Thurso Camera Club members enjoy an informative tour at Whaligoe Steps as part of the season’s activities

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Grant Coghill took this photo of Charles Juhlenski, a stonemason who worked on the final repairs.

The winter season saw a range of activity for the Thurso Camera Club including a trip to Whaligoe Steps near Lybster.

The steps had been deteriorating for several years and were becoming dangerous. Much renovation work has been undertaken over the past year to make it safe for the many visitors to explore this part of Caithness heritage.

The Whaligoe Steps bear witness to a once thriving fishing industry.

This image of the Whaligoe Steps by Bob Murdoch shows the scale of the cliffs.
This image of the Whaligoe Steps by Bob Murdoch shows the scale of the cliffs.

Club member Robert Murdoch, who is also a tourist guide with Caithness Seacoast Ltd, gave members a history of the steps. He explained that there are records of fishing from Whaligoe since 1640 but in 1792 Captain David Brodie, who was farming above the geo, commissioned the construction of the steps which now cling to the cliff.

The steps provided easier access to the narrow entrance at the bottom of the cliff. To create a more convenient workspace, high walls were built on the rocks at the bottom and back filled with rubble from the cliff to create the area called the Bink.

This solid platform is about the size of a modern tennis court and on it the women would have processed the catches and the men would have repaired the boats and the nets. Around the perimeter of the Bink, ropes were stretched between posts on which nets were dried.

A close up of the steps repaired by Grant Coghill.
A close up of the steps repaired by Grant Coghill.
The image of Bob Murdoch looking out to sea from Whaligoe.
The image of Bob Murdoch looking out to sea from Whaligoe.

When first built there were around 365 steps, but over the years repairs have reduced this number and with the most recent improvements there are believed to be 337.

At its peak, as many as 24 boats fished from this entrance, the last boat being removed from the water in 1970. To facilitate the removal of boats from the water, a winch, which is still there, was was installed and the winch ropes were run from there around pulleys attached to chains fixed in the cliff furthest from the sea, an area called the Neist.

The boats were first hoisted onto the small beach on the Neist and then, using a second winch now missing on the Bink, hoisted to where they could be worked.

Footage taken by club members that day shows some interesting features on and around the steps. Fisherwomen used to climb the many steps with a heavy load of fish landed in the small harbor before transporting them to Wick several miles away – the photographers’ photographic equipment weighing only a fraction of the heavy loads carried by these fisherwomen .

Club members have also been busy visiting local places such as Latheron Harbour, including the interesting local community innovation of the nearby Fairy Glen.

A close look at a fairy house for photography by Ruthie Nicholls.
A close look at a fairy house for photography by Ruthie Nicholls.

The club continued to make good use of online meetings with engaging presentations from astrophotographer Stuart McIntyre, landscape photographer Harry Wheeler, floral photographer Andy Small and sports photographer Ian Cook.

Despite the arrival of spring, the nights are still dark enough for some outdoor light painting photography opportunities and hopefully the Aurora.

The club will continue to use a mix of online and outdoor meetings, and indoor meetings will resume when circumstances permit.

Alisdair Mackechnie's image of an old stone bridge in Latheron.
Alisdair Mackechnie’s image of an old stone bridge in Latheron.
Image by Jean Mackay of The Fairy Houses at Latheron.
Image by Jean Mackay of The Fairy Houses at Latheron.
Julie Catterall focused on these fairy mushrooms in the Fairy Glen.
Julie Catterall focused on these fairy mushrooms in the Fairy Glen.
The Fisherman's Rest at the Fairy Glen, by Jean Mackay.
The Fisherman’s Rest at the Fairy Glen, by Jean Mackay.


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