Duncansby Heads Stacks

Walk the North Highlands Trip Notes

Ways to Travel:
Guided Group
United Kingdom, Europe
Walking & Trekking
Trip Code:
Activity Rating - Moderate

You are moderately fit and possess a spirit of adventure. Some previous experience is required for most activity based trips.

8 Days Land only
Ages: 16+

Trip Overview

The Highlands of Scotland need no introduction, known the world over for their rugged beauty. On this journey we focus, however, on the lesser known northern areas of the Highlands, that have remained relatively unchanged and present a sharp contrast with other more populated parts of the country.

Beginning with three nights in Thurso, the northernmost town on the UK mainland, our journey takes in Duncansby Head, the most northerly point on the British Mainland John O’ Groats, Dunnet Head and a day trip to the Orkney Islands with its rich Viking Heritage.

 Cape Wrath and its iconic lighthouse built in 1828 is also on the menu, before we complete our visit to the north with a walk out to the magnificent beaches at Sandwood Bay on the dramatic Atlantic coastline.  The walk from Blairmore is rewarded by arrival at one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Britain. Where we spend time exploring the mile of golden sand and dunes, with rocky cliffs and a giant sea stack (The Shepherd) that sets the dramatic scene.

Paths here are not beaten, and nature is raw. This is a world away from the noise of everyday life. 

At a Glance

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

Trip Highlights

  • 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
  • Some of the finest whisky distilleries in the world, including the Glenmorangie Distillery
  • Walk to Sandwood Bay, one of the most magnificent beaches in Scotland


Is This Trip for You?

Activity Level: 3 (Moderate)

This is not a continuous route but in contrast offers a series of short to medium walking experiences linking the most scenic and interesting parts of the extreme north coast of Scotland.

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 shelter. The walks are not technically difficult and are low altitude throughout. 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 accommodation during the trip.



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.



Adult min age:
Max group size:



Land Only

Start City:
End City:

Land Only Itinerary

  • Day 1

    Inverness to Thurso

    Our trip begins with a transfer from Inverness Rail Station to Thurso, the most northerly town on the British mainland.  

    Located at the end of the A9, the main transport route through Scotland, Thurso is 300 miles from the main industrial area of Central Scotland and the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is also the birthplace of Sir William Alexander Smith (1854 – 1914), the founder of the Boys’ Brigade.

    Our Inverness departure time is set at 2pm to meet with the morning trains arriving from Glasgow and Edinburgh and also to allow those arriving by air to make their way into town from Inverness Airport situated 9 miles east of the city.

    En route we will stop at Tain to take in a visit to the Glenmorangie Distillery where you can experience the centuries old whisky distillation process and sample a glass of highland hospitality before continuing the journey to Thurso.

     Overnight Manor House, Thurso

  • Day 2

    Dunnet Head and Castletown Bay

    This morning we take a transfer to Dunnet Head Lighthouse, the most northerly point on the British Mainland.  We return by following the western side of the coastline on unmarked tracks overlooking spectacular cliffs with sea views over to the Orkney Islands to the north.

    We descend Dunnet Head past secluded Peedee Bay where we take lunch. If sea conditions are favourable a dip is even possible! After lunch, we move on to Dwarwick Pier and the expansive eastern end of Dunnet Bay.  We then walk across the golden sands returning past Castletown at the west side of the bay for our return transfer to Thurso.


    Overnight Manor House, Thurso

    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 22 km / 13.5 miles
  • Day 3

    Duncansby Head and Orkney

    An early morning departure to John O’ Groats with time to view the Lighthouse at Duncansby Head and The Stacks before boarding the 08.45 ferry across the Pentland Firth for our visit to Orkney.  The full-day tour visits all the iconic locations of the islands such as Kirkwall with its magnificent Norse Cathedral,  Skara Brae Neolithic site (older than Stonehenge), The Churchill Barriers and the beautiful Italian Chapel. 
    We return early evening for our private transfer back to Thurso.

    Overnight Manor House, Thurso

    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 9 km / 5.5 miles
  • Day 4

    Scrabster and Bettyhill

    We begin our day with a morning walk down to the picturesque harbour of Scrabster – the crossing point to Stromness on Orkney.   We then head out past Holborn Lighthouse to Holborn Head for a circular walk around the headland taking in some dramatic seascape features such as stacks, arches and layered rock formations over crashing waves. Our morning's walk will be approximately 7 miles/11km. 

     In the afternoon we journey west by private transfer Bettyhill for a short walk around Àrd Mòr (approx 3 miles/5km), a high peninsula north of Bettyhill Village and Farr Bay where again swimming is possible from this quiet secluded beach.  


    Overnight Bettyhill Hotel, Bettyhill

    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 16 km / 10 miles
  • Day 5

    Durness to Cape Wrath, local walking, return via ferry and short walk

    Today we have an early morning transfer from Bettyhill, past Durness to the Keoldale ferry point on the Kyle of Durness for crossing and onward local minibus transfer to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the British mainland.   Time spent at the lighthouse before walking to idyllic Kearvaig Beach (our lunch and swimming spot) before rendezvousing with the minibus for return to Keoldale ferry.

    The lighthouse at Cape Wrath was built in 1828 by Robert Stevenson and was manned until 1998 when it was converted to automatic operation. It is a Category A listed building, 20 metres tall, consisting of a white-washed tower built of granite with a single-storey semi-circular base building.

    Cape Wrath has a wide diversity of wildlife, including red deer golden eagles and a variety of seabirds such as cormorant and gannet can be seen on this walk.

    On return ferry crossing we return to Durness by taking the west side of the Durness Circuit to Balnakeil Craft Village, then on quiet roads through Durness and on to our hotel for the evening.

    Please note that on the 2nd July departure we spend this night and the next night, in Kinlochbervie. 


    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 16 km / 10 miles
  • Day 6

    Morning ferry; Cape Wrath Lighthouse walk; transfer to Kinlochbervie

    A more relaxing day with local walking around Smoo Cave located on the eastern approaches to the settlement of Durness.  We take time to view the cave from the beach before reaching Durness by way of Sango Sands on a mix of seaside tracks and road walking in time for lunch. 

     In the afternoon we take time out at Balnakeil Craft Village before walking the circular route (about 4.5 miles/7km) over the peninsula out past the beaches at Balnakeil to Faraid Head.

     In the event of inclement weather preventing a crossing to Cape Wrath it is possible to take a local walk around the Durness Circuit (5.5miles, 9km)at the western end of the town adjacent to Balnakeil.   The circuit is located at the west end of Durness and overlooks the Kyle of Durness and Balnakeil.

    Overnight Smoo Cave Hotel. 

    N.B 02 July to 9th July departure will stay in Kinlochbervie

    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 10 km / 6 miles
  • Day 7

    Walk to the picturesque Sandwood Bay

    Morning transfer to Blairmore and onward walk to the magnificent beaches at Sandwood Bay on the dramatic Atlantic coastline. The walk is rewarded by an arrival at one of the most beautiful and remote beaches in all of Britain. Spend time exploring the mile of golden sand and dunes, with rocky cliffs and a giant sea stack to complete the dramatic scene before walking back to Oldshoremore where our minibus awaits to transfer you to Inverness for the final overnight on the tour.

    Meals included:
    Distance covered: 13 km / 8 miles
  • Day 8

    End in Inverness

    The trip ends in Inverness after breakfast.


    Meals included:

All ascents, descents and distances listed above have been measured by our local partners or tour leaders. Please note that different GPS measuring devices can give differing results dependent on the barometric pressures at the time. Measurements stated throughout these trips notes are given to help you understand the types of terrain and distances you will encounter.


Hotels & Guesthouses

Throughout the week, you will spend 7 nights in mainly locally owned, family-run hotels and guesthouses. 

The hotels we use are as follows:

Manor House, Thurso

Bettyhill hotel, Bettyhill

Smoo Cave, Durness - Please note on the 2nd July departure we'll stay instead at Kinlochbervie

Premier Inn, Inverness



Where a single supplement is available, paying for a single will only guarantee a room for single use. It does not necessarily mean a twin or double room will be provided for sole occupancy.

Please note that a member of the group may be allocated a single room by default if the make-up of the group means there isn’t anyone for them to share with. Paying the supplement in advance is the only way to guarantee a single room.

Single supplements cannot be refunded retrospectively.

Single supplement from £325.00

Food & Transport

Eating & Drinking

All breakfasts are included.

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

Dinners will be taken either in the accommodations or in traditional local pubs along the way.


Transfers throughout the week will be by private minibus. Luggage will be transferred throughout the tour to the next accommodation. You will only need to carry a daypack during the walks.

Weather & Seasonality

Weather Information

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.

Joining Instructions

Travelling land only: 8 days starting at Inverness train station and ending in Inverness.

The land-only meeting point on day 1 for this trip is 2pm at Inverness station. Your tour leader will be holding Exodus signage and further details, including contact phone numbers will be sent to you in your final joining instructions 2-3 weeks before departure.

Full joining instructions including local emergency numbers will be sent to you as part of our Final Joining Instructions. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier please contact our office or your travel agent.

Transfers Details




Location start:
Location end:

What to Take

Essential Equipment

  • Walking boots with good ankle support and grip
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket and over trousers- drying facilities are available for overnight drying out as required
  • Warm hat/gloves
  • A warm jacket & sweater/fleece 
  • Refillable water bottle (1-2 litre capacity at least)- Please note that tap water is safe to drink in the area which means all you need to do is bring a bottle to re-fill along the way. Please add this to your packing list as this will save on wasteful plastic bottles.
  • Daypack
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat, sun screen and lip salve
  • Small first aid kit including Compeed/blister kit

Optional Equipment

  • Walking poles
John O'Groats

Practical Information


United Kingdom

Visa regulations can change without notice: please check the current regulations in good time to obtain a visa if one is required.

There are no specific health risks on this trip.


United Kingdom

No vaccinations are obligatory.

Travel health can often be something people forget about before going away, but a little preparation and knowledge can go a long way to help you stay fit and healthy while abroad.

As we are not qualified to answer all your questions about travel health we strongly recommend you contact your Medical Professional or a Travel Health Clinic at least 8 weeks prior to departure for up-to-date information. Please note: vaccinations that are routinely recommended to residents of the UK, North America or Australasia are not considered to form part of the travel health advice, and you should ensure these are kept up to date where necessary.

For additional information please visit: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries

Insurance - are you adequately covered?

It is a condition of joining any of our holidays that you must be fully insured against medical and personal accident risks (to include repatriation costs and air ambulance or helicopter rescue services where appropriate). On arrival in destination for your trip, you will be asked to present details to your leader or local representative of your policy.

If you are resident in the UK we strongly recommend the Exodus travel insurance policy, this is specifically designed to cover all activities on your trip. If arranging your own policy please ensure that you are covered for all activities that are part of the trip, optional activities that you intend to take part in and/or on high altitude itineraries, that you are covered up to the maximum altitude of the trip.

Local Time

United Kingdom's Timezone:
Europe/London BST (GMT +01:00)


United Kingdom's Electricity:

220-240V. 50Hz. You will need a 3 pinned type G plug.


ATM Availability

ATMs are available in Inverness and Thurso, as well as most coastal towns & villages visited during the week. Credit & debit cards are widely accepted but in general it is also a good idea to carry some cash.

Extra Expenses & Spending Money

As lunches will usually be purchased from local bakeries and supermarkets or from accommodations we stay at, we recommend budgeting approximately GBP 5-7 per day.

We recommend budgeting approximately GBP 15-25 for dinners.

You will also need to budget for any extra snacks & drinks bought during the week.


Although optional, a tip for the leader at the end of the trip is greatly appreciated. As a guideline we recommend a contribution of approx. 20 GBP per client. This is entirely at your discretion if you are happy with the services they have provided throughout the trip.

Thurso from a distance

Responsible Tourism

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

Exodus Community

Join the Exodus online community

Don't forget to visit the Community area on our website. You can view the range of Exodus videos and podcasts, read trip write-ups which have featured in the national media and take advantage of some special deals on travel gear and equipment.

In the Community Travel Forum you'll find the Departure Lounge where you can discuss your trip with fellow travellers before you depart. When you get back from your holiday remember to upload your images to the relevant trip page on our website. This helps other people see what our holidays are really like and you'll be entered automatically into our monthly photo competition.

To make full use of the Community you'll need to join My Exodus. It's free, registration is simple and easy, so what are you waiting for?

Important Information

On all guided trips

Although our leaders are well trained to deal with different capabilities, if they have any concerns about someone’s ability to safely partake in an activity, or their impact on other people’s enjoyment, we authorise them to take necessary action which, in some circumstances, may involve asking someone to miss that activity.

Although rarely enforced, by booking this trip you agree to section 14 of our Booking Conditions which clearly states that our leaders have the authority to do this. In these circumstances we will ensure anyone sitting out is safely provided for and offered alternative options where possible. Refunds will not be provided for activities missed and customers may be liable for additional costs incurred.

On all trips

In booking this trip you should be confident in your ability to participate in all activities described in these Trip Notes. If you have any doubt about your suitability you should call the Exodus office and ask to speak to one of the experts on this itinerary.


Every time that you travel abroad you should take the time to read the warnings in the essential information in the brochure.

Full joining instructions including local emergency numbers, and details of how to reach the start point, will be sent to you approximately 2 to 3 weeks prior to departure. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier please contact our office or your travel agent.

The information in these Trip Notes is given in good faith. Where differences exist between the Trip Notes and our current brochure or website, the Trip Notes supersede the brochure and website. All holidays can be subject to unexpected changes; in order to enjoy them you should be prepared to be flexible where necessary. Occasionally, as stated in our brochure, it may not be possible to follow the itinerary as planned. This may be for a variety of reasons - climatic, political, physical or other. In these circumstances we will make the best possible alternative arrangements that maintain the integrity of the original itinerary.

As fuel prices, airport taxes and exchange rates fluctuate, and airlines manage their rates to match demand, it is proving harder than ever to guarantee our Flight Inclusive prices. Although we endeavour to keep our website as accurate as possible, daily fluctuations mean that our Flight Inclusive price may be out of date. For accurate prices we recommend that you contact one of our Travel Experts, or your Travel Agent.



The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the NHS have up-to-date advice on staying safe and healthy abroad. For more on security, local laws, plus passport and visa information, see https://travelaware.campaign.gov.uk/

Keep informed of current travel health news by visiting https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/

Advice can change so check regularly for updates.

For all latest travel information about your holiday, please visit our Travel Safety Advice page.

How to Book

1. Check availability

Go online to check availability, or contact us by phone or email.

2. Secure your place

You can provisionally hold a place on this trip, usually for between three and seven days.

3. Complete your booking and payment

When you're ready to book, go to our website for online bookings, book over the phone or you can complete a booking form (available online or on request by calling us). We accept all major credit and debit cards, or you can pay be cheque. Book with confidence: Exodus is fully licensed and bonded as a tour operator. We hold Air Traffic Organisers Licence (ATOL) number 2582 issued and bonded with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are also bonded to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and we are members of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) and ABTA ‐ The Travel Association. This means you can book your Exodus holiday with confidence, as all monies paid to us for your trip are fully protected.


These Trip Notes are valid from the "Current as" date on page one. They will occasionally be updated post booking and pre-departure; if there are any updates that significantly impact the inclusions or itinerary bookers will be written to separately. All customers will also receive a link to the most up-to-date version of the Trip Notes with their Final Joining Instructions pre-travel.