At the furthest most northerly reach of the Scottish highlands lies a land of rugged terrain, ferocious seas and infinite horizons. It is a land that is as old as time, full of secrets and limitless rewards for any who dare adventure there. From the towering peaks of the Duncansby Stacks to the stunning views of the sea beyond, this is a spot in Scotland that cannot be missed on any North Coast 500 road trip. On the very northeast corner of the British mainland lie two beautiful sights that if you are touring the NC500 in Scotland then you would be a fool to miss them. The Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse are a hugely popular tourist attraction in this area, drawing visitors from all over the world to admire their humbling beauty. Plan your trip to the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse with this complete guide to the area, including the fascinating history of the region, as well everything else there is to do nearby.      

Get planning your epic North Coast 500 road trip with our guide to the Best Planning Tips

   

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Download an easy to use, NC500 map and North Coast 500 Itinerary right here. Complete with pictures, stopping points and highlights along the way, this guide is a must-have for your next trip!

   

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Complete Guide to the Duncansby Lighthouse and Stacks – WHAT, WHERE AND WHY..

Perched off the northeast corner of the British mainland lies the natural wonder of the Duncansby Stacks, as well as the lighthouse that guards these perilous shores. These 60m sea stacks tower high above the ferocious and unpredictable water of the North Sea. It is a land truly carved by time and stands as a monument to the destructive power of nature in this part of the world.    

History of the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse

The Duncansby Stacks lie just off the shore of Duncansby Head on the most northeastern point of mainland Britain. These towering sea stacks are believed to have stood in this position for the last 6000 years, slowly eroding away due to the raw power of the North Sea. The water in this part of Scotland has proven itself treacherous over the years, which has resulted in the construction of the nearby Duncansby Lighthouse. Built in 1924, this lighthouse remained home to a keeper for over 70 years, until in 1997, it was fully automated and no longer required a resident. Soon after this automation, the keepers housing quarters showed signs of damp and asbestos and were subsequently removed. The lighthouse tower remains here to this day, still functional and protecting boats from the crags and cliffs of this destructive span of water. The danger in this part of the coastal waters comes from the characteristics produced by the way the Atlantic and North Seas meet, producing eddies and flows that reach up to 10 knots. It is for this reason that this part of the coastal region of Scotland became known as the “Hell’s Mouth”.  
Walking over the hill at the Duncansby Lighthouse to find the stacks.
Walking over the hill at the Duncansby Lighthouse to find the stacks.
     

Where are the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse?

The Duncansby Lighthouse sits just to the west of John O’Groats, on the northeastern corner of the British mainland. The stacks themselves sit not far from this lighthouse, around 500m south along the cliffside. By parking at the lighthouse and heading walking with the sea on your left, you will reach the viewing area that offers the best view of the Duncansby Stacks.  
A closer look at the witches hat structure of the towering Duncansby Stacks.
A closer look at the witches hat structure of the towering Duncansby Stacks.
     

How to Get to the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse?

The easiest way to get to the Duncansby Stacks is to follow signposts across Scotland to the town of John O’Groats. If you are driving north, ensure the sea is on your right and if you are driving East, keep it on your left. Eventually, you will reach the northeastern tip of the country and you will find the beautiful Duncansby Lighthouse. Once you have reached John O’Groats, follow signposts for Duncansby Head and continue on for a further 2 miles until you reach the parking area for the lighthouse. This carpark is free and is an excellent place to get out and stretch your legs, admiring the stunning cliff views all around. When you are ready, head up over the hill that lies to the right of the lighthouse and follow the coastline around until you reach the Duncansby Stacks viewing area. You will not miss the stacks as you come up over the hill, as they tower high above the sea in the distance. It is up to you whether you then wish to continue south closer to the stacks or simply admire them from a distance before returning to the lighthouse.  
Duncansby Lighthouse overlooking the endless horizon of the North Sea.
Duncansby Lighthouse overlooking the endless horizon of the North Sea.
     

What to Expect at the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse?

In terms of amenities, there is not very much to offer at the Duncansby Lighthouse. It is not possible to go inside the lighthouse as nothing remains apart from the automated light tower and there are no other buildings, cafes or even toilets. If you wish to grab a bite to eat or use a bathroom, we highly recommend continuing on to the John O’Groats signpost that lies just outside the town centre. Here you will find the visitor centre, toilets and cafes for food and drinks. When you do visit this part of Scotland, make sure you keep an eye out for the numerous puffins that call these sea cliffs home. When we were here there were hundreds of them, all playing and resting on the sides of the cliff.  
A low-angle shot of the distant Duncansby Stacks. These beauties are a highlight of our NC500 road trip.
A low-angle shot of the distant Duncansby Stacks. These beauties are a highlight of our NC500 road trip.
   

When to Visit the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse

There is no prominent time of year or even day that is the best to visit the Duncansby Stacks, aside from the obvious golden hours of sunrise or sunset. If you are an early bird then these stacks are an obvious spot to come and start the day, with the sun rising over the sea to the east, slowly illuminating the towering stacks. During the busy season of July and August, tour buses pile in and out of this spot all day long, unloading coaches of tourists who all scramble for a quick photo before they are herded off to the next spot. It is an obvious suggestion that you should try your best to avoid these busy months to not only protect the natural habitat of Duncansby Head but to also allow you to enjoy your trip. We toured the NC500 in June before the majority of the schools went on holiday across the UK, and the entire NC500 route was almost empty. We recommend touring this epic road trip either during April/May or after summer in September.    

Nearby Sights to the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse

There are loads of other beautiful sights that you will need to visit close by to the Duncansby Stacks, both to the west and further to the south. For a full list of all of the best North Coast 500 sights that you cannot miss, read our full guide here.  

Visit Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Further to the south of the Duncansby Stacks sits one of Scotland’s most spectacular castle ruins, the Castle of Sinclair and Girnigoe. Perched on the edge of the sea cliff, this 500-year old castle ruin has a simply fascinating history of battles, prosperity and eventual abandonment. Just imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago, sitting in the towers of this majestic castle and looking out beyond the endless horizon. What must they have thought lay beyond that distant blue line? Read our full guide to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe to plan your trip to the fullest.  
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
The modern entrance to the castle ruin of Sinclair Girnigoe.
   

Snap a Pic at the John O’Groats Signpost

One of the most popular tourist attractions on the north coast of Scotland, this famous John O’Groats Signpost is a definite photo-stop on the NC500 road trip. Marking the end of the countrywide route from its sister signpost in Lands End, Cornwall, this signpost is a welcome sight to the weary travellers who have made this monumental journey. If you are touring the North Coast 500 then this signpost should be a definite stop on your road trip, as it is the perfect place to stretch your legs, snap a photo and grab a bite to eat. Read our full guide to the John O’Groats Signpost to plan your trip to the fullest.  
John O Groats Sign
Visit the John O Groats Sign Post and snap a photo on your trip around the NC500.
     

Before You Leave on the North Coast 500

Before you head off on your trip around the NC500, there are certain things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth trip. These include how to get around the route, including being aware of single track roads, etc., what to pack for Scotland, where to stay along the route and what travel insurance to book.  

How Do I Get Around?

Given the remote location of the NC500 and the majority of the sights along the route, the best way to get around this road trip is by driving. There are of course other methods that are still popular, such as cycling and hiking, however, if you have a short amount of time on the route, neither of these are very suitable. As for public transport, the use around the NC500 is understandably difficult due to how remote each location is, however, with the increasing problem of congestion along the route, this is a good option to research if you have time. If it is something that interests you, you can read a public formed itinerary of how to get around the NC500 by public transport over here.   If you are looking to rent a cosy, reliable and luxurious campervan for your trip along the NC500, we highly recommend hiring through Bunk Campers. We toured with these guys around the up-and-coming Heart 200 road trip in Scotland’s central highlands and could not believe the comfort and customer service we experienced with their vans. Browse the full range of vehicles on offer at Bunk Campers over here.    

What Should I Pack for Scotland?

When it comes to packing for a trip to Scotland there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your trip to Scotland you will probably experience at least a drizzle of rain. Due to this, the number one item on any Scotland packing list is a good waterproof jacket. As for the rest of the year, the temperature in Scotland and the central heartlands is reasonably mild for most of the year. During the winter months, you will most likely experience snow, however, temperatures usually sit around freezing, so it is not too cold. For your reference, the average temperatures in Scotland are listed below during each season.   Spring (March, April, May) – 5-10 degrees C Summer (June, July, August) – 15 degrees C Autumn (September, October, November) – 5-10 degrees C Winter (December, January, February) – 0-5 degrees C   As you can see, the weather never really gets above the teens, with anything over 25 degrees C considered a heatwave. The best way to pack for your trip to the highlands is with layers that can be added and removed as you need them. You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the colder months and will most likely need sunscreen to protect you on the long days in the open.  

For our full list of items that we pack no matter where we go in the world, check out our full packing guides over here.

  Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around Scotland, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below. You can read what else we keep in our camera bag over here.  
Photography Equipment

Main Photography Camera – Sony A7 Mirrorless Camera

Main Lense – Sony F3.5-5.6 28mm-70mm

Camera Stand – Neewer Portable 177cm

Vlogging Camera – Sony HX90v

Action Camera – GoPro Hero 8 Black

Drone Camera – DJI Spark

Camera Bag – Yahan Camera Bag

   
Duncansby Stacks
Golden hour over the majestic Duncansby Stacks.
   

Where Should I Stay on the NC500?

The remoteness in the highlands of Scotland will leave you with little choice of accommodation in each location along the NC500, however, there are still enough options to choose from to ensure a comfortable trip. These are mostly in the shape of B&Bs, Airbnbs, converted cottages and other quirky accommodations. Depending on how adventurous you are, there may be more accommodation choices than just the above, often with an even better view. Caravan and camping sites are abundant along the NC500, drawing camping enthusiasts from all over the world. For some of the most spectacular bedside scenery along the North Coast 500, we recommend packing a tent and getting in touch with nature for the week.   As we travelled along the North Coast 500, camped in our trusty Vango tent on a mixture of campsites and wild sites. Wild camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of the highlands, however, it must be done respectfully. Read our full guide to Wild Camping if you wish to give it a go so you know everything you need to for a comfortable and sustainable trip.    

What is the Best Travel Insurance?

No matter what type of adventure you are heading on, whether it is a mountain adventure or a relaxing beach destination, one thing we all need to be aware of is that accidents can happen. The last thing you want is for an unexpected medical emergency to ruin your trip of a lifetime. Luckily, that is what travel insurance is for. Whenever we travel abroad, we get covered with World Nomad’s Travel Insurance, a reliable, friendly and extremely affordable method of covering yourself on any adventure. With years of experience working for backpackers around the globe, the service they provide is perfect for whatever type of trip you have planned. Get covered for your next trip and get a quote from World Nomad’s right here.     So there you have it, your complete guide to the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse. If you have visited the NC500 recently, let us know what you thought of the sights listed above, or if you have any suggestions let us know in the comments below. As always, sharing is caring so make sure to share this photo guide with your family and friends and inspire them to head off on their own North Coast 500 adventure. If you are planning the trip for yourself, make sure you have a look at the rest of our Scotland content for more inspiration to our beautiful home country. When you set off on your own adventure, be sure to tag us in your photos on Instagram and we will share them with the rest of our community. In the meantime, why not follow us over there to see what we are currently up to and keep up with us on our Instagram Stories.     Now Read:    

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