Europe · UK and Ireland

A Literary Journey to Haworth, England – Europe Travels August 2022

Historic downtown Haworth, England

It was a day’s train ride from Inverness, Scotland to Haworth. Down we went, back through the Cairngorms with sheep grazing on the heather in bloom and mountainsides dripping their waterfalls. Back down past Edinburgh and into England. Past towns like Berwick-on-Tweed, walled and right on the ocean, where we seemed for awhile to be skimming right on the water. The train was running slow due to some flooding down the track. We were late coming into York, missed our connection to Leeds but found another train, and both the train to Leeds and the train to Keighley were packed. Finally, in Keighley, a cab took us to Haworth. It had been a seven hour journey, and Haworth looked pretty good after a long day!

Coming here was a pilgrimage for me. My favorite book since my high school years is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I pull this book off my shelf and reread it every now and again, and I still find it entertaining. If you are not familiar with it, perhaps you have heard of “Wuthering Heights” by her sister, Emily. I always dreamed of walking on the Yorkshire moors as Charlotte and Emily described in their books. If reading isn’t your thing, hang in there, I’ve also included a hike on the moors and a ride on a steam train here!

Haworth (pronounced, as I learned, “Howorth”) was the home of the Bronte family. Patrick Bronte was the minister at Haworth beginning in 1820, and he and his wife Maria had six children. Maria, and the two oldest daughters, died young. That left Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell. Anne was also a novelist and poet, and Branwell was a failed poet and artist. The four siblings were extremely close and lived in the parsonage with their father. After their mother’s death, their aunt came to help raise the children. Whenever the siblings ventured out into the world, all came home to Haworth as soon as they could. A signboard in the house stated that “it was at home where their creative lives flourished; in each others’ company and close to the wild moorland landscape that was such a source of inspiration to them.”

The parsonage, pictured here, is now a Bronte museum and much of the home is still furnished as it was when they left it. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to walk through those doors.

Here I am, next to a picture of Charlotte on the wall

This is the room, their dining room, where “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights”, and “Agnes Grey” (Anne’s book) were all written. In the evening, the siblings would be together, and the sisters would walk around the table discussing what they were writing. Cal knew how important this was for me, and made sure to get a picture of me standing here. And then, I just stood and looked a long time at everything.

After the dining room, there was the rest of the house and museum to see. The kitchen:

And the grandfather clock that Patrick would wind every night before going up to bed:

Branwell was a bit of a free spirit, as evidenced by his room. Their setup of it was very honest. Unfortunately, the Black Bull Pub in town was one of his favorite hangouts. You can see a corner of it in the top picture and we had lunch there in the afternoon.

The whole family’s history is interesting but it was Charlotte I had mostly come to see. Even though we live centuries apart we may have had some common interests. I’d love to have a spot of tea and a chat with her. She spent some time as a governess and wasn’t happy in her job. She wrote about it in a journal. Remembering my own working years, I could certainly relate!

As with most women in those days, Charlotte did needlework, as I do too. She made a Berlin wool work bag for her friend’s mother. The work bag was something fashionable to create in its day.

Here is the first American edition of “Jane Eyre”, published in 1848. It was an immediate success. Currer Bell was a pseudonym she used until her book was known and celebrated.

The church parsonage is located right next to the church cemetery. In the Bronte’s time there were no trees, and the stones stood straight and tall. It is thought that this cemetery was part of the cause of so much mortality in the village. The spring which provided the village drinking water flowed right underneath it.

The Bronte siblings’ story is a tragic one. Branwell, Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis. Branwell was the first at age thirty-one, and heavy drinking probably hastened his death. Emily and Anne died within a year of Branwell’s passing. I can’t imagine what it felt like for Charlotte to lose all of her siblings so young and so quickly. She lived a few more years and married, but died from complications of her first pregnancy. Patrick outlived all of his children.

The family is not buried in the graveyard but underneath the church. Anne was buried in Scarborough, where she died.

When we visited the church I was a little distracted by this piece of artwork, made entirely from toast! It was created by Adam Sheldon in 2010, who sadly died in early 2022 at the age of 45.

There were a lot of shops to explore in the quaint village. This part of Haworth is made for tourists with its restaurants and small inns.

The other highlight of this visit, and one of many on the entire trip to Europe, was a hike to the “Bronte Waterfall”. This walk took us out to the windswept moors. Every step was a delight.

The trickiest part was finding the correct path. First, there was a narrow walkway, probably a horse path in days of old, with tall stone fences on each side.

Then, up Penistone Hill and across the Haworth moors. There were open fields of blooming heather, land spread out wide, and farms receding into the distance. Pastures of sheep grazed between endless stone fences. I tried to imagine how this would have looked in the mid-1800’s. Although indistinct in the picture below, the lines in the hill are all stone fences.

Then: through a cattle gate and sheep running loose. Now we were on the gorgeous South Pennine moors.

After passing a wonderland of ferns, we came to a pretty little river. No waterfall in sight.

I was pretty sure we had the right spot, and it was time for lunch anyway. We sat on a rock to enjoy the delicious sandwiches that we had purchased in a meat shop near our AirBnb. Other people came and went, some local and some not, and the missing waterfall was a topic of discussion. Someone finally filled us in: it was simply not there. It had dried up ages ago.

The Bronte siblings would come here for picnics, too. They would sit on the “Bronte Chair” – a big rock – to tell each other stories. We didn’t find the rock either at first, but someone was helpfully sitting on it on our way out. The missing waterfall would have been right behind it. Today it is a waterfall of heather and fern.

Our hike had been seven miles long. It had been longer than we thought it would be, and Cal deserved a reward after putting up with all my Bronte excitement. We totally negated the positive effect of our long hike with this mid-afternoon treat! His is a cream-filled meringue with hot cocoa, and mine is an apple turnover with of course, tea and cream.

We stayed in Haworth for only three nights, but after making sure I saw all of the Bronte-related sights we had time on our hands. If we’d had a car, we certainly would have visited other sights like the Yorkshire Dales. Instead, we looked into the possibility of an old steam excursion train that runs to Keighley. Haworth used to be a mill town which produced worsted yarn and cloth, and the train opened in 1867 to transport coal, textiles and workers to the mills. We rode Keighley and Worth Valley Railway from Haworth to Keighley, one stop short of the whole five-mile line.

On the platform and waiting for the train!

Some folks use this historic steam train to hitch a ride to Keighley because rail regular service from Haworth no longer exists. I mentioned that we had taken a cab to Haworth; when we left, we took a bus. Keighley is a much bigger city than Haworth, but we found nothing of note to see there.

I didn’t initially get a picture of our train because we were busy getting on it. But there is also a historic diesel train which we took on our return to Haworth, and another steam train passed us on our way. We made a stop at a manual switching station and Cal saw that the conductors made a swap of something. He said it was a mail bag. Would they deliver the mail in this way? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the day’s receipts.

The steam train, and a manual switching station

At Damems, we came to England’s smallest train station. Only one train car fits on the platform.

I can’t leave Haworth without showing you a picture of our little Airbnb cottage, which was very old. Cal is standing at the door and he always had to duck to go through. People were shorter in the old days.

The stairs going up to the bedroom were very precarious. At the top there was a measurable gap before one left the stairs and entered the hallway. The cottage was totally renovated, but the stairway was left as it had been. The steps were stone and I could just imagine the generations of weary feet that had climbed those stairs and worn them out in the middle. I hung on to those rails for dear life every time I slowly crawled up and down! It was a sweet little place and I loved our stay here.

The bonus to our stay was a chippy – a fish and chip shop – that did a steady carryout business in the evenings just a few doors down. We had a delicious dinner al fresco on one of their picnic tables. It wasn’t far from the meat shop that sold us our picnic sandwiches, and we purchased the same sandwiches for our train ride south on the day we left.

We are following the Masterpiece Theatre series “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS weekly. In the last episode, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, goes to a train station to meet her son. As she was sitting at the station waiting for him, the name of the station was shown in big letters: “KEIGHLEY”. I shot up, and exclaimed excitedly, “Keighley! That is where we were!” And right there is an aspect of travel I most love: the sudden connectedness to places you had not ever heard of previously, and are now quite familiar with, thousands of miles from home.

Next time – moving on to Shrewsbury, England

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