The town is full of men with neat moustaches and women in high heels picking their way between the cobbles of the main street. The sound of We’ll Meet Again comes from an old gramophone and the whole place is festooned with Union Jacks.
We had hoped to be transported back in time when we visited Haworth, the hilltop Pennine village where the famous Brontë sisters lived most of their lives. But we were expecting the 19th century, not the Blitz. We had inadvertently chosen the weekend of the annual 1940s Gala, where coachloads of people descend upon Haworth to dress up and re-enact the spirit of the war. Undaunted, we struggled up the hill to the Brontë Parsonage, relieved to find that we left the crowds behind.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You can experience the landscape that inspired novels such as Wuthering Heights
- This is a historic village in a wild moorland setting
- Good for: anyone with an interest in the Brontës, or who enjoys moorland walking.
The friendly woman on the cash desk told us that the Parsonage attracts around 80,000 visitors a year. Devotees of the work of Charlotte, Emily and Anne flock to make the pilgrimage to the sisters’ hometown and to see for themselves the landscape that inspired their work. The bleak frontage of the Parsonage reflects the barrenness of the moorland immediately beyond and, once inside, the harshness of their lives becomes apparent. You can imagine how cold the thick stone floors would have been; the thin cotton slippers that they wore could hardly have kept out much of the chill. And there were never more than two servants to help with the endless work of cleaning and managing the large and unwieldy house that was home to the six Brontë children until they died, one by one, mostly of tuberculosis.
As we toured the house we looked at the costumes from the 2011 film of Jane Eyre (much more elaborate than Charlotte’s plain cotton dress which is exhibited in her bedroom). We admired the paintings and drawings, not just by their artist brother Branwell, but also by the sisters themselves.
The crowds had dispersed by the time we emerged into the late afternoon sunshine, and we wandered around the village, noting the school where Charlotte taught, the pub frequented by Branwell and the vault below the church where the whole family (apart from Anne, who died in Scarborough) is buried. In the nineteenth century the village was ridden with disease, a consequence of the infected water supply. Today it is thriving, largely as a result of the Brontë heritage. Reminders of the famous family abound, and on the main street we passed the Villette Coffee House and the Brontë Tea Rooms.
A Moorland Walk
The following day we set off across the moorland to Top Withens, reputedly the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. We followed the well-defined track, which would have enabled remote cottagers to walk to church in bygone times, and reflected how different it would all have looked in those days. It would have been an industrial landscape, with coal mining and mills, and dotted with workers’ cottages. Today it is void of human habitation, the only sounds the bleating of sheep and the occasional call of a curlew.
A few miles from the village we reached the Brontë Waterfall, so called because it was a favourite spot for the sisters to visit. We scrambled up the rocks to the waterfall, and I idly wondered how they would have managed the climb in their long dresses.
On again, up to Top Withens. A wooden signpost, with Japanese script beneath the English, acted as a reminder that Haworth attracts visitors of all nationalities. As if on cue, an elderly Japanese couple passed us on their way down the steep hill.
It is unlikely that the ruined building at Top Withens served as a model for the Earnshaws’ house in Wuthering Heights, but the setting and the bleak moorland landscape below must surely be what Emily envisaged. The land is inhospitable and solitary, and the “pure, bracing ventilation” that she describes is much in evidence.
Suppressing a shiver, we turned back to Haworth. The visitors had disappeared and all traces of the 1940s had been removed, leaving only a sea of red, white and blue flags in anticipation of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations in a few weeks’ time.
- There is plenty of hotel and guesthouse accommodation in Haworth, but it is advisable to book in advance.
- The village can become very crowded at weekends when events are taking place, making it difficult to find car parking or places to eat. Check the Internet for details, or travel mid-week if possible.
- If you do not have a car you can get to Haworth on the restored steam railway from Keighley.