Literary sightseeing in the UK #1 – Haworth

My husband and I had our second Covid vaccinations last week, so I now feel pretty protected and relieved that we are less likely to pass the virus on to someone who might be less able to withstand it. One of my daughters has had her first dose and my student son should be able to book his vaccination by the end of the week. That only leaves my youngest who at fifteen is unlikely to get it any time soon. This sudden ramping-up of the vaccine roll-out comes in a week when the Delta variant of the virus is seemingly running wild throughout the country and when the G7 seem finally to have woken up to their responsibilities to distribute vaccine to parts of the world less well-endowed than us.

A few weeks ago, when it still seemed possible that most social distancing restrictions would be lifted on the 21st of this month, we booked a trip to Ireland for July to visit my husband’s family. We have not seen them for eighteen months. As I write this, I hear that the Republic of Ireland has extended its quarantine requirements for travellers from the UK. Suddenly, it looks as if our trip may be postponed. There will be many others like me, disappointed at this news. We normally travel to the continent for our summer holiday – we long ago realised THAT wasn’t going to happen, but many people will have been hoping to make such a trip to visit friends and family who, like us, they have not seen for many months.

Most of us in the UK will have to amuse ourselves with a holiday at home this year, if we are lucky enough to be in a position to take one. I have no idea what we will do, but if you are in the same boat I would like to share with you some literary gems that you might find interesting!

Last autumn, desperate for a change of scene, we spent a weekend in West Yorkshire during half term, just before we were all sent into lockdown for a second time. We visited Haworth, home of the Brontë family of course, just outside of Bradford and only about ninety minutes drive from Manchester. I went there many years ago, staying in the youth hostel in the summer, and I remember it being extremely busy, the vertiginous high street thronged with tourists. At the end of October 2020 the atmosphere could not have been more different.

The near-deserted main street through Haworth

The weather was awful – the moors were definitely wild and windy! – very wet and cold. But this just made it feel more… Brontëan to me! The other benefit from the weather and the pandemic was that the place was empty, though not so good for the businesses that depend on tourism of course. The Brontë family home is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, a fairly modest dwelling that has been laid out much as it would have been in the 1800s, at the time the sisters were living there, and which displays many of their belongings. There is a permanent exhibition giving the history of the family and their work. Most striking for me were the tiny books the sisters wrote about the Angria, and a gown of Charlotte’s – she was such a small woman! There was also an exhibition of Anne’s paintings, which was in part an attempt to set the record straight on her literary status.

The Parsonage – where the Brontë children grew up

Social distancing rules mean that entry is by timed ticket, which actually allows you to enjoy the museum in an uncrowded way. The downside of this for the Museum of course is reduced revenue, so a donation is called for. The experience was near spiritual; for me the Brontës represent a literary pinnacle and visiting their home is like visting a shrine. The coolness of the place (doors and windows were open), the damp outside, and the silence and emptiness, just made the experience more authentic.

The moors provide a stunning backdrop to the Museum. They were where the sisters would walk daily and to follow the guided paths, particularly as far as Top Withens, the ruined house said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, it feels as if you are truly walking in their footsteps.

All aboard!

Haworth is magical, but there is more to see in the area, not least the wonderful Worth Valley steam railway which runs from Oxenhope to Keighley. This too has a literary connection, having provided the location for the filming of much of The Railway Children, the classic 1970 film of E Nesbit’s children’s novel.

We had a wonderful weekend and it cheered us up after months at home doing nothing. We stayed in a rental cottage just a few minutes walk from the centre of the village. A restaurant table for dinner proved hard to come by so we took advantage of the delivery services of one of the many local Asian takeaways, having the most amazing Indian feast brought to our door.

So, if you are looking for places to visit this year while you holiday at home, I cannot recommend Haworth highly enough.