Our pick: Scotland’s great sea stacks

Scotland’s tortuous coastline stretches for almost 10,000km on the mainland alone – or up to 16,500km if the islands are included. As well as picturesque fishing villages and stunning sandy beaches, there are sections of fantastic cliff scenery, including huge natural arches, deep geos (inlets) and – our subject here – mighty sea stacks.

Am Buachaille, Sandwood Bay, Sutherland


Rising 65m (213′), Am Buachaille – meaning the Herdsmen – rises as a splendid sentinal at the southern end of the almost legendary beach of Sandwood Bay (walk description) in the far northwest corner of Sutherland. The stack was first climbed by Tom Patey, Ian Clough and John Cleare in 1968 – following a hazardous swim. The stack and beach are part of the final day of both the Scottish National Trail and the Cape Wrath Trail.

The Bow Fiddle Rock, Moray


The Bow Fiddle rock has one of the most unusual shapes amongst all Scottish stacks, exactly what it resembles varying from a bow and fiddle, to a sinking battleship or the splashing tail of a whale depending on the angle from which it is viewed. This is one of the easiest stacks on the list to visit, being only a short walk from the village of Portknockie on the Moray coast; a very enjoyable circular walk starts from Cullen. The Rock is also visited as part of the Moray Coast Trail.

Bullars of Buchan coast, Aberdeenshire


The stack pictured – punctured by a great arch – is known as Dunbuy, but it is just one of the formations – including dramatic spurs of rock jutting out high into the sea, and huge blowholes – along this short stretch of Aberdeenshire coastline. Another draw is that this is one of the few locations in the area from which puffins can be seen, although the numbers vary. There is a car park near the Bullars; options for walkers include a fairly short walk from Cruden Bay or a walk on from the Bullars to Boddam; buses enable a return to be made.

Dun Mor, Sanday, Canna


This is one of the lesser known stacks on the list, but one of the most rewarding to visit. The great flat-topped bulk of Dun Mor is partnered by the smaller Dun Beag, rising spectacularly off the coast of Sanday, which is linked to Canna by a causeway. From April and August it forms home to large numbers of puffins which can be seen flying, guarding their burrows or out on the sea from the nearby clifftop. Great skuas are also frequently seen hunting here. Sanday can be visited as an enjoyable walk from the ferry jetty on Canna.

The Old Man of Stoer, Assynt


Not to be confused with the Old Man of Storr – a rock pinnacle below the Trotternish Ridge of Skye – the Stoer is the northernmost headland of beautiful Assynt. The Old Man is the terminus of a rough cliff-top walk from the lighthouse, and stands 60m (200′) high. It was first climbed in 1966 by Brian Henderson, Paul Nunn, Tom Patey and Brian Robertson.

West Side coast walk, Isle of Lewis


This section of coastline on the west side of the Isle of Lewis is notable for its variety of cliff formations rather than just a single particularly impressive stack. There is a waymarked – but very rough – walk from the An Gearrannan blackhouse village through to Bragar.

Duncansby Stacks, Caithness

These great stacks rise like jagged fangs near the northeasternmost point of the mainland at Duncansby Head. They are the highlight of a coastal walk from the nearby village of John o’ Groats.

The Great Stack of Handa, Sutherland


Handa Island is run as a nature reserve by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and a visit here is a delight. The tiny ferry trip boat runs from nearby Tarbet in the summer, and lands on the beautiful sandy beaches at the southern end of the island. From here the circular walk around Handa is superb, running from the beaches across the heart of the island to the great cliffs at the north end and this mighty stack. Three men from Lewis reached the top of the stack by hand-over-handing on a fishing rope in the 1870s. The stack is home to puffins, whereas arctic skua dive-bomb walkers over much of Handa.

Soldier’s Rock, Islay


The Oa peninsula at the southwestern extremity of Islay has the best cliff scenery on the island. The American memorial at the Mull of Oa is well known and much visited; less well known is the more rugged and challenging walk from Kintra out to the Soldier’s Rock – Islay’s finest stack.

Heisgeir Stacks, Tolsa, Lewis


The west coast of all the Outer Hebrides have some of the very finest beaches you’ll find anywhere, but the great beach of Traigh Mhor adjacent to Tolsta Head on the east coast is a match for most. A walk around the headland reveals a stunning view of the beach, with the sea stacks of Heisgeir making a dramatic foreground.

Macleod’s Maidens, Isle of Skye


Skye’s greatest sea stacks are at the southern extremity of the very wild and remote Duirinish peninsula. They form just one of the highlights on one of Britain’s most challenging and spectacular coastal walks, from Ramasaig to Orbost; a somewhat easier option is an out-and-back walk to the Maidens.

The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney


Undoubtedly the most celebrated of all sea stacks in the UK, the Old Man of Hoy shot to fame as the location of a live BBC climbing spectacular – watched by fifteen million viewers – in 1967. The Old Man is 137m (447′) high and is now climbed around 50 times a year; Chris Bonington – who was on the first ascent – reclimbed it aged 80 in 2014. Walkers can visit a perfect natural clifftop belvedere to view the Old Man, reached by an uphill walk from Rackwick. The Old Man is also visited as part of the much more challenging and wilder hillwalk over Cuilags and St John’s Head.

Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, St Kilda

The highest sea stacks of all though, are not in Orkney; they are in the exceedingly remote St Kilda archipelago, 66km west of the Outer Hebrides. Stac Lee appears as a giant block from the side, or a pinnacle when viewed end on, whilst Stac an Armin is a jaunty pyramid. Both the stacks lie off the spectacular island of Boreray, and being more than 150m (500′) high, they count as the hardest of all the summits of the Marilyns – included as Sub 2000‘ peaks on Walkhighlands.

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