During a recent week off work, my partner and I were looking for a night away in the UK to celebrate her birthday.
After much Googling, taking into account financial constraints, travel time and the stroppy, bipolar weather ruling the seaside out, we came across a characterful-looking guest house in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Now, it’s impossible to talk about the village of Haworth without mentioning two things from the outset. Firstly, for those of you who don’t know, Haworth and its rugged surrounding countryside are synonymous with the Brontë sisters – celebrated English authors of such world-renowned novels as Jane Eyre (1847), Wuthering Heights (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). So much so, that the area is known as ‘Brontë Country'.
Secondly, how on earth do you pronounce ‘Haworth’? On paper, to my mind, it looks as if it is pronounced ‘Hoarworth’, or maybe ‘Hayworth’, as in ‘Rita’. Well, I can now confidently inform you – confirmed by a local landlady and long-term Haworth resident – it is pronounced ‘Howarth’, like the male name, ‘Howard’. Glad we have cleared that up…
After two and a half hours of travelling, our first inkling we had arrived in Bronte Country, was by, of all things, a sign for what looked like a garage: ‘Brontë Tyres’. We couldn’t help but chuckle. Hmm… surely, they had horse and carts in the Brontës’ era? Whatever next, ‘Brontë Vape Shop’? ‘Brontë Mobile Phones’? We needn’t have worried…
Howarth was simply stunning and relatively untouched by the modern world, high street chains and brands. A customer of my partner’s mentioned that Haworth was their favourite place to visit in the UK. Apparently, they went there three times a year. Quickly, you could see why.
The heart of the village itself is essentially one street uniquely set on a steep, cobbled hill, banked on each side by pretty cottages and a plethora of quirky, independent shops, cafes and stone inns – talking of which, I think we lost count at nine pubs… All within a few hundred yards. Heaven! The whole thing was a feast to the eye – photo opportunities everywhere. It was hard not to feel you had stepped back in time.
Surrounding Haworth are rolling hills and moors. You can walk directly from Haworth – the Brontës’ front door, in fact – across the moors, to Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse purportedly associated with Wuthering Heights. The walk is well signposted, and along the way you will pass a bridge, a waterfall and the Brontë Chair, a seat-shaped chunk of rock the Brontës supposedly sat on to compose their early stories; influenced by the surrounding vista no doubt.
Of course we had to visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum. £12 each, but totally worth it. This is located at the top of the hill, overlooking a pretty church and graveyard. The museum itself is the Brontës’ old house (the Parsonage), set up how it would have been at the time of the famous novels being written, including genuine artefacts, such as original writing desks and the blue sofa that Emily sadly passed away on. Again, it was hard not to feel transported back in time, imagining the Brontë women pacing round the oval table in the drawing room, discussing plots and ideas, then furiously scribbling away.
Here is a snapshot of many fascinating and often tragic facts about the Brontës…
Before the success of the womens’ novels, Charlotte and Emily had a joint collection of poems published. Famously, it only sold two copies.
The Brontë sisters all released their novels under pseudonyms, apparently in order to protect their ill-fated, alcoholic brother, Branwell, who, himself, was a frustrated artist and writer that hadn’t achieved any success. Their pseudonyms were Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell. How do you remember which was which? By their first initials – Currer being for Charlotte, Acton for Anne and Ellis for Emily.
Charlotte and Emily are buried in a family vault beneath the floor of the East end of the village church, St. Michael and All Angels, that they lived in the shadow of. Anne, however, is buried in the seaside town of Scarborough.
All of the six Brontë children died before the age of 38. Emily, Anne and Branwell all in the space of one year.
The average life expectancy for a resident living in Haworth at the time of the Brontë sisters was 25.8 years, lower than other nearby villages or towns of similar size. In contrast to his children, Haworth's curate, Patrick Brontë, amazingly lived till the ripe old age of 84.
After the tragic death of all of his offspring, Patrick Brontë instigated an investigation into the low mortality rate and unsanitary state of the village of Haworth. The investigation found that, amongst other horrors, the drinking water was contaminated by the overflowing privies of the village. Bacteria from decomposing bodies in the over-crowded, poorly-oxygenated graveyard at the top of the hill was also filtering into the town’s water supply; both contributing to early death, illness and disease.
I didn’t let this last somewhat disturbing and macabre fact put me off sampling plenty of the local real ale! One pub, the Haworth Steam Brewing Co., brews its own beers and ciders. Another, The King’s Arms, has real ales all named after the Brontë children. I tried a pint of Emily. Dark and brooding, like its namesake. Much to our delight, the King’s Arms also ran a pub quiz on the night of our stay, which we took part in. Bonus!
Clutching (another) copy of Wuthering Heights, purchased at the church (couldn’t resist at £4), we headed back to our hotel room at the wonderful Old Registry at the foot of the hill.
Conversation was inevitably dominated by the Brontës and their fascinating, inspiring, yet tragic lives. Like so many before us, we had been seduced. Just being in Haworth, you became ensconced in them. Consumed by them. They were everywhere around you, the surrounding hills and moors, the buildings, the very fabric of the buildings and village. Hungry for more, we watched a 2016 BBC drama called To Walk Invisible, which I can highly recommend. It gave a further insight into the Brontës’ lives, and the majority of it is set on location in and around Haworth.
To sum up, the Brontë sisters were brave and unique, ahead of their time and immensely talented, with wild imaginations, clearly influenced by their surroundings.
As for Haworth, I cannot recommend it enough as a tourist destination or break away, nor have I visited anywhere so unique. I cannot wait to go back again – maybe in the autumn or winter when the fires in the pubs are burning, the smoke is filtering out into the lamplit cobbled streets and there is mist on the wuthering heights of those brooding moors.
NB: I do not work for the West Yorkshire Tourist Board or have any affiliation with the establishments mentioned in this blog; they are just places I can personally recommend! 😂
PS: One further tip if you are thinking of visiting Haworth – which we wished we’d known before we went! Visit from Thursday onwards, not at the beginning of the week. A few of the shops, cafes and bars don’t open till Thursdays. Also, many Haworth establishments don’t open up till 10:30 in the morning. Mildly frustrating if you don’t know, merely quirky if you do!
You’re welcome… 😉