Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head lighthouse
photos: © Ollie Taylor

North Coast

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East Coast North Coast Cape Wrath Duncansby Head Dunnet Head Holborn Head Pentland Skerries Strathy Point Swilkie Point
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Update: 27-03-2024

Compiled by:
@ Bob Schrage

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Cape Wrath
Duncansby Head
Dunnet Head
Holborn Head
Pentland Skerries
Strathy Point
Swilkie Point

Place of the lighthouse

Dunnet Head (Scottish Gaelic: Ceann Dùnaid) is a peninsula in Caithness, on the north coast of Scotland. Dunnet Head includes the most northerly point of the mainland of Great Britain. The point, known as Easter Head is about 18 km west-northwest of John o' Groats and about 20 km from Duncansby Head. Dunnet Head can be seen also as the western limit of the Pentland Firth on the firth's southern, or Caithness, side (Duncansby Head is the eastern limit). The peninsula is north-east of the burgh of Thurso, and on a clear day, it affords views of the islands of Stroma to the east, and Hoy and the Orkney Mainland, 15 km away to the north, across the Pentland Firth. Although Easter Head is the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland, the northern-most point of Scotland lies in the Shetland islands, approximately 300 kilometres further north.

Building of the Lighthouse

Dunnet Head Lighthouse is an active 19th century lighthouse that stands on the 91 metres cliff top of Easter Head on the spot called, Dunnet Head. The lighthouse was built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson. The lighthouse is a 20 metres high round tower with corbelled parapet with lattice-pane cast-iron balustrade and a circular domed lattice-pane light. The tower is white painted with lighthouse yellow elements. James Smith of Inverness was the responsible contractor building the Dunnet Head lighthouse.

The keepers house consists of two separate houses each with four rooms. The houses are equipped with a slightly lower outer storey as an addition of the building. The building is, just as the tower, white painted with black tooled roof edges and a flat roof. Furthermore, there is a separate house with three rooms on the property with an attached engine room with four rooms. And as with almost all lighthouses of the Northern Lighthouse Board, a cast iron sundial is present on the site.

The entire site is enclosed with a wall built up by rubble. At the entrance there are two stone pillars with simple square caps. Nice detail is that from the air the entire lighthouse complex has the shape of a heart (see also the video).

Erosion of the rock on which the original fog signal (built in 1899) stood, made it necessary to abandon this point and to establish another fog signal nearer the lighthouse. A third fog signal was established in 1952, but this was discontinued in 1987. The foghorn building is still visible. Remarkable is the height of this building. Normally is a foghorn building in Scotland lower.

All the new lighthouses, beginning with Little Ross in 1843, were lighted on the dioptric system the latter being a combination of lenses with reflectors. Dunnet Head was changed to a dioptric lens in 1852.

The lighthouse was automated on 31 March 1989 and the keepers were not more nescessary and were withdrawn. It is now remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board operations centre in Edinburgh. It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and are not responsible for the maintenance of these buildings.

The lighthouse overlooks the Pentland Firth, a treacherous strait with one of the world’s most powerful tidal currents. Gaze up at the tall lighthouse and realize that strong storms have sometimes been thrown up by the sea and smashed its windows.

The Queen Mother had visited the lighthouse on several occasions, the last time on 8 October 1979 when Mr Malcolm, Principal Lightkeeper, gave a conducted tour of the station. The Queen Mother later had tea with Mr Malcolm and his wife and met the other lightkeepers and their families residing at the station.

Dunnet Head map
Remnants of a naval base from the WWII

Additional information

Take in the majestic view across the Pentland Firth. On a clear day, you should be able to see the Orkney Islands to the north, Duncansby Head to the east and Cape Wrath to the west. Look for seals and nesting seabirds on rocks near the base of the cliff.

For even more splendid views, follow the path behind the lighthouse which leads to the top of a gentle hill. Along the way, you’ll pass a number of interesting old army buildings, built during World War II to help defend the naval base at Scapa Flow on Orkney.

Near the Dunnet Head lighthouse are minor fortifications built during World War II to protect the naval base at Scapa Flow, including a Chain Home Low radar station and a bunker used by the Royal Observer Corps during the Cold War. Burifa Hill on Dunnet Head was the site of the master station and a monitoring station of the northern chain of Radar navigation stations during World War II. There was also an artillery range on Dunnet Head during World War II.

The headland's boundary with the rest of the Scottish mainland can be defined as a north-south line running from Little Clett to the mouth of Dunnet Burn in Dunnet Bay. This line is followed along most of its route by a single-track road, the B855, which links Brough with the village of Dunnet, making this the most northerly road on mainland Britain. From this line, the headland projects westward and northward into the Atlantic Ocean and the Pentland Firth and shelters the more southerly waters of Dunnet Bay.

RSPB log
Duncasby Whisky
Whisky and Lighthouse

Dunnet Head is also a RSPB station. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a charitable organisation registered in England, Wales and in Scotland. It was founded in 1889. It works to promote conservation and protection of birds and the wider environment through public awareness campaigns, petitions and through the operation of nature reserves throughout the United Kingdom.

The town of Wick is located in the southeast of Dunnet Head. In Wick there is a distillery called Old Pulteney. In recent years they have released a number of whisky's with a reference to the various lighthouses in the area. Besides a whisky that refer to Dunnet Head, there are also whisky's that refer to the lighthouses Noss Head, Duncansby Head and Pentland Skerries.

Dunnet Head hart shape
Shape of a hart around the lighthouse

Dunnet Head


Character: Fl(4) W 30s 105m 23M
(3x fl. 0.7s - ec. 2.0s, fl. 0.7s - ec. 21.2s)

Dunnet Head lighthouse
Lightcharacter of Dunnet Head (click to enlarge)
Engineer: Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)

Lat, Lon: 58°40.280' N, 003°22.585' W

Established: 1831
Character: Flashing(4) White every 30 secs.
Range: 23 NM ~ 42.6 km
Elevation: 105 meters above sealevel
Tower: 20 meters, 51 steps to the top
Init. Costs: £ 9,135, 15s. 3d.
Econ. Costs*: £ 43,460,000.
*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com

Automated: March 31, 1989
Last Keepers: D. MacAuly - PLK
: A.J.F. Smith - ALK
: D. Noble - ALK
Fog horn: Siren, 3 blasts every 90 sec.
: Discontinued 30/11/1987

Status: Operationel
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: Cat.B - LB1890 - 28/11/1984

Overview lighthouses of Pentland Firth

Dunnet Head lighthouse
Lighthouse with Foghorn (discontinued) in the front

Dunnet Head lighthouse
Dunnet Head lighthouse

Drone flight around Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head Drone flight- Toor Boy
Royal Society for Protection of Birds- Website