Though a constant stream of sponsored walkers, caravans and tour groups makes it to the dull town of John O’Groats, surprisingly few visitors travel the whole length of the Highlands’ wild north coast. Those that do, however, rarely return disappointed. Pounded by one of the world’s most ferocious seaways, Scotland’s rugged northern shore is backed by barren mountains in the west, and in the east by lochs and open rolling grasslands. Between its far ends, miles of crumbling cliffs and sheer rocky headlands shelter bays whose perfect white beaches are nearly always deserted, even in the height of summer – though, somewhat incongruously, they’re also home to Scotland’s best surfing waves.
Durness is a good jumping-off point for nearby Balnakiel beach, one of the area’s most beautiful sandy strands, and for rugged Cape Wrath, the windswept promontory at Scotland’s northwest tip. Thurso, the largest town on the north coast, is really only visited by those en route to Orkney. More enticing are the huge seabird colonies clustered in clefts and on remote stacks at Dunnet Head and Duncansby Head, to the east of Thurso.