Duncansby Heads Stacks

Walk the North Highlands

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:

A series of fascinating walks to experience the historical and natural heritage of this most northerly part of the Scottish mainland.

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. 


  • 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


Key information

  • 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
  • Countries visited: United Kingdom, Europe

What's included

  • All breakfasts included
  • All accommodation
  • Entrance fees to Glenmorangie Distillery, Day Trip to Orkney (including Skara Brae and the Italian Chapel)
  • 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 3885 9102
Call for private group trips:
020 3885 9103
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 222.0km/13.5miles
Day 39.0km/5.5miles
Day 416.0km/10.0miles
Day 516.0km/10.0miles
Day 610.0km/6.0miles
Day 713.0km/8.0miles

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

    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: Breakfast
  • 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: Breakfast
  • 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: Breakfast
  • 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: Breakfast
  • 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: Breakfast
  • 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: Breakfast
  • Day 8

    End in Inverness

    The trip ends in Inverness after breakfast.


    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



United Kingdom

No vaccinations are obligatory.

Eating and 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.


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)

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.

Call for general departures:
020 3885 9102
Call for private group trips:
020 3885 9103
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 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



Call for general departures:
020 3885 9102
Call for private group trips:
020 3885 9103
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 3885 9102
Call for private group trips:
020 3885 9103
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: sales@exodus.co.uk

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