Pilgrimage and Parsonage
As a ‘sense of place’ girl, I find it difficult to believe that it has taken me sixty-three years to brave the mayhem of the M6 north in search of the Brontës at Haworth. I’ve been smitten with their works since I was a child: at first Charlotte’s affirmative and character-building, Jane Eyre, then Emily’s dark and brooding cyclical novel, Wuthering Heights, and latterly, the often-overlooked Anne’s strongly feminist writing in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
I always felt I knew the West Yorkshire they had described even before I set foot there: such was the power of the setting they had created which came alive on the page. So much so that the thought of being disappointed with the actual place not fitting in with my imagined expectation was great. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to make this recent pilgrimage.
I needn’t have worried. The moors were bleak and beautiful. The dry stone walls were dark and dank and covered in moss. The soil was peaty. The parsonage was austere: the views from the bedroom windows out over the tombstones, foreboding. And the walk to arrive at Top Withens, (though the wooden signpost said Top Withins) the imagined Wuthering Heights, ticked all the right boxes. Even the rustle of the wind in the stalwart and solitary tree outside the front door sounded like I had always imagined it would.
1801. — I have just returned from a visit to my landlord — the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.
Wuthering Heights, Chapter 1
In terms of Literary Cartography, it proves that reading does take you far beyond the covers of a book, creates worlds that can be explored on the hoof. It offers insights into the vital connections between people, literature and land.
As a writer who believes that walking is a way into creativity, the trip north has also stimulated the creative juices. And reader, I feel a story coming on…