Dunnet: A Complete Guide

Find out all you need to know including what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to get to Dunnet, North Scotland.

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About Dunnet
Dunnet in Caithness, North Scotland is famous for being home to the most northerly point of the UK and Scottish mainland, Dunnet Head. It offers expansive walks over beaches, forest and coastline looking out along the Pentland Firth, towards Orkney. Dunnet is also home to Rock Rose Gin.

Where is Dunnet
It is located in the historical county of Caithness, Scotland, on the north coast of the Scottish Highlands.

Location
Dunnet is around 11 miles west of John O'Groats, 115 miles north of Inverness and 270 miles north of Edinburgh, Scotland.

What is the most northern place in the UK?
Contrary to common belief, Dunnet Head is actually the most northerly point of the UK and Scottish mainland, not John O'Groats. John O'Groats is the most north easterly village in the UK, whereas Dunnet Head is the most northern peninsula.

What to do in Dunnet

Dunnet Head
The drive from Dunnet to Dunnet Head peninsula is a winding journey of around 20 minutes, up along mainly single track road. From the road, you can see views across Caithness and the Pentland Firth towards the Orkney Isles.

The walk is around 90 minutes through earthy red countryside and seascape.

Once you arrive at Dunnet Head, there is a lighthouse set on the cliffs. It is not open to the public, but to the west is a viewing platform for birdwatching.

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

The birdlife at Dunnet Head is part of an RSPB nature reserve. The cliffs are home to bird species including puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes. Take binoculars to see the best of the birdlife and surrounding nature and to maximise sightings, research when is best to see your chosen birds.

Dunnet Bay Distillery
Near the start of the drive to Dunnet Head, you'll find Dunnet Bay Distillery. Producing Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka among others, this small and relatively new distiller is a local favourite in Caithness.

Distillery tours are run throughout the summer season for clients. And for those not wishing to drive, the Northern Sands Hotel is conveniently located next door to the distillery for dinner and accommodation.

For gift ideas and treats, the Dunnet Bay Distillery shop is well-furnished with limited edition spirits, mixers, gift sets, gin-inspired chocolates, local marmalades, candles and cards.

Walks in Dunnet
Dunnet has a range of evocative walking opportunities. As well as the long inclining walk towards the cliffs of Dunnet Head, visitors can enjoy:

Dunnet Bay
A two-mile stretch of white sandy beach and undulating sand dunes, wind swept from the Pentland Firth and perfect for solitary strolls and secluded beach walks.

Dunnet Bay

The beach is next door to the campsite at Dunnet Bay and has a free car park, visitor centre and public facilities.

Dunnet Forest
A community woodland located along the A836 between Thurso and John O'Groats, close to Dunnet Bay. The woodland covers 104 hectares and is perfect for a stroll, picnic stop or walk with a dog.

It has a range of walking trails for all ages and abilities including paths for horse riding, mountain biking and facilities for smaller children.

Features include a log cabin, a bird hide and various sculptures dispersed through the wood. There is nearby free parking along the A836. 

Dunnet Forest

The Flagstone Trail 
A miniature walk, just under half a mile in length, starting from the car park at Castlehill Heritage Centre. The Castlehill Heritage Centre is a museum and gardens housed in a converted farm which showcases small exhibitions and provides information about the local community.

The Flagstone Trail recounts the story of the local flagstone industry through landmarks including this former windmill.

The Windmill - The Flagstone Trail

The walk continues to Castlehill Harbour (pictured below) with views of the sea at Dunnet Bay.

Dunnet Bay is within easy reach - continue along Harbour Road and you can turn onto the shoreline at Dunnet Bay before you meet the main road.

What to do near Dunnet

Castle of Mey
Visit the intimate former home and gardens of the Queen Mother with views over the Pentland Firth. Discover the Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey

Where to eat in Dunnet
There are no cafes or restaurants at Dunnet Head and eating options in Dunnet are relatively limited but the Northern Sands Hotel in Dunnet is well worth a stop.

  • The Northern Sands Hotel, Dunnet the restaurant and bar has a menu serving traditional and locally sourced cuisine including pub lunch favourites such as fish and chips as well as cafe or light lunches including sandwiches, desserts, coffees, teas, hot drinks and local beer.

Where to eat near Dunnet
For cafes and tearooms near Dunnet, consider:

  • The tea room at the Castle of Mey (5.5 miles) serving freshly made sandwiches and toasties, soups, cakes, hot drinks, coffees and teas.
  • The Roads End Cafe, John O'Groats (11 miles) for freshly baked scones and cooked breakfast options.
  • Stacks Coffee Shop and Bistro, John O'Groats (11 miles) an independent coffee shop serving fresh wraps, soups, hot drinks and local John O'Groats beers.
  • The Blue Door Cafe and Diner, Thurso (9 miles) an independent cafe and fast food joint serving burgers, ice cream sundaes, milkshakes and freakshakes.

For restaurants and evening meals:

  • Captains Galley Seafood Restaurant, Scrabster (11 miles) an upmarket fish and seafood restaurant serving more casual lunches, with locally and sustainably sourced fish
  • No.1 Bistro, Wick (18.5 miles) part of Mackays Hotel, serving locally sourced and traditional Scottish menu items on the shortest street in the world.

Where to shop in Dunnet
Dunnet Bay Distillery Shop sells a range of gift ideas and locally produced items such as gin marmalades by Caithness Summer Fruits, gin chocolates from Caithness Chocolate, gin candles, cards and spirits including limited edition Rock Rose gin flavours and Holy Grass vodkas.

Rock Rose Gin Marmalade Rock Rose Gin

Shops near Dunnet

The Castle of Mey has a gift shop selling books, pottery and crockery, local products and glassware.

John O'Groats (11 miles) is home to:

  • The Gallery featuring local arts and crafts such as limited edition prints, glassware, pottery and cards.
  • The North Coast Emporium sells local foods and products including butter and salmon from Caithness Smokehouse, jams and chutneys from Caithness Summer Fruits, Mrs Taverstock shortbread and knitted toys, clothing and furnishings among other novelties.
  • The John O'Groats Bookshop and Tourist Information with an extensive range of books on Scotland.

Thurso (8.5 miles) has a range of shops and local products including:

  • J A Mackays a local grocery shop with a range of spirits, whisky, gin and alcohol as well as foods from Caithness Summer Fruit, Caithness Chocolate, Caithness Smokehouse and others.
  • Eye Candy an independent gift shop with locally arts and crafts including prints, hair clips, soft toys, clothing, chocolate and drinks glasses.

The nearest supermarket to Dunnet is in Thurso where you have Tesco, Lidl and Co-op.

Where to stay in Dunnet

Hotels
The Northern Sands Hotel, Dunnet
is a three-star hotel with a good restaurant and bar serving dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

Also consider:
Forss House Hotel near Thurso (14 miles) a four-star boutique hotel at Thurso set in leafy grounds in Forss

Mackays Hotel, Wick (18.5 miles) a cosy three-star hotel and whisky bar set on the shortest street in the world and featuring No. 1 Bistro, a restaurant with a local menu.

Camping
Nearby campsites include Dunnet Bay in Dunnet, as well as Thurso Bay (9 miles), John O'Groats (11 miles) and Wick (19 miles).

How to get to Dunnet
By car: 8.5 miles east of Thurso and 11 miles west of John O'Groats along the A836.

By bus: the 80 bus route operated by Stagecoach runs from Thurso via Castletown, Dunnet, Mey and John O'Groats.

By train: the nearest train station is Thurso on the Far North Railway Line, which runs from Inverness to Wick.

Nearest airports: Wick-John O'Groats (with a daily service to Edinburgh and Aberdeen) and Inverness (with UK-wide destinations as well as Amsterdam, Netherlands).

Where to go next
North: to the Orkney Isles 
West: to Tongue, Loch Eriboll, Durness and the west coast
South: to Dunrobin Castle and Inverness

Drives
To Dunnet Head
Follow the meandering drive from Dunnet up the red coastal landscape to Dunnet Head, the most northern point of the Scottish mainland.

To the Castlehill Heritage Centre
The Castlehill Heritage Centre and Flagstone Trail are located in Castletown, Caithness along the North Coast 500 driving route, 5 minutes west of Dunnet and 20 minutes west of John O'Groats.  

On the A836 at Castletown, you follow the signs for Castlehill Heritage Centre and turn off the main road towards the coast. 

Scrabster to Gills Bay via Dunnet Bay
Scrabster and Gills Bay are two key harbours on the north coast with ferries to the Orkney Isles. Here are drives from Scrabster through Thurso to Dunnet and onwards past the Castle of Mey to Gills Bay Harbour.

Wick to Dunnet Beach
Here is a complete car journey from Wick to Dunnet Beach. Wick is one of the main towns of the far north east coast of Scotland. This route heads north along the A99 and B876 (at Reiss) through Bowermadden then east along the A836 at Castletown. The journey takes around 25 minutes.

An alternative route is to follow the A99 along the coast to John O'Groats then head west to Dunnet along the A836.

Further resources
See our complete guide to the Castle of Mey.