281. Dunnet to John o’Groats

My first job before setting out was to pop next door to the tyre fitters to check on my puncture. I was told yesterday that they would fit a budget/economy tyre for circa £65, that is expensive, but I didn’t argue. Turns out they didn’t have an economy tyre, but put a “better tyre” on – which cost £92, the words “done up like a kipper” spring to mind.

I drove to Dunnet and parked in the village hall car park. It was forecasted to be a very hot day all over the UK and as I set off towards West Dunnet there were no clouds in the sky, but a stiff warm breeze at my back. I set off across open moorland and decided to try my new umbrella/parasol. Its silver top is designed to reflect all of the direct UV rays and with its black underside to absorb all indirect UV rays. With the strong swirling breeze at my back the brolly did occasionally turn inside-out. The good thing was that it was designed to easily turn back again and this worked well. As I crossed the open moor towards Dunnet Head I used the brolly shade the entire time. I still sweated in the heat and it was tough walking over the trackless terrain.
I headed over Bloody Moss then towards Loch of Bushta before climbing slowly up the gentle slopes of Dunnet Hill (121m). The view from Dunnet Hill was stunning. To the west across Thurso Bay I could see Scrabster and in the far distance the hills of Assynt. To the North West I could see the high red sea cliffs of Hoy and the top of The Old Man of Hoy. To the east I could see the low-lying Caithness coastline disappearing towards Duncansby Head and the Isle of Stroma. The route ahead to the lighthouse at Dunnet Head was obvious. I set off towards Sanders Loch where the walking was over spongy grass, moss and heather. As I neared Dunnet Head I had to walk over old peat workings which was difficult in places. I was accompanied part of the way by a number of  Great Skuas, happily on this occassion they ignored me, unlike those that dive-bombed me when I last visited Shetland in 2013.

Dunnet Head was very busy with many tourists enjoying the extensive views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney. I walked to the top of the hill above the lighthouse to get a brilliant 360 degree panorama. I had intended to continue walking down the eastern side of the Dunnet Head peninsular, but the morning 4 miles over trackless terrain in the heat had taken their toll and I would be already struggling to make my intended bus back from John o’Groats to Dunnet.

Looking back at yesterday’s walk over Dunnet Beach
Looking west over Loch of Bushta to Thurso
Zoomed shot across The Pentland Firth to Hoy and the Old Man of Hoy
The route to Dunnet Head past Sanders Loch
Great Skua
Approaching Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head with Hoy in the distance
Looking back at my approach route
Dunnet Head
Looking back towards Thurso, the hill in the far distance is Ben Klibreck

I set off down the road towards Brough, a scattered hamlet. I was very grateful for a small cafe in Brough where I could replenish my water supplies, as the heat was quite intense now. I was now walking along quiet single track roads that ran close to the coastline and passed through a number of strung-out settlements that included Scarfskerry and Harrow. I passed very close to the Castle of Mey. It was certainly open to visitors so I doubt there were any Royals in residence. I decided to re-stock my water supplies again, so I popped into the cafe at the Castle. I did baulk at the cost of a 320ml bottle of still water which was £1.85. The young serving girls behind the counter said I could fill my water bottle up from the ice-cool containers in the cafe. I obliged and then set off along a coastal path for a short distance. I soon joined another long straight road that finally joined up with the A836.

I passed through Gills and the small ferry pier which provided a service to St. Margaret Hope on the Orkney mainland. After passing through the settlement of Huna and getting back onto the shore I could now see Duncansby Head Lighthouse and John o’Groats in the distance. Although, the real milestone was Duncansby Head (where I would begin the long walk south) John o’Groats had always been a key destination. At the familiar mileage fingerpost I got a ‘selfie’ from a Dutch chap and his family. I made my bus by 10 minutes and paid the £3 back to Dunnet.

When I got back to the Airbnb I checked out the weather forecast. It did not look good for tomorrow with thundery showers with lightening forecast from 06:00 through to 15:00. As tomorrows walk would have been over 23 miles, there was every chance that I would encounter some of these showers with little or no shelter if I did. I decided to abort the trip and drove south the following day, with cracked windscreen and through the thunderstorms that had been forecast.

Looking back at Dunnet Head
Castle of Mey
The ferry terminal at Gills
Approaching John o’Groats with Duncansby Head in the distance
At John o’Groats

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:


POSTSCPIPT: the windscreen made it back home ok, only ‘growing’ by 10mm. However, the Friday appointment agreed on Monday did not happen. Autoglass did not show, I had paid for the windscreen and waited an hour past my alloted time slot and was told, when I called them, that the replacement windscreen had been “damaged in transit”. No communication from these cowboys about this and I would have still been waiting now if I had not bothered to call them. I have made a complaint, for the good that it will do. Grrrr!!

Distance today = 22.5 miles

Total distance = 5,095 miles






One thought on “281. Dunnet to John o’Groats”

  1. A good few miles covered and a real milestone now you have reached John O Groats! Sorry about the car problems, I hope it wasn’t vandalism rather than just wear and tear. I somehow missed the photo of that lovely market stone at DUnnet.

    I did GIlls Bay (from the ferry, there is a bus to there) to Dunnet via DUnnet head and made it around both sides of the headland, though it was a hard walk (and not so hot).


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