Whaligoe Steps Print
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Monday, 14 December 2009 11:01

Whaligoe Steps.

 

It used to have a step for each day of the year, but thanks to vandals, the steps are now about 30 steps short of that.

Whaligoe is not for the faint hearted, but if you're willing and able to visit this secluded and spectacular spot, you'll be following in the footsteps of a unique community of fisherfolk. 

Some 365 stone steps lead down a precipitous grassy cliff to a sheltered inlet at the foot of towering 250ft cliffs. These days you're likely to hav only the seabirds for company as they swoop and dive high above and through the narrow channel.

In it's heyday, in the middle of the 19th century, over 20 fishing boats used the the landing known as the Haven and the occasional schooner would call by to pick up cargo.

Whaligoe Steps

Whaligoe (the name means inlet of the whale) was mentioned as a fishing port as long ago as 1640, but it wasn't until 1792 that construction of the steps began on the orders of the then estate owner David Brodie.

Beside the Haven a flat area called the Bink was created for landing and curing the catches of Cod, Haddock or Ling and boats were also secured there for repairs or re-tarring etc.

The fish would be gutted by crews of women and carried up the steps in baskets to be taken to be sold in Wick. Barrels were made in the coooperage at the top of the cliffs and taken down for salt Herring to be stored in and taken away by schooner.

Bottom of Whaligoe Steps

Iain Sutherlands booklet 'Whaligoe and it's steps' describes the history of the Whaligoe fishing fraternity and explains the techniques they used.

Describing the site as 'quite unique in Scottish industrial heritage' Mr Sutherland points out that no other fishing station in Scotland was built in such an apparently inaccessible place.

Near the top of the steps there is a stone plaque commemorating local woman Etta Juhle who looked after the steps for many years.

In recent times maintenance and repair work on the steps is done by Mr Sutherland himself and Davie Nicolson. Mr Nicolson lives locally and is a great person to talk to about the steps, he is absolutely crammed with information and is happy to talk to interested visitors.

Mr Sutherland and his team have twice been major prize winners in the 'Shell Better Britain Campaign' in 1992 and 2001 in recognition of their conservation work on the steps.

Pretty

Whaligoe is not signposted but it's not hard to find - It's is 7 miles south of Wick on the A99, it is the turning directly opposite the turning signposted to the Cairn of Get.

There is a small carparking area near the path that leads to the steps. Whaligoe is NOT suitable for the very young or anyone not steady on their feet. It is also NOT ADVISABLE to take pets with you.

Great care is needed to negotiate the downward journey and even those regarding themselves as quite fit can feel the exhaustion creeping in on the way back up!

DO NOT be tempted to stray away from the steps themselves, the cliff tops can very very unstable and extremely dangerous.

As you stop and get your breath back at the top of these wondrous steps, spare a thought for the hardy breed of women for whom carrying baskets of fish up these steps was just one of their daily tasks!

 

Text taken from Caithness Explorer by kind permission of North of Scotland Newspapers.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 December 2009 11:08