If you asked someone to think of archetypal Scottish landscapes, mountains and lochs tend to be at the forefront. Yet Scotland’s convoluted coastline – not just on the mainland but on the many islands too – is no less glorious. Here we pick out a selection of 21 of the finest clifftop walks to be found all around the country.
Duirinish peninsula, Isle of Skye
Skye’s grandest sea cliffs are on the distant Duirinish peninsula. The highest of all are at Biod an Athair, but it is the coastal walk from Ramasaig to Orbost – around Idrigill Point – that provides one of Britain’s most dramatic clifftop coast walks – both wild and challenging.
Duncansby Head, Caithness
John o’Groats is the placename everyone knows, but it is the upthrust of Duncansby Head beyond the village that is actually the most northeasterly corner of mainland Britain. The headland has a Stevenson lighthouse, but it is the cliffs and mighty stacks just to the south that provide the principal attraction. They provide a superb climax to the John o’ Groats Trail.
Shetland offers some of Britain’s finest coastal walking. On the mainland, the coastline stretching west from Silwick and past Westerwick has perhaps the finest cliff scenery of all, with arches, magnificent stacks and caves.
Balcary Bay to Rascarrel, Dumfries and Galloway
Galloway’s southern Solway coastline has some excellent clifftop walking. It’s hard to pick a favourite section, but the coastline between Balcary Bay and Rascarrel is a real classic, hard to beat.
Butt of Lewis
The northernmost tip of the largest of the Outer Hebrides, the Butt of Lewis is dominated by its towering brick-built lighthouse, but the cliff scenery too is well worth the walk.
Canna, Small Isles
Canna is the most westerly and remote of the beautiful Small Isles. Its west and northern coasts have some stunning high cliffs and coastal scenery, making the island circuit into a challenging and memorable walk with superb views.
Bullers of Buchan, Aberdeenshire
The Bullers of Buchan are one of the most dramatic features on the Aberdeenshire coastline. Here a great blow hole or collapsed cavern is the central feature, but the whole coast has plenty of interest – including a few puffins for the sharp eyed birdwatcher. The Bullers are reached on a coast walk from Cruden Bay; the walk can be continued northwards to Boddam.
Dunnet Head, Caithness
Not too far away but far less known is Dunnet Head, the most northerly part of the mainland. Here another lighthouse looks out towards Orkney, and the circuit of the peninsula makes a classic wild walk.
Handa Island, Sutherland
Handa Island is a truly enchanted place, a nature reserve island with a perfect sandy beach, a famed sea stack, a fascinating history and teeming birdlife. The cliffs along the north and western shores are extremely dramatic, being completely sheer in places, and harbouring the Great Stack of Handa.
West Side, Isle of Lewis
The west side of the Isle of Lewis has a waymarked coastal walk of its own. The cliffs here may not rise to any great height, but there have bags of character and interest.
The Kame, Foula
Foula is the most remote island in Shetland, usually reached by a memorable flight from Tingwall airport on Shetland Mainland. The reward is the second highest cliff in Britain at the Kame, exceeded only by Conachair on St Kilda. The Kame is just one part of this superb Foula walk exploring much of the island.
Mainland West Coast, Orkney
Hoy may have Orkney’s most famed cliffs, but the whole west coast of Orkney mainland is a superb destination in its own right. The coast has a stunning two stage walk; the first runs from Stromness above the wild cliffs and Yesnaby Stacks, passing Skara Brae before the second stage continues past Marwick Head to end at the Brough of Birsay.
Mull of Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway
The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southwestern corner. A fine circular walk leads around this cliff-top nature reserve, whose cliffs and lighthouse look out towards Ireland.
Mull of Oa, Islay
The southwestern part of Islay is taken up by the wild and rugged Oa peninsula. We feature several coastal walks here – with the most popular visiting the American Monument at the furthest point – the Mull of Oa.
Seaton Cliffs, Arbroath, Angus
Though low in stature compared to other=s on this list, Seaton Cliffs have great character, with miniature stacks and arches. The cliffs are visited as part of a popular walk from Arbroath.
St John’s Head, Isle of Hoy, Orkney
Hoy is best known for its great sea stack – the Old Man. But north of the Old Man the cliffs rise higher and higher to St John’s Head – reputedly the highest continuously vertical cliff in the UK at 346 metres.
St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire
Point of Stoer, Assynt
Not content with having a range of superb sandy beaches and some of Scotland’s most remarkable mountains, Assynt also has a coastal classic – the walk out from the lighthouse to this headland passes the dramatic stack of the Old Man of Stoer.
Stronsay and the Vat or Kirbuster, Orkney
Stronsay is one of the northern Orkney Isles, and like its neighbour Sanday it has some fine sandy beaches. The best walk of all, however, is this round of its south eastern coastline, with some wonderful cliff scenery and a remarkable arch.
Troup Head, Aberdeenshire
This dramatic headland on the north Aberdeenshire coastline lies between some of Scotland’s most picturesque coastal villages – Pennan and Crovie. The short walk at the clifftop of Troup Head reveals wonderful views looking down onto Scotland’s only mainland gannet colony.
Conachair, St Kilda
St Kilda is the furthest flung of all the Scottish islands, and has the most dramatic scenery and heartbreaking history of them all. A walk along the cliff edge from the Gap up to the highest point – Conachair – is an otherworldy experience, with unforgettable views all around and dive-bombing great skuas on the attack!