Our Scottish staycation proved to be the gift that kept on giving.
First, a word of advice. If you are planning a short break in Caithness, make sure it is just that; three days is plenty.
Due to my evident inability to grasp the basic rule of ensuring continuity of holiday accommodation, I initially managed to book three nights in Wick, followed by two nights of homelessness in Scottish wilderness, followed by a weekend in St. Andrews. After some frantic last minute messaging, booking.com came through for me, but we ended up with a couple of spare days on our hands in Wick.
And that’s how we came across Whaligoe Steps. 365 of them, leading all the way to the sea. We spotted them buried deep down among various ‘Top 10 attractions near Wick’.
The steps were hardly going to pose a challenge to us, our calf muscles still bulging after our Ben Nevis climbing triumph less than a week before.
Whaligoe Steps ended up as one of those memorable experiences that usually happen to other people.
We parked the car nearby, crossed the A99 at our own risk, and set off looking for the steps.
A man came out from his garden shed adorned with several sets of antlers and horse shoes, and asked us, ‘are you looking for the steps?’ He then gave us a once over and added, doubtfully, ‘Do you feel fit enough?’ We grimaced in half-smile. He then kept talking to us for an uninterrupted fifteen minutes or more. He told us he had been working on the steps for the last 25 years. He went into his house, took out a poster size old photograph of the steps and proceeded to describe every single item along the route down to the sea. He introduced himself as Davy. He told us how the Whaligoe got its name. Goe means an inlet, and a dead whale washed up there once.
He carried on. He told us a story about a group of generously sized Americans who visited a few years ago and how they struggled to climb back up. He didn’t seem to be aware that fat shaming was a bad thing to do. He told us about the time Billy Connelly came round and what a fun and easy going man he was.
After a suitably long time, we let us go and do the steps. As we walked down, we recognised all the points Davy mentioned in his story. When we came back up, Davy was pottering around his shed again. He asked us how we liked the steps, and continued telling us details about how they had fallen into disrepair and how he and others have been fixing them over the years.
We were standing in the doorway of his house, and an unusually big spanner caught our attention. He noticed that and said that he had more interesting things to show us too. He pulled out an antique looking sword, which he said he’d found in one of several local abandoned houses many years before.
We all had a go wielding the sword, with some larking around a Scottish flag added for good measure.
For his final trick, Davy offered any of us ‘a hundred pounds in cash’ if any of us managed to ride his bike for the full minute. We all followed him to the shed, and Davy wheeled out a bulky looking bike. Amelia, our ready for anything daughter, had a go a couple of times, but only lasted a couple of seconds each time. I am not sure what it was exactly, which made his bike unusable, but apparently the bike was totally counterintuitive to what we know about cycling, and as you think you will be turning right, the bike turns left and you fall off.
After that we said our goodbyes and were on our way. The Whaligoe Steps Davy is most definitely Caithness’ best kept secret. I don’t mind sharing it here.