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The Famous 199 Whitby Steps

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The 199 steps are definitely worth the climb! Once at the top you are rewarded with the most breathtaking views of the North Yorkshire coastline and of course, the dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey that keep a watchful eye on the town. It’s hard to resist the temptation with the steps being a famous attraction bringing many tourists to Whitby, with many thankful for the benches as you complete the journey. The challenging climb should definitely make it on your to do list when visiting Whitby alongside admiring our stunning Whitby Jet jewellery!

 

The Steps Origins

 

Although believed to date back even further, the first record of the Whitby Abbey steps is documented as 1340 when they were constructed using wood. Understandably, the ‘Church Stairs’ (as they're also known) were replaced in 1774 with stone from Sneaton - a village in the Scarborough district of North Yorkshire - a much more robust material to survive the unpredictability of our British weather. They were originally built as a test of Christian faith as St Mary’s Church sat at the top of the steps and therefore, were the preferred route to reach the place of worship. Those who were faithful would accept the challenge and prove themselves despite how testing it can be. 

 

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Take a Seat

 

Even though today the benches make the perfect rest point they were built with a different intention completely. Prior to the closure of the church yard in the 19th century, deceased loved ones were carried on the shoulders of family and close friends. The wooden planks were strategically placed to spare the pallbearers shoulders. The ‘benches’ were seen as a respectful place to position the coffin whilst the loved ones could rest. Although there was an easier route by horse and carriage using Green Lane, many preferred the tradition of being carried to the graveyard. 

 

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Count for Yourself

 

The actual number is up for debate with some contesting that there maybe slightly less or more than 199 steps to climb. Some believe that the final step shouldn’t be included in the total as its not actually considered a step as it is the top of the stairs and others count the bottom step into Church Street. When looking back on historical records some state 198 steps whereas others suggest 200. In 1761, John Wesley, a local preacher, only counted 191 whereas others from decades later documented 194 steps. To help clarify the actual final number, there is a Roman numeral X carved on every tenth step to keep you on track if you’ve lost count. I guess the actual number is irrelevant as there are still a fair few and have become a famous attraction of Whitby. They did make an appearance in Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula when the vampire fled the shipwreck running up the steps in the form of a black dog. 

 

The 199 steps are definitely a must when you visit our far from traditional town to see the spectacular views for yourself after a challenging climb! 

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