I had finally arrived at the Brontë country. It was in these very premises where Emily Brontë had penned down her gothic masterpiece – Wuthering Heights, a dark and sinister tale of obsessive love and betrayal that haunts its readers even after 170 years since it was first published. Nestled peacefully amidst the rolling terrain of the Worth valley, the idyllic English village of Haworth with its semi-pastoral lifestyle is a place of retreat for all Brontë enthusiasts. This part of the English country side is characterised by vast expansive stretches of the west Yorkshire moors and is considered to be one of the finest areas for fell walking. My childhood obsession with the English moors had drawn me to Haworth and now that I was there, I knew I had come to the right place.
I followed the directions towards YHA Haworth which was to be my place of stay for the next couple of days. YHA Haworth is a nineteenth century Victorian mansion built in the Gothic style. For years, it was used as a private residence and belonged to a local mill owner. Later, it was converted into a bed and breakfast and has gained itself a reputation for its gothic ambience and affordable prices.
I couldn’t locate the doorbell. I pushed the heavy wooden door open and followed a narrow passage which led to a hall of grand dimensions. The interior was lit with diffused sunlight streaming in from the stained glass windows of gigantic proportions. The fire had almost died out and the last few pieces of ember were seen on the fire grate. No noise from outside penetrated the mansion walls and in the absence of a clock, it would have been impossible to predict the exact hour of the day.
On being given my room keys, I climbed the richly carved oak staircases and found myself in the midst of a lobby with comfortable seating arrangements and a pack of cards. My room had a wonderful view, facing the quaint Brontë village against the backdrop of the Haworth moors. It was one of the fairer days of August and an unobstructed view of the surrounding moorlands set alight by the last rays of the setting sun painted a pretty picture.
II. The Brontë village and waterfall.
The next morning, I made an early start. I crossed the Worth valley railway station and made my way towards the car park which marked the entrance to the Haworth high street. On either side of the high street, one could spot vibrant tea rooms, chocolate shops, book stores, souvenir shops, lively and animated local pubs and a whole range of bed and breakfasts – all of which catered to the visitor’s fancy. These businesses were housed inside brightly coloured stone buildings and were mostly owned by local families. The cobbled stone pathway leading all the way up to the visitor’s information centre was somewhat steep and added a medieval touch to the place.
The Brontë parsonage museum was home to the Brontë’s from 1820 to 1861 when it was signed up for auction following the death of Patrick Brontë – husband to Maria Branwell and father to Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë. The Brontë sisters were raised in the parsonage and spent most of their lives within its confinements, composing their signature works until their untimely deaths which came as a shock to all those who were associated with them. The ever changing disposition of the moorland has influenced the lives and temperaments of various characters in their stories. In the novels, the moorish solitude and bleakness plays an important role in the formation of events that take place.
At the first sight of the Peniston hill country park moors, I was taken by surprise at the prolific growth of purple heather which could be seen for miles into the distance. I had forgotten that it was August and August was the season for purple heather. Heather is a flowering shrub with hundreds of bell shaped flowers arising from a single stem. The word ‘heather’ has originated from a Scottish word ‘heddir’ and comes in two colours – white and purple. Later, I found out from the locals that purple heather stands for admiration and luck. The sun shone brightly on the wild grasslands of the country park and the nearby Laithe reservoir, creating golden ripples with its clear and prismatic waters.
After walking for almost 50 minutes and covering two and a half miles from the starting point, I heard the sound of a rushing stream. Little puddles of water appeared on my way and the soles of my shoe were covered in mud. There appeared a flight of stony steps that led all the way down to the Brontë waterfall.
The waterfall was adorned with a stony bridge and is one of the primary attractions of the Brontë country. The pool of water at the bottom of the fall reflected the purple heather that grew alongside its edges. The landscape was mostly barren except for the lonesome figure of a dying tree which formed a silhouette with one of its eerie branches reaching up to the sun. This scene resonated the grim and brooding atmosphere of Wuthering Heights and I was half expecting to find Cathy and Heathcliff engaged in one of their secret meetings.
III. Top Withens
The exact location of Wuthering Heights has baffled generations of readers and a farmhouse called Top Withens is believed to be the one that comes closest to the novel. The weather in the moors can change rapidly and by the time I set out in the direction of the farmhouse, an all encompassing darkness began to gather over the windswept moors. It was a two mile walk and the path leading to the farmhouse was covered in purple on both sides. The wind was gradually rising and came whistling past me from all directions. For miles, I could see no living soul and my isolation was complete.
At the end of the second mile, I stood in front of Top Withens which was built in the sixteenth century and had fallen out of use in 1926. The long abandoned farmhouse draws millions of visitors every year owing to its spectacular location and its association with Wuthering Heights. The farmhouse was in ruins and its crumbling walls were covered in moss and cobwebs. The missing roofs drew in large gusts of air and the front porch provided a panoramic view of the undulating open spaces. As I stood there, I said to myself that this had to be the best possible setting for Emily Brontë’s masterpiece.
I walked in through a green door on the side and found myself enter a room with no openings. It was a small cubical room, the walls of which were covered with dark stains left by running water when the farmhouse was still in use. I was left to my thoughts when all of a sudden, the door banged shut and I was standing in an impenetrable darkness. A stream of irrational and morbid thoughts crossed my mind as I was groping in the dark, trying to make my way towards the door. When at last I reached the door and hurried out into the open, the wind had intensified and the wild untamed moors looked more desolate than ever.
I was almost four miles away from Haworth and it was already three in the afternoon by the time I reached Haworth. At Haworth, I treated myself to a crab salad and a pint of Amstel beer at the famous Black Bull. My journey had come to an end and it was time to head back to London. My visit to the Brontë country had been a success and I look forward to many more visits in the near future. The Haworth moors hold a special place in my heart because during my time there, I was allowed to be myself: “…a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free”.
To follow me on my journey, check out the interactive map below.