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…