Start location: A99, south of Ulbster (ND 320 405)
End location: old harbour, Whaligoe (ND 322 403)
Geographical area: Caithness
Path Type: Trade Route
Path distance: 0.3km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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On the A99 south of Ulbster, opposite a turning signposted Cairn of Get, is a small road that leads past the single story cottages of Whaligoe to a small car parking area. The way to the top of the steps leads past the west and south sides of the Square of Whaligoe. The steps are not suited for young children or those who are unsteady on their feet. Dogs are not recommended.
This Active Outdoors article by John Davidson from September 2014 combines an outing to the Whaligoe Steps with a visit to the nearby Cairn o'Get.
OS Landranger 12 (Thurso, Wick & surrounding area)
Whaligoe means inlet of the whales. It is reportedly so-named because strong tidal eddies from the north seem to have often brought in dead whales to the area. Rising nearly 250 feet from the sea, the Whaligoe Steps date back to the late eighteenth century. They linked the settlement at Whaligoe to its harbour below. There are said to have been originally 365 steps, but today number no more than 337. Each corner of the steps has a large flat stone set at waist-height, on which the women carrying barrels of salt herring up to the village on their backs could rest their loads.
Use of the inlet is reported to date back to at least 1640 and the first known mention of steps is in 1769. In the early nineteenth century, the steps were repaired at a cost of £8. To take advantage of the herring boom, other improvements were made around the same time - the cliff-top curing store, rock-blasting the inlet and building the refuge platform (the Bink) near the bottom of the steps. Before then, fishermen had had to hoist their boats high on the cliff face to safeguard them from storms. Some stunning images of the Whaligoe Steps in the 1920s are held in the Johnston Collection.
These days, the Whaligoe Steps are looked after Davy Nicolson who lives nearby. He maintains and repairs them and also cuts the grass down on the Bink. In 2017, the Wick Society's Oral History Section (Wick Voices) interviewed Davy Nicholson about the history of Whaligoe, it's well worth a listen. For more Whaligoe history, Iain Sutherland's booklet Whaligoe and its Steps can be bought directly from Davy or online from the Dunbeath Heritage Museum. The Caithness Field Club Bulletin (April 1982) also contains a mass of historical detail.