Zig-zag your way down Whaligoe Steps for an awe-inspiring journey into Scottish history… If you’re not a fan of heights, then this exposed pathway may not be for you! It is only by reascending from the very bottom, that you are able to appreciate what a dangerous but amazing space this would have been for the fishing industry.
Whether you’re there to follow the footsteps of the many fisherman and fisherwomen, or in more recent times, Billy Connolly, you are sure to be in wonderment of the sheer feat of this manmade phenomenon.
The journey down is immense, but don’t forget, the only way back is up the steps again!
This blog will let you know what to expect, and how to find Whaligoe Steps along the NC500.
Whaligoe Steps Directions
Although Whaligoe is a popular attraction, the Steps are not well signposted from the roadside.
From Helmsdale (or Inverness), turn right at the phone box at Occumster. Otherwise, this is a left turn 7-8 miles south when driving from Wick.
After turning, there is a very short drive past an old street of houses until you arrive at a small car park.
Follow the track downhill from the car park. This will guide you around a large building, and then alongside a stone wall, to the beginning of the steps.
Whaligoe Steps Car Park
The parking at Whaligoe Steps is limited to only a handful of vehicles. Unfortunately, the area has been subject to the odd “tiff” between motorists for a space, so please, please be considerate, especially of the locals during your visit. There are a few spaces, reserved only for them.
Motorhomes have found their way into the car parking, but they are not advised especially during the peak season.
It should also be noted that the car parking at Whaligoe does not contain any facilities such as bins or toilets. However, it is free!
Whaligoe Steps Car Park Location: 58°20'46.2"N 3°09'46.5"W
Whilst this NC500 attraction (and its parking) is free, it is also being constantly maintained by dedicated, local volunteers. For this reason, please don’t be shy in dropping any donation in their box at the beginning of the walk to the steps.
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Whaligoe Steps History
Whaligoe is undoubtedly so much more than just a set of stairs! Taking a step down the staircase is like taking a step into the harsh environments and tough way of life that was once lived in Scottish history.
What does ‘Whaligoe’ mean?
You may notice a number of place names along the east coast that include the word ‘goe‘. This is simply a natural inlet surrounded by sea cliffs. During my time at Whaligoe, I was told that a dead whale had washed ashore many moons ago. The combination of the two words resulted in the place being called ‘Whaligoe’.
To this day, you are often still able to catch a glimpse of the odd passing whale from Whaligoe. Minke Whales are occasionally sighted, and even orcas, if you are extra lucky!
What were the Steps used for?
The Whaligoe inlet used to hold a small, working harbour that was well-used during the herring fishing era.
The steep steps lead to a grassy ledge – this is called the Bink. The Bink is a man-made feature that was built to allow bigger fishing vessels to dock at the peak time of the inlet’s use. You are bound to catch sight of the winch and salt store if you take a wander along the bink.
As you ascend back up the steps, you’ll be following the footsteps of the women who used to haul baskets full of fish on their backs to the top. There would have been 365 steps at the time. Halfway down the staircase on the right, you’ll notice a waist-high rock that has been shaped slightly more flat. This was specially made for these working women to prop their basket up, during a hard-earned break to catch their breath on their way to the top. The climb was just the warm-up, it would be onward bounds to sell their fish at the markets in Wick thereafter.
Shoutout to Davy Nicolson
You are bound to bump into the legend of the area, Davy Nicolson. He is not short of amazing stories to tell about the Whaligoe Steps. If you are lucky to have met him, you’ll feel the passion for the Whaligoe Steps’ history in his tales. After all, it’s his family heritage. He can be heard speaking about Whaligoe in this podcast. If you are eager to learn even more, then he has also written a book.
When is the best time to visit Whaligoe?
These steps can become a little treacherous during a Scottish downfall of rain. Please rearrange your visit if this is the case during your visit, or proceed with a lot of cation.
The Whaligoe Steps attract a steady stream of visitors from the North Coast 500. If you are looking for a quieter visit, then drop by during sunrise, sunset, or maybe even during the warmer winter months.
If you are on the hunt for something extra, pay the steps a visit during the early hours of the morning to catch a glimpse of the sun appearing between the sea and the sky.
How many steps does Whaligoe have?
Originally, there were 365 steps, one for every day of the year. Unfortunately, the staircase has been subject to the brunt of many damaging forces over the decades. So today, you will more likely count approximately 337 during your climb.
How long does it take to walk the Whaligoe Steps?
Depending on your level of fitness, descending and climbing the Whaligoe Steps will take the average visitor between half an hour, and an hour. There is only one way up, and one way down, and that’s the Whaligoe Steps! It’s a quick attraction to tick off, but to truly soak in the history, it’s recommended that you spend some time engaging with the locals at the nearby Whaligoe Steps Café and Restaurant.
Are the Whaligoe Steps safe?
Care and concentration are required as you descend the Whaligoe Steps, especially on rainy days. There is a very low wall that wraps around the path. This may not be enough of a barrier to relax around risky dogs, or even bold kids.
To truly enjoy the Whaligoe Steps, it’s important that you take the time to learn about the history. In my opinion, even if you aren’t a history buff, you are sure to still be amazed!