England: Utterly wuthered

By Kerri Jackson

The views from Top Withens on Haworth Moor are vast and inspirational. Photo / Supplied
The views from Top Withens on Haworth Moor are vast and inspirational. Photo / Supplied

After even the briefest of walks on the West Yorkshire moors, near the old town of Haworth, you're left feeling very definitely wuthered. There's really no other word to describe quite so perfectly both that bracing, wind-blown outdoorsy feeling and the exposed, blustery landscape that has caused it. Thank you Emily Bronte.

This part of England, however, owes a lot more to Emily and her sisters Anne and Charlotte than a heartfelt adjective. What it now owes is a thriving tourist industry which draws some 80,000-odd Bronte pilgrims through the region every year. This is not West Yorkshire. This is Bronte Country. It even says so on the motorway signs.

And for those Bronte devotees who make the pilgrimage, there are two places they must see for themselves.

The first is those bleakly beautiful moors. Walking amid the bogs and bracken with the wind whipping your ears, it's not hard to see where the three sisters found their inspiration. It's a foreboding, yet compelling place.

The other centre for pilgrimage is the rather more hospitable Bronte Parsonage Museum on the outskirts of Haworth. It was here Anne, Charlotte and Emily, with their brother Branwell, grew up under the guidance of their widowed father. Largely cloistered from the world, they amused themselves and each other with stories and made-up worlds. Here their housekeeper entertained them with ghostly stories of the moors.

Today most of the house has been preserved, or recreated, much as the Brontes would have known it. Wander through the dining room where Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey first saw the light; stand, a little disconcerted, and see the couch where Emily succumbed to tuberculosis, aged 30.

The museum is a well-preserved time capsule which lets Bronte fans peek down a wormhole in time to imagine the sound of footsteps around the table as the siblings read and performed for each other nightly. It offers a clear insight into how their life here fed into their writing.

The town of Haworth is all quaint cobbles and stone buildings, housing tea rooms and any number of Bronte-themed businesses. It's also a key stop on the Keighley and Worth Valley steam railway which winds through the heart of Bronte Country.

But if you'd rather travel under your own steam, try renting a car and meandering around the countryside which, away from the moors, becomes all emerald paddocks hemmed in by stone walls and broken up with ancient arching bridges. It's no surprise this part of the country has found its way into many quintessentially English TV series such as The Railway Children and Last of the Summer Wine, filmed at nearby Holmfirth.

Pay a visit to Heptonstall, the tiny hillside village , where the labrynthine streets are barely wide enough to squeeze a car. Here you'll find the remnants of the church built in 1260 named for St Thomas a Becket and the final resting place of another woman writer with committed devotees, Sylvia Plath.

From there, point your car toward the unique Saltaire, now Unesco World Heritage-listed. The town was built in 1853 by the Dickensian-named industrialist Titus Salt.

Salt moved his milling operation from Bradford to be closer to the rivers and canals, building a town to house his workers around it. Away from the cities, Salt felt he could better provide for his workforce, building warm houses, hospitals and schools, complete with running water.

When you arrive here it instantly feels sharper and cleaner than mill towns nearby. It has the air of a Victorian-styled toy town about it. The Salts Mill is now home to a mix of retail, commercial and residential activity, but is impressive from the exterior, and the town is worth wandering around (don't drive, as the traffic gets backed up) for a different perspective on industrial-age Britain than the swirling moors most commonly associated with Bronte Country.

IF YOU GO

Where to stay: Holdsworth House is a beautiful hotel and restaurant in Halifax built in the 16th century. In the 1960s it was made over as an exclusive country club and hosted the Beatles in 1964. If that kind of thing floats your boat, book room 20, where the beds they slept in are still in use. The food is good and it's a perfect base for a Bronte Country exploration.

Getting there: Cathay Pacific has daily flights to London from New Zealand via Hong Kong.

Getting around: Europcar rentals are a good option if you want to self-drive. They have a wide range of vehicles and price plans and can put together packages with connecting flights and hotels.

Kerri Jackson travelled with assistance from Cathay Pacific and VisitBritain.

- Herald on Sunday

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