Conquer the Inverness to John O

Conquer the Inverness to John O'Groats Trail

Jemima Kirkwood 10 June 2024

If you are planning a walking holiday in the Scottish Highlands, we’d recommend the Inverness to John O’Groats Walking Trail. Challenging in sections, wild in terrain, and pathless at points, this is a real challenge for keen walkers. The trail is split into 14 sections, each of which can be completed within the best part of a day.

Some sections don’t have sealed pathways, so an awareness of navigation is helpful, especially as much of it is routed across privately owned land. You will encounter clifftop stretches, as well as a need to go scrambling up steep inclines in places. However, the landscapes are beautiful and unforgettable making the journey worth your effort. Read our guide to Inverness for inspiration about the many things you can do in the area. If you are a cyclist, the Far North Way is a popular alternative, particularly the section between Lairg and Tongue.

Why not choose a place to stay along the trail so that you can explore several sections during your holiday in Scotland? We have holiday properties in Inverness, John O’Groats, Caithness and all across the Highlands for you to choose from. 

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Public transport routes between Inverness to John O’Groats 

These transport options are helpful for those who want to walk certain sections of the route, those who want to plan longer stays in certain locations, and those who don’t want to walk the whole route. It is also nice to have a backup transport option if you decide you need a break.

Useful bus information for Inverness and John o’Groats

View of the road to John o'Groats seen from inside a coach

Getting about in Inverness and the Highlands is easier these days because it is possible to catch buses between Inverness to John O’Groats. There are connections from both Wick and Thurso – there’s a daily service that runs from the bus station in the centre of Inverness directly to Wick and Thurso, and both routes take around 4.5 hours.

Good to know

  • Bus routes: X99/X97 (Inverness to Thurso) and 80 (Thurso to John O’Groats) 
  • Timetables: Three times per day Monday to Friday | Stagecoach X99/X97   | Stagecoach 80

Useful train information for Inverness and John O’Groats

A blue train on the Far North Line

You can also get the train on the Far North Line to either Wick or Thurso from Inverness (there is no train station in John O’Groats) and this stops at many of the towns and villages along the route. These include Alness, Tain, Golspie, Brora, and Helmsdale. End-to-end the journey takes nearly five hours.

Good to know

  • Route details: Inverness to Thurso or Wick (then the 80 bus or taxi)
  • Times/link to timetables: Visit the First ScotRail website for information and prices

Our favourite sections of the Inverness to John o’Groats Trail

The harbour at Thurso near John O'Groats

There are lots of beautiful landmarks along the trail. Between Culbokie and Alness you can marvel at the Fyrish Monument which stands proudly on the hilltop, creating the most beautiful silhouette. Enjoy views along Dornoch where you can head to the beach which seems to go on for miles. Dunrobin Castle overlooks the sea boasting French architecture and an unusual display of unique taxidermy. 

Venture through traditional villages, cross rugged riverbeds and burns and discover the most beautiful parts of the Highlands.

Stage 2 – Culbokie to Alness  

Fyrish Monument and the Cromarty Bridge seen over harvested fields

Stage 2 of the Inverness to John O’Groats Trail takes in a mixture of quiet country lanes, rural roads, and woodland sections that suit all levels of walkers. It’s along this section that you cross the Cromarty Firth Bridge offering up splendid views of mountains and idyllic countryside dwellings. 

Here you must be careful as with any roadside walking, traffic can be fast and you must always walk on the right side of the road. Take your time over the bridge as the views are lovely and keep an eye out for harbour seals resting on the rocky shores. Once over the bridge, you will be met with a quiet and peaceful walk and cycle trail to the pleasant town of Alness.  

Good to know

  • Distance: 9 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
  • Starting point: High Street, Culbokie, IV7 8JH – visit this website for more information 
  • Highlights: Fyrish Monument Hill Walk and Black Rock Gorge
  • Stay nearby: The Bothy at Nonikiln | sleeps 2

Stage 5 – Dornoch to Golspie

Dornoch at sunset and Dunrobin Castle and gardens as seen from above

Dornoch is a pretty and quiet market town on the east coast with its cathedral, bustling centre, a world-renowned golf club, and a huge sandy beach. It is a magical spot and one of the Highland’s prettiest. It provides a lovely base to holiday on the trails; there are plenty of places to eat good food and explore the Inverness to John O’Groats Walking Trail at a relaxing pace. 

From Dornoch is the walk to Golspie which starts in the centre of Dornoch, taking you along the beautiful coast. You will turn inland for the latter of the route to Golspie, spending a lot of time around Loch Fleet. At the head of the loch you will cross ‘The Mound’, a pretty bridge taking you into Balblair Wood and then onto Golspie itself. 

Good to know

  • Distance: 13.75 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
  • Starting point: Dornoch Post Office, High Street, Dornoch, IV25 3SH – visit this website for more information.
  • Highlights: Dunrobin Castle, Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch Beach, Embo Beach, and Loch Fleet
  • Stay nearby: Sunny Cottage | sleeps 6 

Stage 9 – Berriedale to Dunbeath

Harbour at Berriedale and the coast at Dunbeath with a red fishing boat in the foreground

We needed to include a section that takes in the spectacular cliffy terrain of the north-east coast. Most of this section is walked along the clifftop and the wildflowers, swaying grass, and crashing waves all add to the magical atmosphere of the Caithness coastline. This is the ninth section of the walk and starts on the swing bridge crossing over Berridale Water.

From here, find your way out of the village heading, following signs, through a pedestrian gate and up along the clifftop fence line. You may find the path is faint, but follow the fence and watch your step. Along the way, you will discover some impressive cliff arches, beautiful cliff waterfalls, and the sea stack known as The Clett, which is a large thin rock looming out of the sea. You will eventually arrive in Dunbeath which is a very small town with only one restaurant and two shops. It won’t take you long to walk around it.  

Good to know

  • Distance: 6.5 miles | Difficulty: Moderate (Strenuous in bad weather)
  • Starting point: The Old Post Office, Berriedale, KW7 6HE – visit this website for more information  
  • Highlights: Berriedale Castle, Badbea Clearance Village, and Dunbeath Castle
  • Stay nearby: Sunrise View | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs welcome 


Check out our handy map to find some of the places highlighted in this blog.

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Stay at a cottage on the Inverness and John O’Groats Trail 

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to the Inverness and John O’Groats walking trail. Whether you are looking to walk the route in one go or plan to walk it in sections, keep our self-catering cottages in mind when looking for accommodation. Check out our cottages in Inverness, perfect for the start or end of your adventure.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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