Whitby’s 199 Steps, Why Are They So Famous?

The reasons for walking up the 199 Steps that lead up to St Mary’s Churchyard, also known as the ‘Church Stairs’ have differed over the years, now they are a great place for an iconic shot of Whitby. But, why are they so famous? 

The 199 steps, known as the Church Stairs, lead from the Old Town up to St. Mary's. 1340 is the first known record of the 199 steps, however, it is believed the steps were actually made a long time before this.

Some historians believe that St Hilda would use the steps as a test to confirm the faith of her followers. This was a test of Christian faith to those who wished to worship in St Mary’s Church.

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Have you ever walked up them? If so you'll know what a challenge they can be!

Whitby's 199 Steps

Are there really 199 steps? Count them as you climb.

Believe it or not, the steps were actually originally made of wood and stood for hundreds of years that way until 1774 when the steps were replaced with Sneaton Stone.

So are there 199 steps? Despite their name, there is a lot of dispute of how many steps there are. Some people believe there are 198 because you shouldn't count the final step to the top, as this is not a step, it is in fact the top. Others believe 200 because of the step from the bottom onto Church Street. In 1761 John Wesley counted 191, and in 1800 guide books of Whitby 194 were counted.

Every 10th step, and the last, are now numbered with Roman numerals so you don't have to count them any more!

199 Steps Whitby Black and White

Ever caught your breath on one of the benches halfway up? Here's what they were originally used for…

Before the benches on the 199 steps were used as a place to catch your breath and take in a wonderful Whitby view they were used for another way to rest.

Before the 19th century, when St Mary’s was still open for burials, there was a tradition to be carried up the steps, rather than giving relatives a more easy journey and having their bodies carried in a horse and carriage along Green Lane.

Can you imagine how extremely tiring carrying a body up 199 steps would be? Therefore wooden planks were built in place to place the coffin on and give the pall-bearers a rest. Though official pall-bearers weren’t always used.

Again as tradition would have it often men would be carried by their male companions, women would be carried up by female friends and family members, and children would be carried by children.

199 Steps Whitby Benches

Dracula ran up the steps!

Another reason the 199 steps are famous is that they are mentioned in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. After the shipwreck, Dracula runs up the famous 199 steps to the graveyard in St Mary’s Church in the shape of a black dog. 

Or try the Donkey Road (Donkey Track)

The super steep, cobbled donkey road parallels the more famous 199 steps. If you're wearing good shoes walk down via the Donkey Road next to the steps, this is actually Grade 1 listed and for some a far more special experience than the steps. Plus almost no one uses it!

Climbing 199 Steps Whitby Autumn

With views like this, it's no wonder they are so famous! You get some of the most spectacular views of Whitby from the top of the cliff and as you climb the steps. Then you are rewarded with a wander around the churchyard and spend time exploring the ruins of the famous Abbey.

What are your experiences of the 199 Steps? Let us know in the comments. We love to hear from you. 

11 thoughts on “Whitby’s 199 Steps, Why Are They So Famous?”

  1. What I remember most about climbing the 199 steps is being worn out half-way up, and completely worn out at the top. That was when I was a child. I’m a pensioner now and it’s just as bad …

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  2. l have come down them alote of time never walked up there it’s a beautiful Place we love sitting in the marketplace having a wine love it

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  3. Walked up and down the steps many,many times, also done it via Donkey Rd. Cant visit without a trip up to see the beautiful views and breath in the whole amazing magic of Whitby,cant wait to do it againxxxx

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  4. Every time we go to Whitby I have to climb the steps just to prove I can still do it in my 70s. Can still do it but it takes a bit longer with stops to admire the views (my excuse)

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  5. MY MEMORIES ARE WHEN WORKING FOR NYCC WE INSTALLED THE VICTORIAN LAMP POSTS, IT TOOK 6 OF US AND A LOT OF EFFORT TO CARRY THEN INTO POSITION.

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  6. Used to sprint up them took 27 seconds standing start bottom to top and could do bottom to top and back down 1 minute flat

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  7. Stayed at Abbey House at the top of the steps for a surveying field course, for two weeks, as part of my civil engineering degree. The quickest way into town was these steps, during the day for surveying, and in the evenings for a drink.

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  8. I have climbed the steps on a few occasions and it doesn’t get any easier last time I was there I decided to walk down the donkey track never again will I do that it is such a steep hill and can be slippery I couldn’t move I had to be helped down by an elderly American couple I don’t say that to often

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  9. Pedantically speaking, it should be called Whitby Stairs, not steps.

    I’d love to find out the year when the risers were enumerated, if anyone knows, please comment?

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  10. Been again for the 3rd time this bank holiday of Aug2021. I thought that was quick i did it. This time alone. I do love going that steps each time i visit Whitby.

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