A Haworth walk by Adam Hargreaves

Haworth’s place in the popular imagination is firmly linked with the Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, who came to live at the Parsonage here when their father accepted the
position of curate at the church. Their family home is now a museum and you can peek into the rooms they inhabited, the parlour where they wrote, the bedrooms where they slept, the kitchen where their faithful maid Tabitha Ackroyd worked, all frozen in time and oddly melancholy feeling to the visitor given the early deaths of all six children. Their father outlived every one of them.

“The long main street has not greatly changed from how it would have looked in 1820 when the Brontës first came to Haworth”

The museum has a good shop stocking some of the huge range of printed material about the Brontës, all the novels in numerous editions, the biographies both factual and fictional, the glossy coffee-table books, the endless bibliography which is added to every year. DVDs of the many film versions are there too, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre continuing to appeal to film makers to this day. One of the first films I remember seeing was the black and white version of Wuthering Heights starring Vivien Leigh as the ill-starred Cathy and Laurence Olivier her doomed lover Heathcliff.

One can picture the impression made on the young family on first arriving in Haworth. The description by Charlotte’s biographer Elizabeth Gaskell says it all:

“The rain ceased and the day was just suited to the scenery – wild and chill – with great masses of cloud, glooming over the moors, and here and there a ray of sunshine… darting down into some deep glen, lighting up the tall chimney or glistening on the windows and wet
roof of the mill that lies crouching at the bottom. The country got wilder and wilder as we approached Haworth; for the last four miles we were descending a huge moor at the very top of which lies the dreary, black-looking village. The clergyman’s house was at the top of the churchyard. So through that we went – a dreary, dreary place, literally paved with rain-blackened tombstones, and all on the slope.”

The village itself is spread out down a hill with the church and Parsonage at the top. It is said that typhus was common due to the drinking water that filtered down through the graveyard. The long main street is cobbled and the houses straggle along it, not greatly changed from how it would have looked in1820 when the Brontës first came to Haworth.

There are plenty of references to the Brontës in the names of shops and cafes and they are clearly a great draw for the number of visitors thronging the streets through most of the year. Haworth is a good centre for walking, offering many routes on the surrounding moors but the classic is the walk to Top Withins which is supposedly the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff ’s home in the novel. The word ‘wuthering’ is explained by Mr Lockwood, the narrator, as ‘descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which it is exposed in stormy weather’, and this can be experienced at first hand when you make the journey up to the ruin that is all that remains of the original building.

“I was alone, imagining Heathcliff here shouting at his dogs and cursing under his breath”

Start the walk from the Parsonage and take the slabbed path across the field to join West Lane. Turn left and walk uphill on Cemetery Road as far as the gates to the cemetery where
we leave the road and climb to a brow onto Penistone Hill. Bear right at the top and on
meeting a broad track, right again heading for the cricket pavilion. The fenced quarry is to our right. There are a number of parking areas here, usually busy in summer with people enjoying the fresh air on the hill top. The signposts point to Top Withins and Brontë Falls and we follow these, descending, cross the road and take the second of two openings, a sign promising teas at Drop Farm.

Past the farm comes a fork in the path and here we take the right hand one, not that which goes beside the wall. We cross the heather and soon join a Land Rover track and turn left
along it for the next mile as far as the remote farmstead Harbour Lodge. On approaching the farm, a lichen stained finger post points right. We cross a footbridge and at the next finger post turn left on a faint path behind the farm, the ground hereabouts soggy and wet whatever the season. We are on Haworth Moor, rough fell country with nothing but the wind and an occasional sheep for company. This is where the tough get going but the end is in sight. Ahead, high up on the exposed moor can just be seen the ruin of Top Withins, perhaps the most famous farmhouse in all literature.

The path through the heather and bilberry skirts a dry gully and crosses the confluence of two streams, soon rising to meet a prominent path at a signpost. Turn left and in half a mile
we reach our goal, Wuthering Heights itself. There is a small shelter big enough for half a dozen walkers to eat their lunch but I was alone, imagining Heathcliff here shouting at his dogs and cursing under his breath. I thought of Lockwood’s words, guessing the power of the
north wind blowing over the edge and bending the trees to a permanent slant. Pennine Way walkers pass by the ruin as I have myself done twice when walking that superb route along the spine of England. Although it doesn’t go through Haworth many seek shelter there for the night. If so they take the path which we take down to Brontë Bridge, a ‘clapper’ bridge over the tumbling stream, the water brown from the peat. This would make a lovely spot for a picnic and for exploring the Brontë Falls some 200 yards upstream.

Stay with the clear path, descending gradually to meet the road at a cattle grid where a signpost indicates a mile to Haworth via Cemetery Road.

As I came towards the village a rainbow showed itself. The melancholy effect of the rain-washed road with the backdrop of the lonely moors was suddenly lifted and this wonderful area unlocked the beauty that lies just beneath its bleak and unforgiving surface. A fitting end
to a classic walk.

Walk Summary

Start of walk: The Parsonage Car Park, Haworth
Walk: To Top Withins
Distance: 7 miles
Time to allow: At least 4 hours.
Map: OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines
Further reading: The Trailblazer Guide to the Pennine Way

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