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

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We have all stood on Whitby’s 199 Steps for a photo, but why are they so famous?

For centuries, these steps have been the subject of folklore, literary inspiration, and countless tourist photographs. But why are they so famous? Here, we look at Whitby’s 199 Steps’ history and allure and answer frequently asked questions. Have you ever walked up to them? If so, you’ll know what a challenge they can be!

History of the 199 Steps

The 199 steps, known as the Church Stairs, lead from the Old Town to St. Mary’s Churchyard. The first known record of the steps is from 1340, but it is believed they were made long before this. You might also find the 199 Steps in Whitby referred to as the ‘Church Steps’ or ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. Both of these are biblical or religious references.

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

Walking up the 199 steps.

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

As you ascend the steps, you can’t help but feel a sense of history and spirituality intertwined in this ancient pathway.

Are there 199 steps? Count them as you climb!

So, are there 199 steps? Despite their name, there is a lot of dispute over 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!

Sitting on the 199 steps.

The 10th and last steps are numbered with Roman numerals, so you no longer have to count them. But where’s the fun in that?

Why are there benches on the 199 steps?

Before the benches on the 199 steps were used to catch your breath and take in a fantastic Whitby view, they were also used as 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 an easier journey and having their bodies carried in a horse and carriage along Green Lane.

Benches on the 199 steps.

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

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

The tradition went on for hundreds of years, with the last coffin carried up the steps dating back to 1933. It belonged to Reverend George Austen.

Are the steps difficult to climb?

The steps can be quite steep and may pose a challenge for those with mobility issues, but the breathtaking views from the top are worth the effort.

If you cannot take on the climb or fancy an easier trip up to the top, you can hop on the Whitby Open Top Bus instead.

When is the best time of day to visit the steps?

There is no best time. Of course, the experience is nicer when it is quieter and you can take your time. Visiting the steps at different times of the day can offer unique experiences. Whether it’s the misty morning air or the golden glow of sunset, each time of day provides a different feel.

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. It is believed that Stoker was inspired by Whitby’s hauntingly beautiful scenery and the looming presence of St. Mary’s Church when writing his gothic tale.

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 Grade 1 listed and, for some, a far more memorable experience than the steps. Plus, almost no one uses it!

The 199 steps today

In 1988, Prince Charles (now King Charles III) contributed to a £12,000 renovation project. However, in 2004, the bottom end of the steps was found to be sinking, leading to their declaration unsafe. Local residents came together for a public appeal, gathering funds from 199 donors, each contributing £1,000 to make the steps safe for public use once again.

St Mary's Churchyard Bench.

Today, you’ll notice small circular discs with Roman numerals to help you count the steps. Railings are installed from top to bottom.

With views like this, it’s no wonder they are so famous! You get some of Whitby’s most spectacular views from the cliff 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.

The 199 Steps in Whitby have proven to be more than just a means of reaching the church at the top. Have you climbed the 199 Steps in Whitby? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!

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18 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 …

  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

  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

  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)


  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

  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.

  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

  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?

  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.

  11. our 1st trip to Whitby this year and we loved it my husband and I are 71 but climbed the steps with ease but walkings our hobby the views are fabulous

  12. My grandsons Harvey and Lucas ran down then back up them last weekend, Harvey was adamant that there were only 198, but declined the chance of a recount?

  13. I lived in Whitby for seventy years only recently moving to Ireland! When I was twelve I had a paper round and used to go up and down the steps six days a week! One year someone built an extra step at the top making two hundred!

  14. Have been going to whitby for 40years and will dearly miss it when I can’t, can’t tell you why we go as it’s impossible to put into words, so you have to go your selves, have a wonderful time

  15. Walked from the caravan park down the steps lost count half way down crossed the bridge and Upto the whale tusks looking back thought wow need to do it again stayed at the caravan park at the time glad I had my inhalers. Do the steps every time I go to Whitby


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