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Dunnet Bay Area - Walks
| Castlehill to Murkle Bay
Leave your car at the Castlehill Flagstone Centre car park. A series of interpretative information panels along the trail tell the story of the flagstone industry of Castlehill. From here take the farm track past the ruined quarry buildings. After approximately a mile a track known as Battery Road, the track branches to the left. Near here at the top of the beach are the remains of a cannon battery used in Victorian times by the local Volunteer Regiment. This road, if followed, will take you to the West end of Castletown village.
However, if you wish to proceed to Murkle Bay, continue over the stile onto the shore. The way here is less comfortable underfoot. Terns and Ringed Plovers nest along the beach in summer – be careful where you walk. Terns will make their presence felt very noisily. Please keep dogs on a lead, as nesting birds are easily disturbed.
Murkle bay is an attractive, secluded, sandy beach where seals are often seen. Return to the car park by the same route. Adjacent to the car park is a community woodland walk with sculpture trail.
Castlehill to Dwarwick
Dunnet Beach is a two-mile sweep of sand backed by an environmentally important sand dune system and flatter "machair". Much lies within the Dunnet Links Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is a good place to see wading birds, sea birds, seashore plants and shells.
Vehicular access is not permitted. There are five easy access points for walkers:
From Castletown, cross the bridge from the car park, continue on to the beach or through the dunes to the bridge over the Burn o’Garth. Here one returns to the beach to walk. Near the Burn o’Mid Sands, terns may be seen nesting between May and August in a fenced area. These birds are protected, so please do not go too near and keep dogs on a lead in the vicinity of the nesting area. On to the Dunnet Visitor Centre next to the Caravan Site, the Ranger Service are able to give information on the wildlife of the area and advice on places to visit. From here, one can cross the Dunnet Burn, heading over a more rocky shore for Dunnet Salmon Bothy and round the Ness to reach Dwarwick Pier.
This vast area of moorland is the most northerly point on the British mainland. A good map is advised.
To avoid parking problems it is best to begin your walk from either the car park at Dwarwick Pier or that at Dunnet Head. Dogs should not be taken onto the hill.
The Estate owners appreciate that people enjoy walking in unspoilt countryside and ask that walkers keep to the cliff tracks, cause no damage to estate property and do not interfere with the activities of the estate in any way.
On the walk round the coast from Dwarwick over the rise of Dwarwick Head you will descend to the ruins of an old cable house which marks the end of a former telegraph cable which linked Caithness with Orkney.
Along the cliff walk to Chapel Geo you will see a great variety of sea birds on the cliff ledges. Near this geo the remains of a monk’s cell can be seen.
From here, head uphill until the slope is gentler. Seals may be seen basking on the rocks below. The next three miles to the lighthouse are rough and boggy. You will pass the Long Byres where, early this century, the Brough crofters milked their cows in summer. A herd boy looked after the cows that were herded into the "Byres" to be milked by the village women who carried the milk home. The east side of the headland towards Brough is very rough and heathery until you reach Sinigoe.
The cliffs support many breeding seabirds – fulmars, kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill. This site also supports smaller numbers of shag, artic skua, great skua, herring gull, great black backed gull, black guillemot and puffin. There are many interesting plants, such as thrift, spring quill and sundew, to be found along the clifftops and in the hinterland.
This entire coastline from Dwarwick to Sinigoe is an S.S.S.I and part of the North Caithness Cliffs special Protection Area. Please respect it and help protect it.
Brough to Ham
Start at Dunnet Head Tea-rooms in Brough, or at the old mill at Ham. There is limited parking at both points – please ensure you do not block any gates.
This is basically a clifftop walk, but prior to making for Ham you may wish to visit Brough harbour.
To walk to Ham via the clifftops is rough with several stiles to cross. East of Brough, at Langipo, you can see the remains of a promontory fort. Little is left except the deep ditch and low walls at the entrance. From here you cross through several fields using the stiles.
Please take care, as there is livestock in these fields. The farmer has kindly allowed the public to walk through here.
It is possible to descend at Kerrygoe and proceed along the rocks, or continue through the fields of Ham Farm. You will pass a chambered mound or Iron Age house. Thereafter Ham harbour can be reached by utilising a short flight of steps cut into the cliff.
Carry on round the bottom of the cliff and below the farmhouse o reach the road beside the early 19th century cornmill.
Ham to Skarfskerry
Park either at the old mill at Ham, or at the Haven, Skarfskerry. Please do not block access.
From Ham, walk a short distance by road up behind the mill and over the stile, near the sheep fanks, on to the cliff-top path. Follow the stone wall through the grass and cross a flagstone stile. The route is now easily followed along the outside of the fields.
The cliffs here are not high but care should be taken to avoid loose and overhanging rocks.
You will see impressive large flagstone dykes surrounding the fields, pass a chambered cairn, and the remains of an old semaphore signalling station. About halfway to Skarfskerry, you will cross two small streams, which are easily passable. At Kirk o’ Banks you will see a series of grassy mounds which are the remains of a chapel. Pass in front of a row of holiday cottages – please respect their privacy. From here an easy path along the fence will take you to the Haven. Avoid the Ferry House by crossing the stile into the field and continuing to the public road that will take you to the village.
Leave your car at the small car park at the Southwest corner of the forest. Follow the signpost from the A836 roadside.
Dunnet Forest I within the National Nature Reserve and owned by Scottish National Heritage. The grassland for which the Reserve has been identified supports a great number of plant species and range of wildlife. Some flowers, such as Primula Scotia, and a variety of butterflies, can be seen within some of the clearings of the forest.
There is a network of paths through the trees, which provide ideal short and sheltered walks. This is a good place to go in wet or windy weather. The ground can be wet in places, but continuing work is being done to bridge these areas with boardwalks. Dogs are welcome in the forest as long as they are kept under control.
If you are interested in wildlife and would like to know more, contact the Ranger Service at Dunnet Bay. The Ranger organises guided walks through the forest and will point out plants and animals of interest.
The Country Code
Keep dogs under control.
Leave gates as you find them.
Take your litter home with you. Keep the land tidy.
Take only photographs. Leave only footprints.
Guard against fire.
Park you car with care and though for others.
Cliff-top walks have inherent dangers. Do not walk close to the edge, as it may be loose or overhanging. Particular hazards are strong winds, slippery flagstones and sea fog. If you are going for a long walk let someone know your intended route and inform them of your safe return. Ensure that you are adequately clothed and shod.