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Walking to Wuthering Heights: The Brontës' Yorkshire

Since the film was full of big names like Mia Wasikowska and Dame Judi Dench, it trained a spotlight on this still pleasantly drowsy realm. Still, I'm determined to poke around and check things out that didn't show up on screen.
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The pan-fried pigeon with black pudding I will say no to. No, on that. But as for pheasant -- pheasant in port wine sauce -- possibly yes.

I am wasting my waiter's time here at a restaurant called The Grouse Inn in Keighley, Yorkshire. Just as I am about to order I spot a warning on my menu in small print: "Our game may contain lead shot," it explains. "The gamekeeper uses a gun and cricket bat to catch his prey."


Beef, I think, local beef, is looking better and better. And since this is a hungry county, I am confident I will receive a mound of pie crust and some buttered potatoes on the side.

Traveling around the rural northeast of England isn't simple. There are decisions you have to make. And not just risking lead shot at dinner.


Are Yorkshire's villages where you want to be? Hamlets like Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived and worked on their famous novels. Or are you about walking on moors? Because of its wild dales, its green and purple views, Yorkshire can make you strangely wistful even when you are looking at stone walls or at a farm. 'God's Own County' it has been called.

Both its town and country landscapes got a fresh life a few years back with the latest movie version of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Since the film was full of big names like Mia Wasikowska and Dame Judi Dench, it trained a spotlight on this still pleasantly drowsy realm. Still, I'm determined to poke around and check things out that didn't show up on screen.


I'm standing on the doorstep of the 300-year-old Old White Lion Inn, trying to decide what to walk to first. Straight in front of me is Haworth's cobbled Main Street which snakes down a steep hill. Off to my right is the Brontë Parsonage Museum which was home to the world's most famous family of writers from 1820 to 1861. And just behind me is the start of a country hike called "Walk to Wuthering Heights."

It's an easy choice. Even though it's starting to rain, I'm eager to work off my steak from last night along with three foam-topped pints of Black Sheep ale. With a group of tourists and a guide named Steven Wood I march out of town and onto the heather-edged paths of Penistone Hill Country Park.


The rain is suddenly harder and the clumps of heather and fern are making us trip and sometimes slide. You could almost ski here on slippery plants and mud. Our guide has thought ahead, though, and uses a cane to stab at the ground, wave wildly for balance, and (mostly) stay on his feet.

"Wish I had one of those," I grouch to myself.

"Sorry, only have one," reminds Wood.

"When do we get to Wuthering Heights?" shouts one of the other hikers from just behind.

Wood shakes his head, spraying drops. "No such place," he corrects. "Where we're heading is called Top Withins. Inspired Emily Brontë's book," they say. "Maybe it'll inspire us."


In fact, after about two hours of charging up small rises, and slipping back, we're gasping and complaining. Is that Top Withins in the distance? It is. Was it once a house? It was. When we make it, we collapse for a rest next to walls without roofs and collections of old stones.

Just when I'm wondering how this made Brontë think of romance, there is a blast of wind. A fat cloud retreats and we get a sword-thrust of sun. The moors we've stumbled over light up in sections as if in a play. Over here is luminescent green. Here is violet. And there is the brown and white of a stream. Deep in the distance are the steeples and houses of Haworth.


Now, I understand. I pull out my pen and some paper to see if I can do some writing myself. Or maybe a sketch. But Wood is waving his cane. It is time to begin the long hike home.

Even though I'm a writer myself, it takes me a while to get to the Brontë Museum. I'm not a fan of literary history -- it's just the books I like. And there's a part of me that would rather rake leaves than look at exhibits or read a plaque.

But the rooms here still breathe: they're full of furniture and knick-knacks. For the first time I can almost figure out how three world-class novelists could have popped out of a single home. Charlotte's Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), Emily's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) were all written here.


Along Main Street in Haworth village, the sandstone houses show off pots and boxes that are crowded with flowers and lined up wherever there is a sill. Windows here are tall, I'm told, because the weavers who lived upstairs needed light for their looms.

Tea shops lead to bookstores and on to butchers that still rely on chalkboards to list the day's selection. Some of the stores have bowls set outside and when a big orange cat flashes past, skids to a stop, and begins licking cream I discover why.


At the Rose and Crown Apothecary I do a double-take at all the Union Jacks on display. Are those shaving mugs for sale? Is that a rack of pipes? I feel like Sherlock Holmes or possibly Hercule Poirot.

I am thinking I might look for a mystery here to solve. Movie or no movie, I could stick around. Maybe take a room with weavers' windows where there would be light to knit a novel of my own.


Then I see this:

"Haworth Holiday Cottages. Well Behaved Pets Welcome. Oozing Charm and Character."

I feel in my pocket for my pen and notebook. It is all I need. That, and the moors.

The sign says something in small print. "Complimentary Beer and Chocolates."

I am sold.

Peter Mandel is the author of the read-aloud bestseller Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook) and other books for kids, including Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House) and Bun, Onion, Burger (Simon & Schuster).

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