The 199 Whitby Abbey steps are one challenge visitors to the town cannot resist. They’re one of our most famous attractions. But, how much do you know about the history of Whitby steps?
History of the Whitby Abbey steps
The first record of the Whitby Abbey steps comes from 1340, but they’re believed to be even older. The steps were originally made from wood. It was not until 1774 that the original wooden steps were replaced with stone from Sneaton.
It is thought the 199 steps were used as a test of Christian faith to those who wished to worship in St Mary’s Church. Climbing the steps would prove that you were faithful. Anyone who has climbed them recently knows how testing they can be!
Thank goodness for the “benches”
As you’re climbing, we’re sure you’re grateful for the “benches” placed at intervals as you ascend. While that’s certainly what they’re used for today, these resting points were created with a different purpose in mind.
Before the churchyard was closed to burials in the 19th century, coffins were regularly carried up the steps by grieving family and friends. Wooden planks were put in place to give the pall-bearers a respectful place to rest the coffin while they caught their breath.
While a horse and carriage could carry the body to the graveyard via Green Lane, many people preferred to be carried up the steps to their final resting place. We can easily imagine what an impressive site that would have made.
Why 199 steps?
Nobody is entirely sure why there are 199 steps up to the church. In fact, there has been lots of debate whether there are in fact 199 at all!
Some records state there are 198 steps, others 200. Local preacher John Wesley counted 191 steps in 1761 and other guides from the 1800s record only 194 steps.
Are they worth the climb?
Of course they are! You get some of the most spectacular views of Whitby from the top of the cliff and as you climb the steps. You can wander around the church yard, visit St Mary’s Church and spend time exploring the ruins of our famous Abbey.
If you’re not able to take on the climb or fancy a gentler trip up to the top, you can hop on the Whitby tour bus instead.