Whaligoe Steps is an exciting adventure just waiting for you to undertake the challenge of travelling through time and walking down (and then back up) the steps at Whaligoe in Caithness, down to the Bink, the artificially created flat area above the beach area that is now covered in grass. The number of steps has changed over the years with around 330 remaining steps that are kept in good condition by local volunteers. These are the steps and the journey taken by hundreds of men and women who worked in the fishing industry that started over 200 years ago. At that time the number of local boats using the harbour was around 20, the numbers have varied over the years before finally the harbour was abandoned in the 1950/60’s.
Today the harbour is visited by a few tourists that make the effort to "find" the steps and explore them. When travelling towards Wick - the steps are 7 miles south of the town. Watch out for the Whaligoe Cafe and Restaurant sign. A small car park is available next to the cottages that are just off the main A99 road.
At its peak period Whaligoe harbour and haven gave many people a livelihood with mainly women working at cleaning the catch of haddock, cod, ling and herring. They also preserved the herring in barrows with salt / brine that was taken away in ships for export, and taking the fresh fish to the nearby Town of Wick to sell. The catch of fresh fish had to be carried up the hundreds of steps and then taken to Wick, in the earlier years by walking the 7-8 miles. The men risked their lives daily by taking the small timber sailing boats out fishing in the North Sea. Over the centuries many local fishermen were lost during the 1800’s and 1900’s when their boats sunk in bad weather, or through accidents at sea.
The walk down to the Bink and the beach below is an experience that will help you appreciate some of the hardships men and women (of all ages) experienced working at Whaligoe and in the fishing industry in Scotland. It was very hard work with long hours and you still had to walk up the steps at the end of the day, often carrying a basket of fresh fish. Whaligoe Steps and the remains of the harbour and the Salt Store is a monument to all the people who lived and worked in this area, a time and people long gone, yet hopefully not forgotten.
Step through history at Whaligoe Steps as you will be following the backbreaking footsteps of men and women who worked in the herring fishing industry. The women were involved in cleaning and curing the herring that was put into barrows and put onto boats for export abroad. Women also had the back breaking job of carrying the fresh fish up the steps and then had to walk to Wick to sell their fish.
The grass area is called the Bink were fishing catches were landed and sailing ships loaded with barrows of preserved herring. The bink was also used to keep the wooden fishing boats in bad weather, the boats being hauled up using manual winches.
Dogs can be taken down the Whaligoe Steps, please keep them on a lead for their own safety due to very steep drops down the cliffside. Also remember poo bags to clean up after your dog, just leave footprints as the saying goes and keep the steps clean for other people to enjoy.
External sites: Listen to Davy Nicolson's reminisces about looking after Whaligoe steps over the years and aspects of the history of the area. Billy Connolly visited Whaligoe steps and Davy talks about meeting the man. There is also an amateur video recording of Davy explaining to tourists the history of Whaligoe Steps, some of this video is difficult to hear due to the wind, yet it is well worth a watch.
It is also worth mentioning that you can sometimes see Orcha (Killer Whales) off the coastline at Whaligoe and I have seen them one year while having a coffee in the Whaligoe Cafe. You can also stay at Whaligoe in bed and breakfast.