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Duncansby Stacks – Everything You Need to Plan Your Visit

duncansby stacks the professional traveller

If you are planning on visiting John O’Groats then you really need to take a little side trip to visit Duncansby Stacks.

Duncasby Stacks are stunning sea stacks, alongside a dramatic bit of coastline that is filled with seabirds too.

It’s very easy to get to, there is free parking and it’s dramatic and beautiful whatever the weather.

Author BioMelanie Newdick, Professional Traveller

  • +36 years travelling for work. Visited +40 countries (many multiple times)
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Duncansby Stacks

What are the Stacks of Duncansby?

Duncansby Stacks are a series of dramatic sea stacks located at Duncansby Head. They are very easy to visit and crammed with seabirds including puffins (depending on time of year). They are very close to John O’Groats in Scotland

1. Where Are Duncansby Stacks?

How to Get to Duncansby Stacks?

Heading towards John O’Groats on the A99 pass through Hamnavoe. Then turn right at the sign for Puffin Croft. Puffin Croft will be on your left. Follow the single-track road to Duncansby Head car park. Follow the path to the right of the car park to reach Duncansby Stacks.

The location of Duncansby Stacks is at Duncansby head, to the East of John O’Groats.

The sea stacks are located just off the Eastern coast.

2. Getting to Duncansby Stacks

Duncansby Stacks are located to the East of John O’Groats, at a place called Duncansby Head.

To reach them take a right turn off the A99 just in front of the Seaview Hotel (which is on the right hand side of the A99). This is just as you are coming into the outskirts of John O’Groats.

After turning right you will see Puffin Croft on your left hand side.

Keep travelling along this road to Duncansby Head. It is approximately 2 miles and most of the road is single track with passing places.

At the end of the road, you will cross a cattle grid as Duncansby Head is an open grazing area, meaning sheep are grazing freely there. As such extra care is needed with dogs and they should be kept on a lead.

As you reach Duncansby Head you will see the lighthouse ahead of you.

There is free parking on the left hand side.

3. Walking at Duncansby Stacks (Actually Duncansby Head)

The headland is called Duncansby Head, so it is this area that you need to walk across to reach Duncansby Stacks.

The ground is rough and uneven, as you would expect for a field and an area near the cliffs.

Good footwear is advisable.

The grazing sheep does mean there is some sheep poo to avoid and there is also a good selection of flies in the area too.

There are a variety of well-trodden areas in the grass which show you the main walking routes to reach the Duncansby Stacks.

4. Duncansby Stacks Walk

On leaving the car park you head into a grassed area and the first thing you will see is a small concrete block, which is a trig point, used by ordnance surveys for measuring purposes.

Head away from the car park across the grass and you will come to an inlet/ravine which will give you your first spectacular views of birds nesting at Duncansby Stacks.

Birds nest at all levels on these cliffs – not only are the views dramatic but the sounds are pretty spectacular too.

It is worth walking around the edge of this ‘inlet’. There is a spectacular section on the opposite side of the car park nearest the sea where there is a large sea cave. Again the sounds and sights are wonderful. Here’s my picture of some of the birds nesting in the cave.

duncansy stacks first ravine the professional traveller
Looking down into the first of the gaps in the coastline – it’s very deep!

5. Continuing to the First Stack of Duncansby Stacks

Walking from the first inlet you can walk across towards the sea and there you will find a small stack just a short distance from the cliffs. The path to this stack is much less well trodden as most people head directly for the main stacks. It is worth a little diversion though.

duncansby stacks first stack the professional traveller
A sea stack to the outside edge of the coastal path

6. Duncansby Stacks – The Main Stacks

There is a lovely panoramic view of Duncansby Stacks having walked across the grass from the car park. It is fantastic to see the stacks together.

duncansby stacks first panoramic view the professional traveller
The view across to the stacks when walking from the car park area and following along the cliff edge – wow!

7. Walking Around the Cliff Edge to View Duncansby Stacks

There is a path (well-trodden grass rather than an actual path) that follows around the cliff edge. You just follow along and can walk to get a close-up view of the stacks themselves.

This walk has some steeper sections, as you would expect from a cliff path but it is manageable.

There is a particular section where the path is close to the cliff edge and the birds fly very close overhead as they ride the winds coming off the cliff face. This is a particularly spectacular spot.

duncansby stacks the professional traveller bird highway
Birds were using the updrafts like a seabird highway

8. Returning to the Car Park from Duncansby Stacks

You can retrace your steps or you can take a shortcut back across the middle of the grassed area to get back to the car park.

9. Practical Information for Visiting Duncansby Stacks

There are no toilets at Duncansby Head. The nearest is at John O’Groats.

There is parking for coaches and cars at Duncansby Head.

There is also a nice walk to the sandy beach and around the Boars of Duncansby which is the tidal area nearest the car park.

10. Duncansby Stacks Video

11. Puffin Croft

On the way to John O’Groats, we stopped at Puffin Croft. This is a small petting farm located just before the junction back onto the main road. Puffin Croft is on the right if you are returning from Duncansby Head.

There is parking for around 5 cars. On entry, you will see some donkeys on the right hand side.

Entry was pretty much self-service – you made a donation in the shop which was £2 per person. There were various craft and local items for sale as well as some food and drink i.e. cheese and onion slices etc.

The entry to the croft itself was just through a small barrier.

To the left on entering a building housing Mr. Bingley, a very nice pig, and some chickens. Then came enclosures with goats including a very lovely micro goat called Eli with the most adorable brown eyes.

Two more pigs, this time micro pigs and then some geese. There was also a rabbit enclosure and a small area with two Shetland ponies in it.

We spent around 15 minutes at the croft in total and that included feeding the animals with carrots that we had purchased from the shop.

There are no toilets at the croft so we headed around to John O’Groats to use the public toilets there.

12. John O’Groats

It was very busy when we visited, partly because it was a very warm and sunny day. The car park was almost full and so were all the cafes and outside seating areas.

The public toilets are to the far side of the car park as you enter and they are paid public toilets. It costs 40p to use the toilets, in cash with no change given. There is no change machine at the toilets.

Having seen some McLaren cars heading for John O’Groats we took a quick stroll down to see them but just found the whole area too busy so we left and started heading home, back down South.

Duncansby Stacks was the main point of our visit to and it was why we stayed in Wick.

If you are looking to stay in Wick then why not check out my Wick Accommodation article which includes a video review of our hotel alternative (a fab 2 bed apartment) plus where we ate etc.

Looking for some more UK travel inspiration? Check out my other articles about the Scottish Highlands

13. Duncansby Stacks FAQs

Where can I see Duncansby Stacks?

If you travel from John O’Groats to Duncansby Head and then follow the coastal path you will come to Duncansby Stacks.

How high are Duncansby Stacks?

Duncansby Stacks are 60 metres or 196 feet high. They are a very spectacular and dramatic sight.

14. Planning on Visiting John O’ Groats?

Check out this review of a great self catering accommodation in Wick – right on the NC500!

You may prefer to stay in Wick – check out these Wick hotels

Duncansby Stacks – Summary

  • Duncansby Stacks are dramatic and stunning whatever the time of year or weather.
  • There is free car parking at Duncansby Head.
  • Walking is fairly easy, across grassed fields with some inclines.
  • There are always seabirds on the cliffs with puffins during 5 months of summer


Check out my Scottish Highlands page for lots more trip reviews, itineraries, and things to do

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article on Duncansby Stacks you might be interested in the following;

Wick Accommodation – a review of a lovely apartment sleeping 4 people on the NC500

Gairloch Road Trip – a lovely 1 or 2 day trip that can be done from Inverness or Dingwall or Gairloch

The Scottish Highlands – all you need to know about this fabulous region of Scotland

Highland Cottages with Hot Tubs – some fantastic places to stay throughout the Highlands

For more ideas for your next trip check out my Scottish Highlands page

Other Articles

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