Ok, so before we get into the details of the Whaligoe Steps, lets address something that NOBODY appears to be talking about: The Whaligoe Waterfall! Now, I’ve seen many a waterfall in my time: Niagara, Yosemite, Salto Del Tequendama, not to mention a checklist of Scotland’s highest waterfalls and, whilst I appreciate that this one isn’t quite in the same league, it still has so much charm.
The Whaligoe Steps have become a North Coast 500 East side tick point, but I strongly recommend that you strap on your walking boots in order to make the scramble across to the falls viewpoint as well. It’s one of my favourite waterfalls in Scotland (and best things to see on the NC 500)! Read on for more info …
How to find the Whaligoe Steps
Finding the steps and waterfall is pretty easy. Visitors take the simple A99 coastal road until they reach a small crossroads with a signpost for the Cairn o’ Get. There is no sign for the steps themselves, so this will be your marker point.
Driving North – If you’re driving up the East coast (doing the NC-500 from East to West) the Cairn o’ Get signpost will point to the left. On the opposite side of the road is a BT telephone box. Take this right turn and the short road will lead you straight to the Whaligoe Steps parking and cafe/restaurant.
Driving South – If you’re coming down the A99 from John o’ Groats (doing the NC-500 from West to East) then the phone box and the turn for the Whaligoe Steps will be on your left. It’s worth noting that the Cairn o’ Get signage isn’t as clear when coming from the North, so be on the lookout!
Whaligoe Steps parking
We were lucky enough to visit the steps late in the evening at a particularly quiet time of year, so parking was quick and easy. However, despite being free, the car park isn’t a particularly big one and (during the busy Summer months) has the potential to fill up fast.
Once you’ve parked, the steps are relatively easy to find. Take a (slightly muddy) path around the side of a row of cottages. The track will eventually turn into stone slabs that lead down to Whaligoe Haven. To begin with, it feels a bit like you are traipsing through someone’s garden.
Where are the Whaligoe Steps
The steps themselves are only part of the stop point. Once you’ve rambled across the gardens of the cottages, the path forks. Take the right fork and you’ll come across the steps; 330 stairs that lead you down to a cavernous harbour with clear waters and magnificent views out to sea. On the day we arrived, the waters were remarkably calm and we were lucky enough to spot a seal taking a rest in the shallow waters of the bay.
MIDGE ALERT! If I can give you one piece of advice here, it would be this: Take midge repellent! We weren’t remotely prepared for the number of these little ratbags that descended on us as we tried to navigate the steps. They were in my eyes, my mouth, my ears, crawling down my neck; you name it, they were there. It got so bad at points that we had to wrap our coats around our faces, and we couldn’t see for a black mist of flies. There was some light relief as we got closer to the water at the bottom, but the place is rife with them.
The Whaligoe Waterfall
Take the left fork and you’ll make your way across to the viewpoint that allows for an uninterrupted panoramic of the enormous Whaligoe Falls. This is what I was here for and (quite frankly) I’m surprised that this waterfall doesn’t get more publicity than it does. The waters leap treacherously from the 250ft cliffs, hitting a few of the jutting rocks on the way down before crashing into the sea below. It’s quite possibly one of my favourite waterfalls in Scotland, but yet, nobody is talking about it.
SAFETY WARNING: Getting across to this viewpoint is not for the faint of heart. The route is narrow (and slightly treacherous), with no barriers to prevent falls. Both this and the main steps route require sturdy footwear – they are slippery, steep and have very little to protect you from stumbling down the cliff side.
Whaligoe Steps history
Dating back to the 1700’s, the zig-zagging flagstones lead to one of Scotland’s most beautiful natural harbours; a long-standing fishing point for salmon and herring (amongst other fish). Locals most likely relied upon Whaligoe for years before the steps were officially installed – the coastline around this Caithness area has few natural docking points and the harbour allowed for multiple boats and a sheltered cove to process from.
It’s thought that the steps date back to 1792, but visitors can still find parts of the original jetty, remains of the Salt Store and a rusted old hand-powered winch when they reach the bottom of the steps. The good folks at Undiscovered Scotland deliver a wonderfully detailed account of Whaligoe Haven and its history in their blog post.
What hotels are near Whaligoe Steps?
If you do a quick Google search for hotels near the Whaligoe Steps, you’ll get a mixed result of cute BnBs and Inns based around Lybster, Wick and other locations scattered further up the coast. However, we found a great hidden gem just 6 miles down the road – North Star Glamping Pods. The road from Lybster to Whaligoe is a simple one and it made finding them steps a lot easier.
There’s only 2 of these luxury pods on the glamping site, so you need to get your booking in fast.
Nearby Sights to the Whaligoe Steps
The Whaligoe Steps are conveniently located only 28 miles South of John o’ Groats, so we had pencilled them in as our last stop on the first day of our NC-500 itinerary. The majority of the coastal road here is flat and we sped up this entire East coastline from Inverness is a day. This allowed us to take in Fyrish Monument, Dunrobin Castle, an early dinner in Brora and Cairn Laith Broch, before dumping our bags at our accommodation in Lybster and making the Whaligoe Steps for sunset.
For our full itinerary and accommodation tips/prices, take a look at our NC-500 4 Day Itinerary post.
Like this post? If you’re looking for more information on individuals stops around Scotland’s North Coast 500 route and the Scottish Highlands, head over to my posts about The Wailing Widow Falls and Fyrish Monument.
The Whaligoe steps car park may be free. But it is also primarily for residents. Residents spaces are clearly marked out. This leaves a disabled bay and just 4 spaces for visitors. This includes our own visitors, and regularly health care workers attending to the residents. Visitor numbers have swelled to the point during peak times we cannot get parked ourselves. Traffic jams are blocking our lane and access to our homes and into the car park. It is disrespectful to those of us that live here to advertise our facilities as some sort of free for all.
Hi Dawn, firstly, I’d like to apologise if my post has upset any of the residents. We pride ourselves on our support of local communities, and I’m very aware of the hassle residents along the NC500 are having as a result of tourist paying no regard to their area. Our trip put a nightly focus on staying in family-owned accommodation and we were sure never to park anywhere we believed to be residents only. As an central Edinburgh resident myself, nothing infuriates me more than tourists parking in my private parking bay.
Our trip was taken last year, before visitor numbers lifted, and when we visited the car park, it was almost empty. I do mention in the post that the parking stop is a small one. We never saw any signage indicating it was for residents, but I wanted to make sure there hadn’t been an update, so I’ve just had a good look around Google maps for one. But there is still nothing? I think it’s unfair to call me disrespectful for simply not knowing it’s predominantly residents parking (especially given that there was (is?) nothing to ask tourist not to park there – we’d spotted the cafe promotes it as parking for their facility too?). I’m really disappointed you felt you couldn’t e-mail me to ask for a change to simply change copy around the spaces and highlight the frustration for residents at the same time. I would have been happy to (and will do regardless). It would be great to have an alternative recommendation from yourself? As the route is inevitable at the moment, I’d rather be supporting you by highlighting these?