

    Firstly, there is no North Highland Way. There are no official routes, and the notion that the NHW exists remains in the mind of a few hardened Scottish hill walkers determined but not in the mind of farmers ans land owners who have put up barbed wire fences across inland bog and bracken strewn moorland, forcing walkers to take their chances on dangerous cliffs and rock and soil strewn beaches. The trip notes for this “adventure” are a work of fiction. The accommodations are mediocre at best. Exodus has lost a loyal repeat customer over this shambolic farce and waste of precious holiday time.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The glorious sunshine and the seeing the most northerly beaches in the UK at their best, essentially, those parts of the trip not put in place by Exodus and the dreadful company this trip is outsourced to, EasyWays.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The director EasyWays joined the trip on the first three days. It is safe to say, I was not impressed. He did not join the group on the walks, instead walked a couple of the “planned” routes the day before our group was meant to. He would come back in the evening to report that the majority of the routes were unsuitable or impassable, therefore the billed route published in the trip notes was not going to happen. Shorter, dull routes were offered instead. The second leader was abandoned and left with a few maps and his map app on his smart phone to make up routes as we were ferried along from one chaotic accommodation booking to another. The second leader was therefore too distracted trying to find a route on the walking days to watch out for client safety and for people in the group struggling with the terrain, bogs and bracken. He made an effort to tell us about the history and background to the areas we stayed in, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the lack of planning, the poor attention to safety and general cohesion and enjoyment of the group.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Don’t book this trip.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    I am utterly crushed by this experience even more so after a miserable year as a frontline medic: Exodus as a company has let itself down terribly by putting on this trip and outsourcing it to an operator who clearly does not take client care seriously. The organisation was an utter shambles from start to finish. It has not been researched properly, the routes not actually walked before paying clients were booked onto the trip. The accommodation of the final night in Tain, The Royal Hotel, was a disgrace, with no COVID secure sanitisation, and the food offerings even more so. The last group meal was a grotty, greasy selection of takeaway food from the local kebab and curry shop. I went to the supermarket and bought a packet of crisps for dinner. This will be my trip with Exodus, after 8 years of loyalty.

    Reply from Exodus

    Reply from Exodus

    We would like to thank Alia for her detailed review, although we genuinely regret that she has had cause to provide such disappointing feedback and that she does not plan to travel with Exodus again following her experience. This holiday was a new addition in 2021 and whilst we recognise that first departures of new trips may not run as smoothly as more established tours, given the work that goes into the design and logistics of new itineraries, we would not expect them to fall below our usually high standards. Having taken the time to review the itinerary with our Exodus staff observer who joined this trip and speak through concerns with the local manager at Easyways, aspects of the time management and some sections of the walking routes have been reviewed and, where appropriate, amended for future departures. We have also changed the accommodation to be used in Tain. Following these changes, we have received feedback more in line with our, and our customers, expectations. We genuinely appreciate that this cannot alter Alia’s experiences but hope this demonstrates that we have taken the feedback seriously and endeavored to react appropriately in the circumstances.

    Product Manager - Claire Ouditt

Dates & Prices

An overview of flight options

Exodus is committed to making joining our tours as easy as possible, wherever you live. We generally only block book seats from London, but this certainly does not mean that you need to fly from there. Depending on the route and airlines available, there will usually be various options available for those who want to fly from their local airport.

This page aims to provide a useful overview of the options available to our clients. However, the best flight arrangements should be tailored to your personal requirements, so please contact our Sales team for expert advice.


What kind of options do I have ?

1. We can book for you: Flights from anywhere in the world - not via London  

Depending on the route, this may be direct or via an overseas hub like Amsterdam, the Middle East or elsewhere. On short haul routes there may be direct flights with low cost airlines, charter flights or scheduled airlines. Exodus can book most, but not all, of these for you. The most appropriate airline may be different to that which we use for the group flight from London, but many people now travel on different airlines and meet up with their fellow passengers at the destination.

Pros Cons
  • May be the most direct route
  • Often the extra fare compared to the London flight is minimal.
  • As you will be in the hands a single airline for your entire journey, the airline will be responsible for your bags and your connections.
  • You may not be able to join the group transfers. However, we can usually arrange private transfers, or book your flights to try and coincide with the group transfers. See notes on transfer arrangements below.


2. We can book for you: Connecting flights from your local airport to London

Exodus can book connecting flights to London so you can join the group flight there. Connecting times will be followed according to airline advice, or as requested by clients. There are two types of fares we can use for this option: a 'through-fare' or a 'published fare'.
a) A 'through-fare' is where you will be in the main airline's care throughout. You change planes, but your bags are checked all the way through to your final destination. 

b) A 'published fare' ticket is completely seperate from your onward ticket from London. It is usually cheaper than a through-fare but will need to be paid for and issued as soon as it is booked. This can be a problem if your tour has not yet reached minimum numbers. On 'published fares' neither airline is aware that you have connecting flights, so Exodus is responsible for timing your connection, not the airlines involved. The tickets are also usually non changeable and non refundable.

Pros Cons
  • Depending on the fare type, Exodus or the airline is responsible for flight connections.
  • Through fare tickets can be expensive.
  • On a published fare, tickets must be issued immediately; tickets on published fares can be very difficult to change if onward flight times change; bags are not checked though to your final destination.
  • Published fares are non-refundable.


3. Booking some or all of the flights yourself

You can also book connecting air travel yourself, either to London, or all the way to the start point. There may be certain airlines or routes we don't have access to, so this is always an option. However, if you make your own travel arrangements you become liable for any delays, cancellations or missed connections, and Exodus is not required to offer refunds if you have trouble reaching the start of your trip.

Pros Cons
  • You might find cheaper fares, or routes not available to Exodus.
  • You are responsible for any delays or missed connections, and the cost of the tour is not protected should you miss your flight be cancelled.


 Notes on transfer arrangements

Sometimes it is possible to travel on a different airline to the group flight from London. Where this is the case, we need to think about ensuring you meet up with the group with minimum extra cost and hassle.

  • On certain trips, it is easy to arrive on a different flight and still meet the group at the hotel with time in hand. We can usually arrange private transfers (at extra cost) or offer advice on taking a taxi to the start hotel.
  • On other trips (especially in Europe), the transfer meets the group flight and then travels some distance to the first night's accommodation. Where this is the case, our Sales team will try to arrange flights that arrive before (and depart after) the group. However, we do have to make it clear in your final documentation that if your flights are delayed, the transfer cannot wait for you. While Exodus or our local operators will do what we can to help you reach the start point of the tour, any additional costs must be paid by the client. 


Next steps? 

Call our Sales team on: 0203 733 0698

Email your query: [email protected]

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