Probably the first route carved up the East Cliff was the Donkey Road which runs parallel to the 199 steps and used to continue beyond the abbey toward Hawsker. Too steep for wagons from the harbour, it is likely pannier ponies carried up the abbey supplies, although it is said Constantine Phipps of Mulgrave castle used to be driven in his coach-and-four up the Donkey Road when he was courting Anne Cholmley who lived at Abbey House in the 1780’s.
The famous 199 steps, more properly known as the Church Stairs, were originally constructed of painted wood. The number of steps has fluctuated. In 1761 John Wesley counted 191, but in 1769 the Whitby historian Charlton counted 190, then in the early 1800’s guide books numbered them at 194. The frail wooden stairs were replaced when the church wardens bought 103 tons of Sneaton stone in 1774 and the number of steps was finally stabilised during renovation in 1887 when a tablet was inscribed declaring there are 199.
Many Whitby people preferred to be carried up to the church on their last journey to the cemetery, rather than be taken by hearse via Green Lane. It was usual for men to be carried by their comrades, women were borne up the church steps by their women friends and relatives, while grown-up children were lifted by young people. Infants were carried under the arm of a female, and a white sheet covered the coffins of women who had died in childbirth. The flat
Below : The famous 199 steps, showing the Donkey Road. Whitby's lifeboat was once hauled up the road during a storm, then launched at Robin Hood's Bay to attend a shipwreck.