Articles - L.S.Lowrey Black Steps
Take time to explore the Royal Burgh of Wick in Scotland’s north east corner and you may be pleasantly surprised by what there is to discover.
From Bridge Street in the centre of town it’s no distance back to the bridge over the River Wick and the roundabout where five roads meet.
Wedge shaped Mackay’s Hotel stands on one junction where Union Street meets River Street. Above a doorway in the gable there’s the name Ebenezer Place. According to the Guinness Book of Records this is the shortest street in the world at 2.06m (6ft 9inches). It is also the entrance to No1 Bar which is part of the hotel.
River Street follows the course of the river, at this point no great distance before it reaches the harbour and the sea. The marina, busy with leisure craft and fishing boats is soon in sight. Over on the far harbour wall the enormous columns and blades of aero generators lie in wait for their next move.
Viewed up close from a safe spot on a Harbour Quay pavement, one of those blades laid on the beds of two well - spaced trucks takes up a lot of room during an operation to transport it through the narrow streets of Wick.
Harbour Quay runs into Harbour Road and from here this walk, just yards from the North Sea follows the coastline along the road leading to Old Wick Castle.
Look out for the name ‘Trinkie’ painted in large white letters on an area of flat rock that gets covered by the tides. Trinkie is a Scottish word meaning a trench and here it applies to one of Wick’s outdoor coastal swimming pools (the other, the North Baths is on the other side of Wick Bay).
The Trinkie used to be a popular meeting spot and was where many people learned to swim. As time went on and the comfort of heated swimming pools became preferable, the Trinkie lost its appeal and gradually became more and more dilapidated. However, there is now a local committee working to raise funds to save the Trinkie and have it repaired and refurbished.
There’s now a belief in some circles that cold water swimming has various health benefits. Perhaps the Trinkie’s time has come again?
Much further out over the silvery North Sea there is a forest of aero generators. The blades will be turning in the wind, creating electricity, lighting up the houses of Wick.
Where the road ends there are views south along the sea-battered headlands and it’s no distance across a field of grass to reach the remains of the tower of Old Wick Castle.
The cliff top tower has a formidable, commanding position. There’s probably less than half the tower still standing but from its once sound upper rooms the views must have been vast – out to sea and inland over the flat countryside.
The castle was probably built by Harald Maddadson, the Earl of Caithness and Orkney, in the 1160’s at a time when kings of Norway exercised huge power on Scottish life and politics. As well as the tower providing accommodation, there would have been extra halls and lodgings, kitchens, a bake house, a brew house, stables, workshops and servants quarters - all that was necessary for a mighty Earl.
From the fenced off area surrounding the castle a gate opens to a cliff top path continuing south.
To return to town, follow the path heading inland between hedges to reach South Road and eventually your starting point on Bridge Street.
For a quieter return, follow the road round the cemetery to Harrow Hill and find a way to Lower Dunbar Street that ends at the Black Stairs as they are known locally. These stairs replaced the original flight which was the setting for L.S.Lowry’s well- known painting the Black Steps.
Lowry visited Wick in the 1930’s and from that visit produced two paintings. The other was entitled the Old House.
Round the corner on Bank Row take a few moments in the Wick Memorial Garden to enjoy the mosaics and the peace of the garden which commemorates the eighteen people who lost their lives in two air raids on Wick during the Second World War.
On July 1st 1940 a lone enemy aircraft dropped two bombs on Bank Row, then an area of homes and shops. Fifteen people died, eight of them children, in what was believed to have been the first daylight air raid of World War Two on mainland Britain.
On October 26th 1940 three enemy aircraft dropped a number of high explosives on the north side of Wick, close to the aerodrome. Three people – two children and a young woman died as a result of a direct hit on a house in Hill Avenue. The victims of both raids are listed on a memorial plaque in the garden that reads,
‘May their names never be forgotten and may the flowers in this garden blossom for evermore in remembrance of their loss.’
It’s no distance to Harbour Place to find the seven gates covering entrances to the cellars where salt needed during the packing of barrels of herring was stored. The gates were designed by artists Sue Jane Taylor and Liz O’Donnel and fabricated by blacksmith Ian Sinclair. The images were created by Wick school pupils who were inspired by local history and folklore.
Overlooking the harbour, Wickers’ World Café for coffee, home baking or a meal offers a splendid ending to this walk.
Should you want another, but very different walk from the centre of town it’s easy to find and follow the riverside path upstream from Bridge Street. Ahead an obvious bridge allows a circular walk or you could go on to the viewing platform overlooking dense reeds and rushes or further still, before retracing your steps. The lower stretches of the river are bordered by both tidal and fresh water marshes providing good feeding and shelter for a great variety of wading birds and wildfowl.
Further information: Unfortunately at the time of this walk, Wick Heritage Centre, 20 Bank Row was closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions.