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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Newsflash (27th May 2017): today BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme included a fascinating interview (51min-1h1min) with Davy Nicholson about the history of the Whaligoe Steps. It's well worth a listen, but be quick, it's only available online until 25th June 2017.
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.
OS Landranger 12 (Thurso, Wick & surrounding 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. In the early nineteenth century, the steps were repaired at a cost of £8 which implies they pre-date this. To take advantage of the herring boom, other improvements were made at the same time - 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.
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.