09 Aug Out On The Wiley, Windy Moors… | Exploring Brontë Country
Interesting fact: I share my birthday with both Emily Brontë and Kate Bush (July 30th, FYI.)
I share it with them very happily. In fact, I take a frankly embarrassing amount of pride in it, as though I have a sort of star-aligned connection to an incredible writer and one of my favourite musical artists. I like to think when Kate Bush realised she shares her birthday with Emily she felt compelled to write her own version of Wuthering Heights.
Of the Brontës, Emily is probably my fav. I mean they’re all great (apart from Branwell, he can piss off), but in what I’ve read up on the family, I felt that I got Emily the most (as much as you can get someone living 200 odd years before you, of course).
She’s said to have been stubborn and bad tempered. Someone who found peace in her own company and the routine of household tasks. And naturally, wrote incessantly. I think the main reason I feel a bit of a connection with Emily is because of the way she struggled deeply with putting her work out into the world (you can read all about my blogging anxiety over here.) While her sisters were off gallivanting in London meeting publishers, Emily stayed behind, wary of the world beyond Haworth and the threat it posed to the authenticity of her little creative bubble where she wrote compulsively and endlessly.
I made the journey into West Yorkshire to visit Haworth, a vision of pretension flicking through my trusty copy of Wuthering Heights as we left the hustle and bustle of Leeds behind and approached the smalltown charm of Keighley. Scott & I had been pronouncing this the way it’s spelt “Kay-lee” but as it turns out it’s pronounced “Keith-ley.”
A quick jaunt through this small town brought us to the bus station where we caught the aptly named Brontë Bus to Haworth. And as if our Ulster brogue wasn’t prominent enough in Yorkshire, we were pronouncing Haworth wrong too when asking for tickets – we thought it was pronounced “Hay-worth” but unlike Keighley it’s pronounced the way it’s spelt – Ha-worth, which just sounds incorrect for some reason.)
The little urbanity contained in Keighley quickly vanished as we made our way into the heart of the Yorkshire countryside. Everything became a little more picturesque as we approached Haworth. Taking a lucky guess at the correct bus stop, we hopped off on onto a sloping cobblestone road, the main street of Haworth.
The cutely named Fleece Inn was our accommodation for the night. Which we found easily on this sloping cobblestone road. We threw the suitcases in and eagerly made our tracks up the cobblestones.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum is the original house that the Brontë family lived in for almost all of their lives. It was just a five minute walk (if even) from The Fleece Inn and arriving nice and early to Haworth we we made it our first stop.
After reading Claire Harman’s Charlotte Brontë: A Life I’d built up a certain picture of Haworth and learnt a great deal about the sisters and their family life. It really is a superb biography. Normally, I find biographies inevitably at one point or another get very dull. But this one managed to hold my interest right the way through. If you have an interest in the Brontës I’d definitely recommend it.
The Parsonage house is where it all happened. Quite literally actually. The sisters were known to be pretty reclusive, Emily most of all. They rarely left the parsonage save for walks up the moors (which we’ll get to later, don’t worry). They did go to Brussels for school for a number of years and as mentioned Charlotte and Anne made a few trips to London whenever Jane Eyre was becoming popular. But mostly they didn’t stray far from the picturesque little village of Haworth.
It was quite a solemn experience going from room to room in this old house. The Brontës after all, didn’t have the happiest of lives. Those walls had observed a great deal of sadness, sickness and death during their time. But they also contained the sisters’ thriving imaginations and it was thrilling being in the drawing room (with the original table) where all their writing happened. This was where they discussed ideas and read their writing to each other.
Upstairs, you can view original pieces & letters and see the tiny, minuscule handwriting that the sisters adopted to fit as much writing as possible on to their limited amounts of paper. It’s funny to think of a time when writing materials were so precious whereas now you can write to your heart’s content without a second thought for conserving space. The Brontës’ dream.
Also upstairs at the moment is a recreation of Branwell’s bedroom as part of poet Simon Armitage’s “Mansions in the Sky” exhibition. Compiling Branwell’s possessions and writings we get a semblance of what the troubled Brontë brother’s room probably looked like. In a family of unconventionality and social awkwardness, Branwell took his anti-social behaviour up a notch from his sisters by frequenting bars and opium dens. This eventually led to his early death. I’m not really Branwell’s biggest fan to be honest. He had so much more opportunity in life than his sisters because he was male and he just threw it all away. Repeatedly.
Before beginning our afternoon hike up the moors we called into Rev Patrick Brontë’s church. The Brontë family, with the exception of Anne, are all buried here. Then we called into The Cabinet of Curiosities, an interesting little shop selling things like bath bombs and candles. It’s also a former opium den where Branwell got his opium fix. We also had a spot of lunch in Branwell’s old haunt – The Black Bull.
It will probably be strange to hear that the part of our trip to Haworth I was looking forward to most was a walk up the moors. Getting to explore the Brontë home was great but what I’d been wanting to do ever since I read Wuthering Heights a couple of summers ago was walk around in those infamous moors.
You’d be forgiven in thinking that on an afternoon in late July the weather would be pleasant at best. However, you’d be wrong. The weather for our stay in Haworth, for our week in England and for the UK summer generally was/is very, very changeable. Rays of sunshine one minute then rain the next. A nightmare for outfit planning.
The assistant in the Haworth visitor centre warned us of a rainy afternoon ahead and that we should turn back if weather conditions start to worsen. Completely disregarding this warning as it started to rain, we set off through a field behind the Parsonage house that had ancient stone walls, sheep and so, so much sheep shit. A short walk through this field brings you to a little gate then there’s a short walk along a road which connects up on the left hand side into the moors.
At this point the weather was looking pretty grim. Rain was getting heavy and yep, Kate Bush was right, those moors are windy. I was starting to begrudgingly mull over the warnings of the visitor centre assistant and Scott too who didn’t think it was such a good idea, but knew there was no talking me out of it.
I actually proposed just going back to the hotel for a while and set out in the evening instead but we persevered on for a bit. Then after about five minutes the rain let up, the clouds cleared and all of a sudden it was like a summers day. Delightful. We couldn’t have timed our walk better.
The walk is easy at first but after a while it gets a bit more difficult to manoeuvre. There was also some ballsy sheep and rams hanging out up there. I was worried we’d have a Withnail and I-esque situation on our hands, running like lunatics from a stampeding animal. It was fine though, they just sized us up with wary eyes as we shuffled through their turf.
There was also heather everywhere and I was stupidly delighted about it. Cause I’d read about that being a thing. I even took a little bit of it to keep in my copy of Wuthering Heights. Like a loser.
Rain clouds drifted ominously in the distance and deciding to cut our walk a bit shorter we turned back to avoid another downpour. We still got a good 45 minute walk. Probably not on par with the Brontës who did an insane amount of walking but anyway.
Haworth, the Parsonage and the moors were everything I’d hoped they’d be. Looking back (it was less than two weeks ago) its already got that bizarre, dream-like feeling to it. That odd haze that seems to descend on holiday memories. I spent a good TEN minutes scouring the internet for the (probably) German word to describe this feeling but to no avail. This has to be somewhere in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows?
Have you been to Brontë country?