The traveller racing round the NC 500 misses some of the most impressive scenery in Caithness – the cliffs, geos, and caves of its coast. Where the plain of Caithness drops sheer to the sea marine erosion has quarried the Old Red Sandstone to give a marvellous array of cliff forms. This coast is exposed to the full force of North Atlantic and North Sea storms. During historic storms, waves have swept away breakwaters, submerged the northern tip of the island of Stroma and scoured cliff faces to great heights. There is only the occasional bay – these sanctuaries hold fine sandy beaches backed by extensive dune systems.

Sea level has dropped since ice retreat to leave raised shorelines. The low postglacial raised beach lies just a few metres above sea level. Along some stretches of coast, it separates the cliff from the wave action that maintains its sharpness. Here the cliff was steepened earlier in the Holocene. More widely, however, the emergence of geos and cliffs from beneath glacial deposits requires that parts of this rock coast have a longer history which has yet to be fully explored.

Main image on top: Coast of Duncansby Head, Duncansby Stacks (Envato elements image _JYNB29LTRK)

Coastal landscapes

Panoramic view over the Pentland Firth in Caithness, to the Orkney island of Hoy (AdobeStock _#322076170)

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