Faraid Head and Smoo Cave

  • Height: 400 ft
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Total Time: Allow about 2 hours.
  • Navigation: The paths are clear and well-walked.
  • Starting Point: Start either from Durness village square (NC405677), or drive past the Balnakeil Craft Village to the parking area beside the beach (NC392687).
  • Public Transport: Bus to Durness.

Rather than a single walk, this is a series of walks on the beaches and over the cliffs near Durness. This is scenery reminiscent more of the Shetland Islands than the Scottish mainland, with sheer cliffs, sea birds, seals and crashing waves.

For a gentle walk, stroll out along the beaches, while there is a more strenuous route over the cliff tops. Take care at the edge of the cliffs. From the cliff tops you are deafened by the sound of sea birds as they swirl and swoop or dive to the sea for food. Puffins nest here, their burrows clearly visible on the hillside. From the cliff tops you get excellent views out towards Cape Wrath and Whiten Head.

Durness is a delightful, if remote, village surrounded by spectacular beaches and sea cliffs. Near the beach is the Balnakeil Craft Village, an old military camp originally designed as an Early Warning System, where artists and crafts people produce a fine range of crafts including delicate pottery, exquisite enamel work, knitwear, paintings and drawings, bone carvings and buttons, earrings etc. Watch out for the small pond filled with coloured glass balls which swirl and rotate in the wind, making delightful sounds as they collide with each other.


Map of walk over Faraid Head

Start your walk either from Durness village square (NC405677), or drive past the Balnakeil Craft Village to the parking area beside the beach (NC392687). The church at Balnakeil dates back to 1619, and the graveyard contains a monument to the great Gaelic poet, Rob Donn.


The cliff-tops on the
walk round Faraid Head.

Walk out over the golden sand, with the sea on one side and sand dunes on the other. A well-defined path leads away from the beach and takes you up onto the cliffs, from where you can spot seals and sea birds. There are paths leading round the peninsula past the Ministry of Defence base, which is fenced off, and up onto the higher cliffs with their spectacular views of the sea and sea birds. In some parts the cliffs are at least 300 feet high and some sections are fenced off to prevent accidents, but do take care at all times on these cliff tops.

The path leads you in a circular route, past the puffin burrows, back to Durness village square, or you can continue the walk along to Sango Bay where there is a campsite, a Visitors’ Centre and a Ranger Service.

Map Required:

OS Landranger 9: Cape Wrath

Smoo Cave

Height: negligible
Distance: negligible
Difficulty: Easy.
Total Time: Allow about 30 minutes.
Navigation: The paths down to the caves are well-maintained.
Starting Point: Drive about half a mile out of Durness on the road to Tongue, until you see a sign for Smoo Cave (NC419671).
Public Transport: None that I know of.

While not really a walk, a trip to Smoo Cave has to be included in any stay in Durness. Set into limestone cliffs, Smoo Cave is quite large – 200 feet long, 130 feet wide, and 50 feet high at the entrance-way. The cave is a great tourist attraction for people visiting the north-west coast, and is well worth a visit.


The entrance to Smoo Cave from the path (right) and the bottom of the path (right).

Drive about half a mile out of Durness on the road to Tongue, until you see a sign for Smoo Cave. Find a place to park without causing any obstruction (NC419671), and look for the start of the steep path down to the cave entrance. Climb down the path and cross the stepping stones to reach the path leading to the interior of Smoo Cave. From the main cave you can gain access to the smaller cave where the river, the Allt Smoo, noisily pours in through a gap and falls 80 feet. Cross the river again and climb up to a ledge, from where you get good views of the waterfall – in the enclosed space, the noise is quite deafening.

Map Required:
OS Landranger 9: Cape Wrath

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