Literary Yorkshire Escape

I can tell you exactly when I last was away from my house for longer than a day – the 3rd of January, 2020, when I returned from a peaceful but somewhat ill Christmas and New Year staying at a very generous friend’s house near Geneva. So this trip to the beautiful and inspiring Westwood Centre in West Yorkshire was just what my soul was longing for… if only I could have stayed for longer.

In the sunlight, this former church hall looks charming and benign. (Incidentally, never have I seen so many different churches, chapels, methodist halls etc. etc. as in Yorkshire villages)
But when the wind starts howling and whipping against the building, and the clouds descend, it starts to feel slightly spookier.
Indoors, it was absolute bliss, and I sat for ages on the window seat with a mug of tea, reading and admiring the view from time to time.
This view from one window…
…and this from another. Very Wuthering Heights, and the weather changes from one minute to the next.

I wrote a bit, read lots, started translating a new novel, went on a few walks (and realised that I am still not quite fully recovered from Covid), and also did a bit of sightseeing in the footsteps of the Brontës. In the graveyard, I realised that Patrick Brontë’s fate of outliving every single one of his family members was by no means uncommon in those days, when infant deaths, wives dying in childbirth and young people succumbing to TB were all too frequent. Just one example below, but there were many, many more.

Hiram, son of Jonas and Ann Greenwood Ratcliffe who died in the 1st year of his age, also George, who died in the 4th year of his age, also of the above Ann Greenwood, wife of said Jonas, who died in the 35th year of her age, also of the above Jonas, who died in the 84th year of his age.

Haworth Village itself was quite full of tourists even early on a Sunday in November, during Covid times, and the shops seem to be catering largely for tourists, so I’m not sure how they coped during the lockdown periods.

It wasn’t easy to take a picture without lots of people on the main street, even early on a Sunday morning.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

Despite the timed entry, it was quite busy in the Parsonage as well, and I wanted to take my time to examine everything and absorb the atmosphere. I was so obsessed with the siblings back when I was a child/teen that it felt oddly familiar stepping into their house, seeing their tiny booklets of heroic sagas and their writing desks.

Despite subsequent extensions, the parsonage still has a sullen, defiant look. It was not a large house for a family of eight or nine (initially).
The parlour, the place where the siblings spent so much time writing and reading each other’s work. Also, the sofa where Emily is believed to have died, and the rocking chair favoured by Anne, right next to the fireplace.
Of course Branwell had a room of his own while his sisters had to share. Of course he made a mess of things with alcohol, drugs and the inability to delay gratification of any kind (although this artistic mess is one imagined by Simon Armitage.)

I even got to meet a friend off Twitter, Janet Emson, who is as lovely in real life as she is online, and enjoy a sunny and relatively mild day admiring (or being puzzled by) modern art at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures Family of Man.
Two of Ai Wei Wei’s Chineze Zodiac sculptures, with a glimpse of Bretton Hall in the background.

The landscape, with its almost unreal green fields, the endless roll of hills, the bucolic sheep grazing, felt familiar and friendly enough in the sunshine – it reminded me of the landscape around my father’s or mother’s childhood homes. And yet… There was something sinister, almost frightening too, about the dark flint houses, the rapidly changing weather, cloud formations and strong winds, the sudden steep drop into hidden valleys, the very narrow country lanes where my car seemed to stutter, especially when caught behind a tractor. I can see where the rather Gothic imagination and menace in the work of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes come from.

That brooding, slightly foggy landscape, hedged in with those ubiquitous flintstones.
This was a sunny day – but there is no sky without clouds in Yorkshire in November.

I didn’t leave empty-handed. I bought a jar of chuckleberry jam (mainly because I have no idea what that is) and a copy of The Professor by Charlotte Brontë (which I’ve never read) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne (because I have no idea where my old one is, probably in my parents’ library somewhere). So much still to explore. I am already planning my return to the area…

35 thoughts on “Literary Yorkshire Escape”

    1. The landscape looks so peaceful and picture-postcard, yet because of the weather and the stone buildings, there is a real sense of menace too. And of course the industrialised towns – massive Victorian factory and public buildings in Huddersfield and Halifax, which were a complete surprise to me.

    1. Thank you – I had been slightly envious of people posting their holiday photos on Twitter while I was stuck in my four walls, and sadly this was a bit of a short holiday (just an extended weekend, reallly) but better than nothing.

  1. I so delighted that you were finally able to get away for a break after a couple of frustrating postponements – and by the look of those photos it was well worth the wait! Thanks for sharing the details of your literary escape, Marina – I feel as if I’ve had a virtual tour of Wuthering Heights country on this grey and gloomy morning!

    1. Wuthering Heights was certainly what came to mind during my whole stay there, especially one day when wind and rain were rattling at the very fabric of the building – it felt really quite creepy.

  2. What a lovely trip you had, Marina Sofia! Sometimes the soul just needs a break like that, and it sounds as though you nourished yours. Thanks for sharing those lovely ‘photos; I felt I was there.

  3. It was lovely to finally meet in real life. I’m so pleased you enjoyed your visit. At least next time you visit you will be familiar with the rapid change in weather 🙂

    1. Thank you for taking the time to show me around the Sculpture Park – definitely will be back in the region. I discovered my manager comes from the area as well, so he knew how to pronounce Slaithwaite and made fun of me!

    1. Haven’t opened it yet, but plan to make pancakes at the weekend and we will try it then! Reading up on it: A chuckleberry is a hybrid fruit and has a redcurrant, gooseberry and jostaberry (blackcurrant & gooseberry cross) parentage.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful pictures. Got me thinking (too) that I need to read a Bronte. The modern art is a bit jarring after the other pictures. Hope you feel better.

    1. Some of the modern art did feel out of place, or not very landscape friendly, but others were beautiful and fitted in well. And yes, thank you, I am better, although still tend to get tired rather quickly.

  5. When I was doing my MA in Victorian Literature at Leeds, two classmates and I plotted a daytrip by public transport to a wintry Haworth and had a lovely time. That was in early 2006; I’m sure it’s only gotten busier and more commercial since then. You had an enviable view from your window!

    1. I think winter is probably the best time to visit, as it’s probably closer to the original spirit (although those cobblestones must be mighty slippery with snow).

  6. Thank you for this lovely post. Yorkshire is absolutely beautiful but I haven’t been to Haworth so it was great to have a peak inside!

    1. I had only ever been to York, Leeds, Harrogate for a conference, Sheffield on business, so had never seen the rural side of Yorkshire. Really enjoyed it, will certainly be back there.

    1. It really is hugely atmospheric – the landscape might not be as spectacular as Cornwall or Wales or the Highlands, but it must be the rapidly racing clouds or the flintstone constructions – there really is an eerie quality to the light and the landscape.

  7. Thank you for this, a virtual tour of the area and to Haworth which, to my chagrin, I’ve yet to visit. Sometime I will, but in the meantime there are more Brontë novels for me to enjoy! I’m interested in what you might think of The Professor, the first of CB’s novels I read and which even now feels a curious beast.

    1. I really must see more of Yorkshire – and will no doubt be up there a lot, since my son is studying at Durham, so it’s a convenient to stop in Yorkshire en route.

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