Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

Local Nature Reserve - Mull Head

Mull Head was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1993, for its wildlife, geology and history.

It is comprised of about 160 hectares of heathland and grassland at the north-east tip of Deerness. It’s a place of high cliffs and wild heathland, battered by storms in winter and teeming with nesting birds in the summer.

Geology

Looking at the sheer cliffs of Mull Head you can see the many layered rocks that are the building blocks of the headland. These sedimentary rocks are the backbone of the reserve and they allow you a glimpse back in time 390 million years. The cliffs of today began as layers of mud, sand and silt laid down in the bottom of a vast lake which once covered Orkney. Over millenia these layers of sediment became compressed into the solid rocks of the present day.

The cliffs are constantly pounded by the sea, gradually eroding them and exploiting weaknesses to form caves, stacks, narrow inlets called geos and spectacular blow holes like the Gloup. The Gloup is a long sea cave which collapsed on the landward side, leaving a large chasm still joined to the sea through a broad arch.

Nesting birds

The sandstone cliffs have been eroded by the sea to form ledges perfect for nesting birds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars. Other birds, including gulls and skuas, prefer to nest on the open heathland, where the bushy heather provides good cover for their chicks.

Plant life

Close to the cliff edge sea pinks and spring squill thrive; while the maritime grassland is full of the attractive white flowered grass of Parnassus and purple devil’s bit scabious. In late summer the heath is a blaze of purple ling and bell heather.

Historical buildings

Farming has shaped the landscape over many years, but even earlier evidence of man’s use of the area can be seen on the Brough of Deerness. Here are the remains of a small stone Norse chapel and settlement. The path to the Brough of Deerness is steep and narrow and only suitable for more able walkers. Avoid this path in wet conditions as it can be slippery.

Walking at Mull Head

Visitors are welcome at Mull Head and a variety of paths are available for walkers:

  • The Gloup Path - a short walk from the car park which is suitable for disabled access.
  • Mull Head Circular - a 5.6 km walk around the whole reserve, following the coastline.
  • Mull Head and the Covenanter’s Memorial - A 9.2 km circular walk around the nature reserve and including the Covenanter’s Memorial.

Visitor centre

The Mull Head visitor centre, close to the car park, contains interpretation and information about the wildlife, landscapes and history of the reserve. Many free leaflets are also available, plus up to date news about what can be seen on the reserve throughout the year. There are also toilets in the centre.

You can also pick up a Mull Head LNR leaflet from the Tourist Information Centres or the Council offices.