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Issue 96 - End of the Road

Scotland Magazine Issue 96
December 2017


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End of the Road

Keith Fergus visits Duncansby Head, Caithness

When visiting John oí Groats  many will think they have  reached the northeast tip of the  Scottish Mainland. However, the actual  point is a couple of miles further east  at Duncansby Head.

It is a magnificent, windswept  place with a huge sense of space and  marvellous views across the savage  Pentland Firth to the Orkney Isles.

Also standing here, guarding the  huge cliffs that plummet to the sea, is  Duncansby Head Lighthouse. Built by  famed engineer David Alan Stevenson,  it has been guiding ships around these  notorious waters since 1924. Such is  the treacherous nature of the tidal  flow through the Pentland Firth that it  has been given the moniker of ëHellís  Mouthí. Lonely, yet beautiful, the  lighthouse was automated in 1997.

The majority of place names around  Caithness have their roots in the  Old Norse language, often with  corrupted Pictish influences, and  Duncansby Head is no different.  Its name simply means ëCape of  Dungalís Placeí.

Perhaps the most spectacular features  of Duncansby Head are the Stacks of  Duncansby. These wonderful rocky  monoliths taper from their broad, rigid  bases to an impossibly sharp point and  stand sentinel-like before the cliffs that  head south. These spectacular towers  are home to a wonderful array of  birdlife, including razorbills, guillemots  and fulmars.

A well-marked path takes in a fabulous  walk along the cliffs, which allows the  intrepid to explore this wild corner  of Scotland.