I set out today with the intention of hiking to Top Withins on the moors to see the house that’s considered to have been the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  They sell all kinds of walking books in the visitor center in Haworth, but I thought I might get some free help at the Parsonage Museum, the old residence of the Brontes.  I walk into the gift shop, tell the lady behind the counter what I want to do, and she says the magic words to me – “There’s another place that not many people go to that I can tell you about.”  I LOVE discovering off-the-beaten path places, and this seems to be literally the thing.  She says she prefers this walk because it’s more out of the way and takes you past the house that definitely was Emily’s inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, AND it takes you way out on the moors to Ponden Kirk – Emily’s Penistone Crag!  Well.  She doesn’t have to talk me into it.  She pulls out a map, shows me how to get there, but I’m not at all comfortable with venturing out on my own without a written set of directions.  I buy a little book that has several walks in it, including one to Ponden Clough, which takes you past Ponden Kirk.

So.  Fortified with an egg salad sandwich and a bottle of water, I set off.  First I have a one-mile walk into Stanbury.  Tough.  Up and down some very steep hills, and most of the way there is no sidewalk.  The roads are very narrow, so I have to be careful of traffic.  Finally I reach Back Lane in Stanbury, a little road that branches off the main road and runs up alongside the moors.  So far, so good.  I’m starting to get excited.  Then the book directs me to take the Pennine Way.  And it’s here that I start to get very lost.

I come upon a gate with a signpost – very inconspicuous, and the book says nothing about a gate or signpost – but after walking past it a couple of times, I finally notice that the signpost says in faded lettering “Pennine Way.”  I go through the little gate and suddenly I’m on a narrow trail descending steeply through thick grass and trees!  I come out at the bottom of the trail onto a wide road by Ponden Reservoir.  The reservoir was built in the 1870s to supply water to the mills.  I look at my directions again.  Now I'm supposed to be looking for an access road that runs along the base of the moorland.  But I'm clearly not by the moors.  I walk all the way to the end of the road, up a steep hill, and back again.  I go back to Pennine Way and walk all the way back up to the top of the trail – quite a hike.  Retrace my steps.  Maybe I missed something.  Then I see it.  The access road running by the moor!  I walk along it, now looking for a kissing-gate that will lead me onto the edge of Stanbury Moor.  But what's a kissing-gate?  I see a signpost and a little trail leading onto the moor.  Is that what I'm looking for? The problem is the book doesn’t give any kind of distances so you don't know how far you should expect to walk before hitting a landmark, and some of the landmarks are vague.  A gate leading onto a path by a wall could describe a dozen or more places in Haworth!

I decide to take the trail and end up walking a long, long way.  At this point I know I'm hopelessly lost, but I don't mind so much anymore.  Kind of cool to be able to say "I got lost on the moors," isn't it?  The wind is kicking up now, so I really feel like a character in a Bronte novel!  And there are sheep everywhere, just wandering around loose.  I can’t help stopping to snap pictures of them, like they’re some kind of woolly celebrities.  Then over the hill, after not having seen another living soul since I set out, I spy two people approaching – an older couple who look like serious hikers.  I wait for them to draw near and ask if they know where Ponden Kirk is.  The man very kindly pulls out a map, and after looking for a few minutes, we find it.  I’m not even close.  Lol…  They tell me they’ve just come from seeing Top Withins, which is just up the hill behind them.  If I go that way the trail is clearly marked and will lead me straight back into Haworth past Bronte Falls.

Well, I guess this is what I was meant to see all along.  I decide to give up on my Penistone Crag and settle for Wuthering Heights.  Some guidebooks will tell you that Top Withins WAS Emily’s inspiration for the Earnshaw house, and some will tell you that it MAY have been.  Seeing it, I can believe it was.  It looks very plain - a bit mean.  Just a stone shelter sitting forlornly in the middle of the moors.  There are some guys working on it.  Don’t know if anyone lives there now, or what’s being done to it, but I ask them if they know where Ponden Kirk is.  They don’t know.  And now I REALLY want to go there.  If the people who work here don’t even know how to get to it, it must be a pretty rare place.

I hike away from Top Withins and follow the trail across the moors toward Bronte Falls.  Wow.  Now I feel truly awed and a little scared.  Because I am in the middle of nowhere, and I am on my own.  It’s windier up here, but the sun is out.  Starting to get a bit boggy too, so I have to watch my step more.  I slip a few times.  Lots of rocks and uneven ground.  And as far as the eye can see, nothing but moors.  A large tree off in the distance, a few dots of sheep.  As I get closer to the tree I can hear the falls.  I’m actually glad I ended up here instead of Ponden Kirk.  Wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.  The falls are beautiful, pretty small, but I’m told they used to be more impressive.  I cross the stream and set off back toward Haworth.  By now I’m really tired and my legs are killing me.  Ready to be sitting down somewhere with a cool drink.  But I still have a long 2 mile walk ahead of me.  As I approach Haworth I see one of those tourist buses you see going through Times Square all the time – the ones with the open tops so people can sightsee.  I laugh to myself.  It’s kind of funny to see one of those out here, especially after having walked probably 6 miles.  How do you experience the moors from a bus?

I trudge back into the village, get a drink and go back to my room at The Apothecary House to rest for a bit, make plans for the rest of the day.  I decide to go and see the Bronte Parsonage so I can have tomorrow to try for Penistone Crag again.  Just cannot leave Haworth without at least attempting it!

There's a wonderful biography of Charlotte Bronte that was written by her good friend and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell.  In Charlotte's letters she describes the parsonage as a very gloomy place, cold.  But when I walk up to it I think, "This is beautiful.  How could anyone not like living here?"  What I'm forgetting is that Haworth looks nothing like it did in Charlotte's time.  There was no running water, sewage in the streets, and the parsonage looked out on an overflowing cemetery that had no trees in it.  The first room I enter is the dining room.  And it’s here that Charlotte, Emily, and Anne would gather in the evenings to write and read their stories to each other, walking round and round the table.  I cannot believe I’m in the very room where Wuthering Heights was written!  Where Jane Eyre was born!  Most of the furniture in the parsonage actually belonged to the Brontes, and the sofa in the dining room is where they believe Emily died.  I wander through the rest of the house – Mr. Bronte’s study, the kitchen, then upstairs to the bedrooms.  On the landing is the grandfather clock Mr. Bronte would wind every night before going to bed.  I see what they call the Children’s Study – where Charlotte and her brother and sisters would play and write their “little books.”  They actually have one of these on display – the writing so tiny there’s a magnifying glass hovering over the book so you can read the words.  I see Charlotte’s room, which she shared with her husband during their brief 9 months of marriage before she died.  You can also see one of her gowns, her wedding bonnet, her writing desk.  There’s a lot to look at and I feel overwhelmed, so I decide to stop trying to see it all, go back downstairs.  Stand in the dining room once more.  Try to feel what it must have been like.  To really take in where I am.

I’m standing in the room where some of my favorite stories were written.  Stories that made me want to become a writer.

Tomorrow I'll spend my last few hours in Haworth searching for Emily's elusive Penistone Crag!  Will I find it?  You'll just have to check back and see!

That's the Bronte Parsonage in the background, as seen from Mr. Bronte's Haworth Church

The moors heading toward Bronte Falls

       Emily Bronte's inspiration
       for Wuthering Heights -
       this used to be a ruin, but
       they're working on it now


08/30/2013 6:49am

Oh, Vicki, what a WONDERFUL post! I'm so glad you got lost in the moors. You've now been truly initiated. And inspired. Can you imagine the isolation that one would feel in the moors--especially in the heart of winter, when the days (especially that far north) are short? No *wonder* those girls wrote, lol! I would think food supply would be a "situation" in the winter, so *somebody* must have spent many summer hours canning!

08/30/2013 12:44pm

Yes! Most of all, I totally "got" how Emily was inspired to write Wuthering Heights. And how bleak that place must have been in winter. This was my favorite part of the trip by far now. Bringing you back a really great surprise! hee hee

08/30/2013 5:03pm


Leave a Reply.