They date originally from the mid-18th century and were once used by fisherwomen to haul up the creels of herring landed at the harbour beneath. Crews of women, some in their early seventies, would gut the fish — Herring, cod, Haddock, or Ling — and would carry them up the steps in baskets to be taken on foot to be sold in Wick, some 7 to 8 miles away. Barrels made in the cooperage at the top of the cliffs were taken down for salted herring to be stored in then taken away by schooner. Although a popular attraction today, 'Whaligoe Steps' is notoriously difficult to find as the steps are not signposted on the main road, however the turning is opposite the signpost for the "Cairn of Get" 8 miles south of Wick on the A99.
Sea birds such as Kittywakes and terns nest in the cliffsides and circle on the wind down to the water. A sea cave provides another opportunity for exploration.
The steps were repaired early in the 19th century and again very recently. The late Etta Juhle cleared about 30 tons of rubble by herself in 1975 after a landslip and David Nicolson of Ulbster has worked continuously on the steps with local historian Iain Sutherland and many other volunteers.