Thousands of people climb up the 199 steps leading to St. Mary’s Church. Fortunately for these visitors, benches dot the stairway, providing perfect places for weary walkers to rest their legs and soak in the picture-perfect views of Whitby’s harbor.
What many tourists don’t realize is that the platforms they sit on weren’t intended to hold the living. Pallbearers, when they needed a break while carting the dead to the church cemetery, would place coffins on the planks.
The graveyard closed after the 19th century, meaning the bereaved no longer had to carry their loved ones up the many steps. But the stairs still see plenty of foot traffic, just as they have for centuries.
The first recorded use of the staircase was in 1340, though it’s likely they were used far before this as people trekked up to the 12th-century church and seventh-century abbey. Even Count Dracula, in wolf form, bounded up these stairs as depicted by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula.
Know Before You Go
The steps and benches are accessible 24/7, though there is a sign warning walkers that they climb the stairs at their own risk. There is a parking lot located at the top for those who choose not traverse the staircase.