Wuthering Heights

Walking from Haworth to Top Withens.

Haworth: a charming village on the top of a high and steep hill, in an area of high, bleak and steep hills; home to the Brontë sisters and the surrounding moorland countryside of Wuthering Heights.

Cottages near Haworth. Cosy now: possibly less picturesque back in the Brontë’s time.

Everyone knows that you can expect ‘weather’ when you come here,  whatever time of year you arrive.  As you stumble along the church path to leave the village, slashing rain tumbling from sullen hostile skies needles your skin, slicks your hair to your face and saturates your clothes.  As you set your face against the wild wind, your boots sink into the sodden peaty turf as you trudge onto the moor.  If you dare to glance up, you see unending moorland before you: bleak, barren and bare, with sheep huddled against the dry stone walls which march across the landscape.  This is Nature-in-the-Raw, and we expect no different.

I went there earlier this week.  None of the above applied.

We are in Week Five of a heatwave.  I doubt if either the Brontës or even Heathcliff himself had ever seen the like.   Brittle coir matting now carpets the brooding moorland fells: and several weeks early, the heather is almost in flower, rich and purple.  Yellowing grasses replace the dense green turf the sheep prefer, whispering and rustling in the light breeze.

Beyond Haworth, coir matting stands in for moorland turf.

There’s a little brook in the valley here.  Angry peaty water jostling officiously along its path has been replaced by still, clear shallow pools.

The brook by Brontë bridge.

The Brontë sisters would cheerfully have paused here to rest, reflect and write a little.  Then, like me, they would have slogged on, up the peat-and-stone pathway that leads upwards, ever upwards, towards Top Withens.

There’s Top Withens, up there. Beside that solitary tree.

Top Withens may have been the isolated upland farmhouse that Emily Brontë pictured Cathy Earnshaw and family living in when she wrote Wuthering Heights.  It’s a ruin now, the roof torn off in a violent thunderstorm in the 1890s.  Just as you’d expect.

It was the perfect picnic spot for me.  The moorland stretched before me, its hillsides rhythmically rising and falling.  The world was silent: not that silence in which there is no sound, but that of the living countryside: the low susuration of the swaying grasses; the humming of the wind in my ears; the occasional complaint of a bird sweeping overhead.  Beyond the moorland, greener fields lay, chopped centuries ago into rough rectangles by drystone walls.  Some held sheep, some cattle, others recently cut hay. The sun warmed my rocky seat, and I was perfectly content.

Except for the sky.  The day was sultry, sweaty, but freshened by a soft breeze.  I knew the sun might be chased away by gusty rain.  Ash-grey clouds swelled and receded, revealing granite tones behind: and beyond that, cornflower blue once more. It was a signal.  Haworth takes weather seriously.  Never be tempted to climb these uplands without a very capable waterproof in your kit.

The moorland I saw this week was not the Brontë’s moorland.  It’s been a little sanitised.  There are helpful finger posts pointing the way at every junction, in English and … Japanese.

Top Withens or Top Withins? Take your pick. I don’t know which the Japanese choose.

The pathways the sisters trod are no longer springy peat tracks, or sticky muddy gullies.  Instead, heavy slabs line the way, to prevent footfall damage to this fragile area from the hundreds of people who tramp these paths looking for the Real Brontë Experience.

My day was far too comfortable for that.  I was not returning to a draughty parsonage with self-destructive brother Branwell to worry about.  If you want to see the Brontë’s life through his eyes, read Robert Edric’s ‘Sanctuary’. You’ll be glad to get back to bustling tourist-destination Haworth for a nice cup of tea.

This post fits nicely into one of the Ragtag Daily Challenges this week: Travel.  There’s no need to cross the ocean or even take your passport to discover sights worth experiencing. 

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29 thoughts on “Wuthering Heights”

  1. I can not recognize UK on these views anymore because the photos remind me a little bit or more to the dry and brown landscapes between Lisbon and the Algarve which we passed in last October. It is a small miracle that only few forest fires have occurred all over Europe so far. Although being accustomed to continental climate with hot summers and cold winters, this heat wave since April tends to get a real stressful burden now.

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  2. I am UP North by the lake today and tomorrow, then home. It had been dry here until the past week or so. The Forest Service’s Fire Danger signs have been dropped to Low, the lawn has greened up and the weeds have begun to flourish as they do. Your walk reads well and I am glad I can join you vicariously. How long is your walk? My new knee is doing well and I am working up my walking endurance, but I don’t think I could keep up with you speed or distance. Keep walking, I’ll catch up.

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    1. You will, Clay. This would not be a great one to start with, as there are a few uphill slogs, though much is more gradual as well. It’s just over 7 miles, so quite do-able once you’re fully convalescent. We did NOT walk fast. It was way too hot!

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  3. I love it up there on the Moors. Mind you, I recall heading out for a walk a few years back and once we had parked we couldn’t get the car doors open as the wind was absolutely WILD! And this was in July! 😐

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  4. Beautiful post. I hope I will get to see some of those stone walls when we visit England again next autumn, and Scotland for the very first time. You make me want autumn of 2019 to come…tomorrow!

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  5. You transported me beautifully Margaret, I recall lashing rain in Haworth and quiet sounds of moorland – what did you smell?
    I need a smell…

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    1. Lovely to hear from you Meg. But the answer is, not a lot. The heather, with its distinctive smell wasn’t out enough to oblige. The earth was so dry that the grassy notes we’re used to were quite simply absent. Today though, after nearly 24 hours of rain, the first in weeks, there’s that wonderful smell of newly watered earth. It’s a welcome change!

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    1. You obviously haven’t spent a winter in muddy old England. After a truly wet winter, our muddy paths were pretty unwalkable to all but the most hardened outdoor types. However, I agree, springy peaty turf would have been nicer last week.

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  6. The moorland is lovely, in a stark kind of way. Like you, I think that I would have gone to the moor that wasn’t the famous one; and enjoyed the scenery without the paved paths and crowds.

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  7. It must be 50 years since I last went to High Withens and I can’t remember any signposts let alone in Japanese. When I first went to Haworth even longer ago than that it was a quiet and charming village with a low key museum. I have been several times since and always find myself wondering about the fine balance between conservation, preservation and selling one’s soul to tourism. I have yet to arrive at a conclusion.

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    1. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? It’s hard to reconcile present day Tea Shop Central Howarth with the working community that it must once have been. But then I was part of the problem, by being there ….

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  8. Enchanting photos – don’t think I have seen a picture of Top Withens before, but somehow the setting feels very familiar from her descriptions. It is quite odd when part of a landscape becomes a global tourist attraction isn’t it?

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    1. Indeed. A Monday visit proved to be the right idea. And was it Top Withens, or somewhere else that provided the inspiration? Nobody knows, but it make a suitable half-way point for a circular walk from Haworth. Coincidentally, obviously.

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  9. Beautifully written, Margaret. For the past week or two I’ve been agitating to go to the Moors and see how they are faring. The rain has bounced here intermittently since Friday and our grass is recovering at a remarkable rate. Hopefully the Moors have been refreshed too. 🙂 🙂 Signs in Japanese? Whatever next!

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  10. I’m just getting here, late. But I’m so glad I took the time to read this–I felt like your descriptions and your photos were really exceptional in this post! Such odd weather . . .

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