West Yorkshire Walk - Bronte history in Haworth
Wed Dec 12 00:00:00 GMT 2012
- Start: Haworth
- End: Haworth
- Country: England
- County: NorthYorkshire
- Type: Country
- Nearest pub: Pubs in Stanbury. Choices galore in Haworth
- Ordnance Survey: NULL
- Difficulty: Medium
Tread in the footsteps of the Bronte sisters across rocky paths and wind-scoured grasses.
Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher
Haworth shamelessly trades on the literary heritage of the Bronte sisters who wrote their classic books in the village’s Parsonage but that has bequeathed visitors a village which has sidestepped many of the horrors of modernisation. That makes it a magnet for tourists at any time of year but particularly so in December when its traditional appearance and period shops evoke a nostalgic festive atmosphere.
Winter days can also offer the ideal conditions of lowering skies and raking wind to really appreciate the atmosphere of the surrounding moorland which provided the setting for Emily’s great tale of love and revenge, Wuthering Heights. For fans of the book and of the sisters this walk follows in their footsteps onto the rocky paths and wind-scoured grasses which they frequently wandered to escape their gloomy home.
From the tourist information centre at the top of the Main Street take a cobbled lane next to the King’s Arms. It passes the old school where Charlotte Bronte once taught before passing the Parsonage now a museum and the hub not just of the Bronte industry but also the scholarly study of their novels.
Once past the museum the path is funnelled into a narrow track which is followed across fields to a road. Here turn left and then almost immediately left again into a lane signposted to Penistone Hill. Where the road levels out, the views open up with a wide panorama of the broad valley and the Lower Laithe Reservoir below.
If car parks in the village are full there are alternative spaces along this road. After half a mile it reaches a T-junction. Head straight across and take a broad track heading up the valley. This is the Bronte Way and is followed all the way to Top Withins, two and half miles further on. As you cross the cattle grid take note of the signpost with its Japanese directions, a testament to the international appeal of the sisters’ novels.
After a mile or so the path drops down to cross the inevitably-titled Bronte Bridge, a few yards from the equally-inevitable the Bronte Falls, which are said to have been one of their favourite walks. Not that this is the actual bridge the Brontes would have used. It is a recent replacement for one washed away in a flash flood in 1989. Nevertheless cross the bridge with due reverence and climb a steep flight of stone steps to a signpost which points the way to Top Withins a mile further on. A flagged causey carries on uphill before levelling out to follow a wall across the hillside.
Soon the ruins of Top Withins with their sentinel tree appear ahead and the path drops to cross a steam by stepping stones before beginning a steady climb to the ruins of what is said to have been the inspiration for Heathcliff and Cathy’s ill-fated Wuthering Heights. Shortly before they are reached the path joins the flagged Pennine Way to the old house.
With its wild setting and plenty of sheltered corners to hide from the wind this makes a good spot for midway refreshments though its appeal may be slightly dampened by a plaque at the rear. Placed by the Bronte Society ‘in response to many enquiries’, it informs pilgrims that ‘the buildings, even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described’. It does, however, concede, albeit rather grudgingly, that the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote the moorland setting of the Heights.
Retrace your steps as far as the Pennine Way sign then press on ahead along this, signed to Stanbury and Haworth. It soon becomes a broad cart track crossing the open moor with fine expansive views in all directions. It curls round Upper Heights Farm, still signed to Stanbury, and then passes Lower Heights Farm. When a couple of hundred yards further on the Pennine Way takes a sharp turn to the left we carry on straight ahead, still heading for Stanbury and the sheet of Lower Laithe Reservoir ahead. When the lane emerges onto the main road, turn right through the village, which seems aloof to the Brontemania in neighbouring Haworth – except for the Wuthering Heights pub.
As you leave the village take a turn on the right marked to Oxenhope, which drops to cross the dam. Immediately on the other side take the road on the left which quickly degenerates into a path, climbing slowly across the hillside. When you reach the road, used on the outward leg, turn left and retrace your steps back to Haworth.
Start/Finish: By the Tourist Information Centre in Haworth’s Main Street
Distance: 7 miles/11kms
Time: 3-4 hours
Terrain: Rough paths and open moorland. Exposed in bad weather
Parking: Car parks around centre of village or on lane to Penistone Hill. Haworth can also be reached by the Keighley and Worth Valley steam railway
Refreshments: Pubs in Stanbury. Choices galore in Haworth