Tuesday 15 July 2014

Adventures in Brontë land

Haworth's Main Street at night
At the weekend I embarked on something of a literary pilgrimage. The village of Haworth, where the Brontës lived for much of their lives, remains a place of great fascination for fans of their work. The Haworth Parsonage has been converted in to a museum and it’s a very special experience walking through the rooms they lived and worked in. The second room on the tour is that in which some of their best loved novels were written and it’s wonderful to imagine the three sisters sitting in there together in an atmosphere that fostered such remarkable talent. Heart wrenching to think of Charlotte alone in the room after Emily and Anne had passed away.

As I walked around their house I was struck by just how incredibly sad their lives were. For their father to outlive his wife and all six children is a harrowing thought. A family of many talents, I had never realized what a tortured soul their brother Branwell was. His painting himself out of his portrait with his three most famous sisters is a deeply sad suggestion as to how he viewed his position in the family.

As well as the opportunity to see the rooms preserved as close to how they were when the Brontës inhabited the parsonage as possible they also have an excellent permanent exhibition which gives a broader context to their work and lives beyond Haworth. It was wonderful to see so many documents in their hand (mostly by Charlotte) and some of their drawings, paintings, and embroidery. It was also interesting to learn of the struggle to make living conditions more sanitary in the village, a problem that goes some way in explaining why so many of the graves in the churchyard hold the remains of those who died so young.

Top Withins
After thoroughly enjoying all that the museum had to offer it was out on to the moors. I’d printed off this walking guide which includes Top Withins as well as the Brontë bridge and waterfall. It’s all fairly well signposted but if you like a bit of reassurance you’re headed in the right direction it’s useful. As I walked the moors I was struck by the timelessness of nature and revelled in the thought that I was experiencing similar views to those that would have been so familiar to some of my favourite authors. I was glad to have walked the extra distance to Top Withins despite the sign pointing out the fact it doesn’t actually resemble the description of Wuthering Heights in the book. I actually found this reassuring as I’d thought on approaching that it didn’t look as I’d imagined it from my reading. I’m also always fascinated by people’s insistence on finding real life parallels in fiction and this is an excellent example.

The trip was every bit as wonderful and inspiring as I’d hoped and I came away wanting to read all the Brontë novels I’ve not yet experienced and re-read all those I have (despite having only just re-read Wuthering Heights in preparation for the visit).

Oakworth station
What I hadn’t realised when I booked the trip was that the steam railway that runs through Haworth is the very same one they used in the film of The Railway Children. This being one of my favourite children’s books and film you can imagine my pleasure on discovering this. There’s something special about steam railways, a romantic evocation of the past that is thoroughly enjoyable.

I stayed at the beautiful YHA run hostel in Haworth which has gorgeous interiors very fitting to its time. I’d definitely recommend it for very affordable accommodation (and an excellent breakfast that will keep you fuelled for all that wandering on the moors). Haworth is a charming village and everybody seemed incredibly friendly. If you’re a fan of the Brontës there’s few nicer places to spend a weekend.
Inside the hostel

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