Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Walk on the Yorkshire Moors with the Brontë Sisters

Today is the perfect, lazy day for curling up with a good book. The weather is unusually cold... well, for Central Texas... just a tad below freezing. The sky is dark with clouds, and the trees have lost their leaves. It's the type of gloomy, Gothic setting I pictured  when reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë or Jane Eyre by her sister, Charlotte Brontë. A place inhabited by dark and brooding types.




Ever since I read those novels in high school and at university, I've always wondered what it was like to stroll along the Yorkshire moors. Growing up amid the metropolitan sprawl and suburban strip malls of flat-as-a-pancake Houston, it was difficult to picture myself inserted into such a foreign scene. So, when we decided to visit York, England last summer, I was seized with the notion of making a pilgrimage to  the Brontë Parsonage in the tiny village of Haworth and finally walking among the heather in the rolling moorlands. "It's just a 90-minute drive from York," I explained to my husband with pleading, puppy dog eyes." How could he resist?



Looking across the Yorkshire moors towards Stanbury in the distance

It wasn't quite as I had imagined. We visited on a glorious, summer day. The temperature was pleasantly warm (for a Texan),  the grass was lush, and the sky was a beautiful blue. It ended up being a lovely day for a walk, but nothing like the gloomy and forbidding York moors described by the Brontë sisters. "Wuthering" is the Yorkshire word for stormy weather, and that's where my expectations lay. To be honest, my family would not have lasted very long if the weather had been the least bit wuthering or chilly with a brisk wind.


Untamed moorland

The moorland was mostly pastures with grazing sheep and stone walls separating each parcel. It was so different than the barbed wire fences of spread out, Texas cattle ranches. It was so... British. I wondered what the area looked like nearly 200 years ago when the Brontë family lived here. Perhaps it was less tamed, more wild. If I narrowed my peripheral vision and held my gaze just right, I could see a few sections that may be similar to what Charlotte, Emily and Anne saw when they walked along this same path.


A house fallen into ruin 

The Brontës often took long strolls from the Parsonage where they lived near Haworth through what is now Penistone Hill Country Park, Penistone Hill and Haworth Moor. Starting at the small car park uphill from the reservoir,  we only had time for a short walk. I pretended to myself that the small, ruined house we passed was what Jane returns to at the end of Jane Eyre, although it certainly could not compare to Mr. Rochester's grand Thornfield Hall If we had continued onwards, the  1½ mile path would have led us to the Brontë Waterfalls which Charlotte described as "fine indeed; a perfect torrent racing over the rocks, white and beautiful." Another 1¼ more miles would have brought us to what remains of Top Withens which, legend has it, was Emily's inspiration for Wuthering Heights even though it bore no resemblance to her description when it was whole.




Ponden Hall near the village of Stanbury is said to be the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange in the same novel or else Wildfeld Hall of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Dedicated Brontë fans can stay at Ponden Hall as it is now a bed & breakfast. Nearby Ponden Kirk supposedly became Penistone Crag whose Fairy Cave so entranced Catherine in Wuthering Heights


Haworth Parsonage where the family lived

Of course, my fangirl pilgrimage would not be complete without a visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum located in the Haworth Parsonage where the authors grew up and wrote their memorable works. In 1820, Patrick Brontë, born "Patrick Brunty," became Perpetual curate of Haworth parish and moved his wife, Maria, and their six children to this home. Maria and the two oldest sisters died when the famous Brontë sisters were young. Growing up in this isolated place, the three girls and their brother,  Branwell, penned fantastical stories. They recorded them with unbelievably miniature handwriting in tiny, matchbox-sized books, some of which are on  display in  the museum. In 1847, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey were published by Charlotte, Emily and Anne, respectively, under the male pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.


The dining room table where the sisters wrote

While the house was filled with personal belongings of the Brontë family, my favorite room was the Dining Room where Charlotte, Emily and Anne discussed their stories with each other and did much of their writing. Emily is said to have died on the sofa in this room in 1848, only one year after Wuthering Heights was published. A portrait of Charlotte hangs above the fireplace, and the plaster medallion above the sofa is of their brother, Branwell. He was considered to be a genius by his father and sisters, but he was a writer who never received the same accolades as his sisters as well as a painter, an alcoholic and a laudanum addict. 


Cemetery outside the Brontë home

The village cemetery is located next to the parsonage. I wonder if this constant reminder of mortality and the spirit world that lies just beyond death's door is part of what shaped the authors' imagination. The years since I read Wuthering Heights had mellowed Heathcliff in my memory into a romantically dark and brooding victim/victimizer. Upon rereading the book in preparation of this trip, I was appalled to realize that he is a depraved domestic abuser. I could not grant him any sympathy at all. What influences were at play in Emily Brontë's life that cultivated a mind from which such a monstrous character could spring forth?


Haworth Church

The church next to the parsonage has been rebuilt since the time that Mr. Brontë preached here. Only the clock tower would be familiar to the family. It still bears bullet holes made by the pistol that Mr.  Brontë fired off every morning. All the Brontës except Anne are buried in a vault beneath the church, and a memorial  chapel that includes the following plaque was added to the building in 1964. An Old School Room between the parsonage and the church was built by Mr. Brontë in 1832, and the three authors served as teachers there before finding literary fame. It was also the site of Charlotte's wedding celebration in 1854. 


Plaque in  the Brontë Memorial  Chapel

The quaint village of Haworth is down a short path from the church, graveyard and parsonage.  Its tourist center highlights both the Brontë family's association with the area as well as the town being a film location for the 1970 movie based on E. Nesbitt's book The Railway Children. In fact, the Brontë Parsonage acted as the Doctor's house for the movie. The narrow street — well, narrow for two-way vehicular traffic — descends steeply into a valley, and picturesque hills rise up in the distance.


If you're feeling hungry after all that hiking around on the moors, stop for a meal at Cobbles and Clay which serves as both a café and pottery studio. Children and well behaved adults are welcome, and the menu includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings.

Delicious Ploughman's Lunch at Cobbles and Clay

I would have loved to spend longer hiking along the moors and walking through the landscape that inspired the Brontë sisters. However, we had timed entry tickets for the York's Chocolate Story museum and needed to get back to York. Chocolate and the Brontës. It was my kind of perfect day, even if it wasn't as gloomy as I had imagined.

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33 comments:

  1. I've wanted to do an adventure too like this but for Pride & Prejudice! What a lovely adventure! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  2. I only spent a day in York but I want to go back and explore more! I am a little embarrassed to say I am a little behind on reading those classics. But still I think I would enjoy that walk. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  3. Here I am an English major, and have to admit I have never read Wuthering Heights. . .until now, that is. You've so tweeked my interest in this area that I am getting the book for my next read! Loved this post!

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  4. Bryna | Dotted Line TravelsJanuary 7, 2017 at 1:35 PM

    I'm with you, I imagined the moors to be more stormy from reading Wuthering Heights! The Bronte Parsonage Museum also seems like a very interesting museum. Like California Globetrotter, I'd would also love this sort of adventure but with Pride and Prejudice - it remains one of my favourite books of all time!

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  5. That looks like a dream day to me - even with the beautiful weather! A few years ago I visited the Little Women house in Massachusetts with my daughter and we enjoyed it even more than I thought we would. And I'd definitely love to add Pride and Prejudice to the day. Such fun literary visits!

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  6. This something Jo would love. I'm surprised that she didn't have us do it when were in York summer before last.

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  7. Tracy McConnachie CollinsJanuary 7, 2017 at 2:55 PM

    Really enjoyed reading about your visit to Bronte country. Looks like you had a fantastic day out and so interesting to learn more about the family. I think if we were on the moors today you may find the weather conditions you were imagining!

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  8. Tracy McConnachie CollinsJanuary 7, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    I was visiting from the #weeklypostcard - forgot to say!

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  9. I've been to Louisa May Alcott's home in Concord many years ago. I thought about bringing my daughter this summer when we were in Boston but simply didn't have the time.

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  10. I'm guessing that summer weather must have not been the inspiration for the setting.

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  11. I'd be interested in what you think of the book. I definitely had a different response this time than when I first read it a few decades ago.

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  12. My kids have never read any of those classic novels, and they enjoyed the walk very much -- probably because the weather was so wonderful.

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  13. When we visited Bath on the same trip, I made sure to visit the Jane Austen sites.

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  14. I think I may only last a few seconds if I visited in the winter. This "just below freezing" weather we're experiencing at home has everyone hiding indoors.

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  15. contented travellerJanuary 7, 2017 at 6:52 PM

    It is amazing how much literature affects my choice of travel destination. My first trip was to Samoa because of Somerset Maugham, so I understand the need to visit Bronte country.

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  16. What a beautiful place! I think I would prefer to visit when it is sunny and warm. I can see how a place like this can serve as inspiration to writers. Nice that there is a waterfall named for the sisters. #wkendtravelinspiration

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  17. Isn't it funny how reading a book again many years later can change our opinion of a character? I think to get the full effect of the Bronte sisters writings you would have to be there on a gloomy day. However, I much prefer the warmth and sunshine. A trip to a chocolate factory after a wander on the moors sounds like the perfect ending to a lovely day. Thank for linking up this week. #TPThursday

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  18. Somerset Maugham is one of those writers that I never got around to reading. I'll have to pick up something by him.

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  19. I wish I had time to walk all the way to the waterfall, but chocolate was calling.

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  20. I guess life experiences change how you relate to a book and what you think of the characters. That's why I like to revisit books every now and then to get an update on what I think and how I've changed.

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  21. We've been to Haworth, but the weather was too miserable for walking on the moors. Somehow I managed not to read any of the Bronte girls' books. Maybe it's time to catch up. #wkendtravelinspiration

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  22. Lyn - A Hole in my ShoeJanuary 8, 2017 at 5:26 AM

    Wow, what an amazing place to inspire a writer. It's a place I'd also like to visit, but I have to say not because I'm a reader.

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  23. Ahila ThillainathanJanuary 8, 2017 at 7:15 AM

    How wonderful that you visited Haworth! I had wanted to visit Haworth Parsonage museum, when I lived in London, but had not been able to fit in a trip. I loved the photos you took of the moors and the dining table, where the Brontë sisters wrote. Thank you for this treat! #wkndtravelinspiration

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  24. Haworth seemed to be a bit out of the way from everywhere, so I can see why you missed it. I would love to live in London for a bit and take my time exploring that great city.

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  25. Their books have such and incredible sense of place that I really wanted to see it for myself. It's beautiful and enjoyable (in good weather) even if you have not read their novels.

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  26. Miserable is what I expected, so I'm lucky that it wasn't.

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  27. Like you, I also was enchanted by the novels of the Brontë sisters. I think I would enjoy visiting the village of Haworth and walking among the heather in the rolling moorlands. What a great experience! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  28. Wow. everyone should have such good weather when visiting the English countryside. even if it wasn't the right mood, it must have made for a nice day. And that ploughman's lunch is right up my alley!

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  29. This is one place I would love to visit in England. I have actually spent a few days in Yorkshire in a little village called Settle. My daughter was on gap year at a boarding school here called Giggleswick (quaint name!) We went to visit her and hired a car to drive around the Yorkshire Dales. It was drop dead gorgeous, just like your photos. If I'd realised that the Bronte Sisters were from Haworth Village I would have definitely driven out here. :)

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  30. This is such a lovely story and I was there with you mentally on your journey as you compared your walk to passages and places in the book. For me personally, I would love to do this walk on a sunny day and stuff the gloomy "wuthering" weather but that's because I am from the UK and used to gloomy weather tee hee. Thank you for such a lovely ready #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  31. That sounds wonderful! I am a great fan of Jane Eyre and I never even knew about all this history and about the area she grew up in. It was a fantastic read! I would totally want to experience it on a gloomy day too though haha! Would make me feel like right in the book.

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  32. I was a fan of the books in high school and probably need to read again if doing this trip. This isn't how I pictured the moorland but glad you had such great weather while visiting it. Love all the Bronte history you provided here and I'd love to visit the museum too.

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