London Diary – Readers I’ve been to Haworth!

Haworth, West Yorkshire.

A tongue in cheek attempt at a fantastic opening line. It might not have done the trick but fans of Bronte might have understood the allusion to the famous line in Jane Eyre, “Readers, I married him.”

A steadfast fan of Jane Eyre, the stories of the Bronte sisters fascinate me. In this year that is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday, my wish came true, I made my way to Haworth, Yorkshire over Bronte Society’s annual conference weekend in June.

There were interesting activities during the four day conference. We attended annual lecture, participated in a lively debate on two of Charlotte’s novels, Jane Eyre and Shelly, where the actress Maxine Peake was invited as a presenter, and played a fun trivia game.

The visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum was memorable. The parsonage on the hill top, the parish church, separated from the parsonage by the grave yard, and a simple, smaller stone building, which used to be a school where Charlotte had taught, would have made the Bronte’s most intimate surroundings. It was very touching to be there, feeling close to the talent and spirits that have inspired so many.

The historic part of Haworth village sloping up to the parsonage and parish church has been well preserved and is atmospherically charming, cobble stoned street, lime stone buildings of Yorkshire characteristic housing shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels.

My other favorite part was walking the Bronte country, following the sisters’ footsteps, through Haworth Moor, beyond Bronte Water Fall and Bridge, all the way to Top Withen. The path starts from the parsonage and quickly enters Haworth Moor with nice view of another village across a narrow, deep valley. After the passing of a few more large sheep farms and houses, there is not much else between man and nature. Most visitors stop their journey at the bridge. We continued on.

The surrounding after the waterfall and bridge becomes more and more desolate and wild. Top Within is a vague speck on the hilltop yonder. There are few trees. Counterintuitively, the vast openness made that two miles appear infinitely distant. But eventually, that tiny speck came into focus. There it was, the ruin of a stone farm house standing next to a lonely, tall sycamore. That was Top Within, the locale that was the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Height, the tale of a tragic, violent love story.

Since Haworth was fully booked, we stayed in Hebden Bridge, a small town 20 minutes south of Haworth. Hebden Bridge is a village on steep hill surrounded by fantastic view. Almost everywhere in Hebden Bridge, you can see a picturesque hill top village and its soaring church spire across the valley. Having been tantalized by it for days, we one day drove out searching for it. After climbing some steep streets, we stumbled across it, Heptonstall, a small village on steeper and higher hill.

The drive between Hebden Bridge and Haworth passes through some dramatic scenery. As it draws close, Haworth appears as a postcard picture on a hill.

It was the Brontes who had drawn me to this part of the country. In turn, it opened my eyes to a landscape that is like none others, and I discovered what had in part helped shape the sisters into who they were.

This part of west Yorkshire is arduously hilly, its scenery alternates between expansive, open, undulating land and steep, narrow valleys. Under thick clouds, it is bleak and dramatic all at once. When the shrouding veil is lifted by shining sun and all is clearly discernible, it is stunningly beautiful. Fog you’d often encounter is a phenomenon. It might be thick and dense on the road you are driving through, or wispy twists hanging in the narrow valleys. In either form it adds an intriguing mystery to the already unusual landscape, on the other hand, it could seem eerie to unfamiliar eyes. And that could be in part its enduring appeal.

 

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Harewood House

Harewood House is an hour north east of Haworth. It is where Lost in Austen was filmed as Mr. Darcy’s Pembley. The house is grand and beautiful. Its banquet room is breathtaking. Many staterooms feature ornately decorated ceilings. Designed by Capability Brown, its ground, lake and garden are tremendous and lovely. Its terrace in the back of the house, famously featured in Lost in Austen, is as romantic and gorgeous.

To make the visit interesting, we discovered its royal connection. Harewood became home to Princess Mary, QEII’s aunt, after she married Viscount Lascelles. The Chinese wall paper in Princess Mary’s former bedroom is beautiful, also her collection of Asian porcelains and figurines. Current Dowager countess lives upstairs of the house, her son, current and 8th Earl, and his wife however do not live in the house. According to a staff member, the Earl joked that it is too difficult to carry grocery up the stairs at the house. There are family photos including those with William and Kate in one stateroom. While having tea on the terrace, I thought I saw the Earl at another table having what seemed a business meeting with a couple.

Harewood is also where on its hall you’d find a life sized portrait of Lady Worsley, befitting to the character and scandal.

 

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