This post was written by Grace, aged 15, the winning entry in our Young Persons’ Writing Competition 2019.
Alongside the hustling, contemporary station platforms, with their technicolour red and blue trains, Starbucks kiosks and fluorescent, light-up display boards incessantly and unabatingly screaming out arrivals in and out of Keighley station, amongst this noise and rush that is modern life ran a secluded and overlooked paradise.
Overlooked by the hectic families tugging buggies, wheelie bags and small children alike in their search for a bus or taxi to deliver them safely and easily to the doorstep of their accommodation. Fortunately for them, Bronte cabs, Keighley taxis and Speedline taxis were all at their finger-tips.
Overlooked, too, by the commuters for whom this quaint and magical tardis was a normality and simply a tourist trap. True, there was a red painted wooden kiosk selling Bronte mugs, glossy magazines about steam trains and photographic postcards, but the real attraction was in the atmosphere; it felt exactly as though we had stepped over the line between modern and Edwardian day. Crossed the barrier between dull and mundane, and magical.
Abruptly, penetrating into the solace of the untroubled, little station, came belching black smoke and disconcerting, silvery steam. Smoke ran everywhere; smoke blanketed the station, clamping its fastening grip over the large clock. Time extinguished. Smoke entwined its fingers around carriages and postcard stands. All perception of current life smothered. The smoke was determined and defiant, refusing any glimmer of light bulb or sun to penetrate the crashing waves of smoke. Family engulfed. Smoke leaked through the air, swirling around suitcases and raincoats like it was trying to catch you and whisk you away through the gateway to the moors.
‘Forget your current life,’ it whispered, ‘you belong here.’
Whether or not you decide to arrive by the authentic steam train to Haworth and then walk the idyllic yet bewitchingly real footpath across the moors or to take the less magical but by far the more practical taxi (what with wheelie bags and shopping for the week, I guarantee the moors become a little less drawing), whichever your method of arrival, be prepared to be rendered breathless, motionless and thoughtless at this macrocosm of shining beauty.
If seen in the vibrant, almost ecstatic sun that bathes the water, trees and hills alike in warm, compassionate gold, then you will be plucked from the Yorkshire moors and whisked away to the Italian lakes in July (though without the oppressing heat perhaps), the luminescent blue water reminiscent of Mediterranean seas. Just add a palm tree and you’ve saved hundreds of pounds from flying to the Maldives. However, if you are there in chilly, grey sunlessness, it is still England after all, as we were then the sight was no less entrancing. The water sparkled and danced with the silvery light of thousands of stars; it was its own light, hope and universe. Despite the lack of sunlight to reflect on the water, it gleamed and twinkled at you, alive and welcoming.
‘Welcome home’ it said…
Walking up the dusty track between the towering, kindly trees –the very path that Emily Bronte describes in ‘Wuthering Heights’, as the benevolent owners of Ponden Hall will no doubt tell you- the house was sheltered, secluded from view. Until we took a sharp left and there it lay. Grey stoned, grand enough, but full of stories and history, Ponden Hall seemed to keep watch over all the land below. If it seemed imposing and secretive, the owners were anything but. Whether we chose to stay in the rather extravagant Earnshaw room, the grand Heaton room or the more modest, modern and practical Giddings room or Peat loft, S and J treated us with equal kindness, friendliness and consideration, in generous helpings indeed. After our arrival into Peat loft, we were asked to afternoon tea in the Hall by S. And what an afternoon tea!
Upon going in, I looked up at the old, greyed stone proclaiming 1801, perhaps any old date to most people, but to an avid reader of Wuthering Heights, it transports you back to 1801, having just returned from a visit to your landlord, the solitary neighbour you shall be troubled with. Not that S and J could possibly trouble a person. After sweet, moist cake filled with tart raspberry jam and pots of tea (or hot water if you’re weird like us), S gave us the full and mesmerising history of the house; how it’s the inspiration for real-life Wuthering Heights and Wildfell Hall, how Peat loft sheltered Emily, Branwell and Anne Bronte from the landslide that would have killed them and how the Brontes, shunned from the public libraries for being women, used the Hall’s extensive library to feed their imaginations.
For non-Bronte fans, it is an interesting history, made particularly pleasant by a warm, full stomach. For Bronte fans, though, it’s intoxicating. S took us on a fascinating tour of the house, including the famous box bed where Cathy sleeps and the window where the ghost hand knocks to try to get in. The house may be a fortress of history, incredible stories and inspiration, but it breathes through its current owners’ kindness and comes alive at the gentle touch of their love of it and the impression it leaves among its guests.
Leaving in the morning, on a stomach generously filled with tart plums and creamy yogurt, full English breakfasts and wholesome, jam-smothered homemade toast, felt wrong, even though it was only for the day. Still, by morning the surroundings looked no less spell-binding. The ever resilient sun occasionally managed to out-wit the grey, looming clouds that staunchly refused to share the sky. The wind, however, had no opponent and made its presence known. As our hair whipped round our faces and our inner spirits flew freely along with it, never had the ‘wily, windy moors’ been so fitting. It wasn’t perfect, tropical weather for our holiday, but it fitted far better with the surroundings, made them more alive and let them speak to you.
As we began our walk across the moors to Haworth, I had to agree with Cathy. This is certainly a most beautiful country and I too did not believe that in all of England I could have found a position so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s heaven. And yet, the house felt neither lonely nor neglected; the hordes of visitors keep it refreshed, the people from Belgium, Germany and France, and famous people too like Patti Smith and Tracey Chevalier. A house living on through people’s love of it.
The first part of the walk was indeed beautiful enough, along the footpaths winding across the North Yorkshire hills where we could see for miles, every hill a different, unique shape, colour and character- especially to someone like me who comes from East Yorkshire where the land is flat and similar. That all faded into unimportance once we reached the heather. ‘High waving heather ‘neath stormy blasts bending’, heather like splashes of hope in a field of gloom. Splashes that turned into floods of vibrant, promising purple, sweeping everyone along in their waves. ‘Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending’. It all became true.
By dint of arriving at around twelve o’clock or earlier, we missed the picnickers walking from Haworth and had the rocky, wild Bronte falls all to ourselves. After a steep climb, it was time to follow our noses until we reached Haworth.
Once in Haworth, there is an infinite number of courses to choose from. If you fancy a bit of a sit down after the long walk, the Worth valley steam trains are a feet-up but still interesting and authentic activity. Purchase a day-rover ticket and the railway is yours to travel up and down all day. Hop on and off at any of the old-fashioned, country stations on the line, each interesting in their own right; little worlds connected by the train line. Oakworth, the next stop up from Haworth, boasted a whole room dedicated to pictures from the filming of the Railway Children and for fans like us, (and who have enough energy left) then there’s a 6 mile circular walk taking in all of the scenes from the 1978 film.
Next is Ingrow West, home to two railway museums and a large collection of star rail carriages. Have you ever dreamed of following in your favourite film star’s footsteps? Well, begin by taking a (stationary) ride in the carriages used to film the Railway Children, Swallows and Amazons, Testament of Youth and Brideshead Revisited. Finally, at the end of the line in Keighley, we visited the Edwardian ladies’ waiting room and, as we still had our picnic, we were ladies who lunch. Then we returned back to Haworth at the end of our journey, the land of the Brontes and historical streets. If you haven’t yet had your fill of olden-day transport, take the vintage bus back or, if you prefer a speedier return, as we did, and they are able to, S and J will offer you a lift back to the hall.
If you are a Bronte fan, then the parsonage is a necessity. For a more atmospheric arrival, we entered from the street rather than the parsonage car park, which took us down the street and right past Branwell’s pub, the Black Bull, Haworth Church and then the parsonage door itself, over the threshold and into the very house the Bronte children grew up in and where I had been imagining so vividly, and startlingly accurately. Each room held a different story for me, but the dining room was one of the most powerful. It hosts the table which the sisters used to walk around while writing and critiquing each other’s books in the evenings. Upstairs, though, is the room that really halted me, drew me towards it. The children’s study. The very place where they half grew up, played together and fed their hungry, wild imagination. If I had stopped breathing, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t notice.
For non-avid readers of their novels, the house is still a historically interesting place, made so by their own interesting lives. After you have finished the tour of the house (if taking photos, I would recommend going twice- once with and once without), then adjourn to the shop which has everything Bronte from the usual bookmarks, postcards and rubbers to art prints and every single novel by or about them.
After this, you may decide to leave the parsonage, most people do after all. They’ve seen the rooms, been to the shop and so, from first glance, everything seems to have been ticked off. But there’s something incredible, beautiful and haunting that most tourists simply leave out. Simply head over to the till, pay a ten pound deposit (and get it all back later) and leave the parsonage doors equipped with a headset, audio guide and map. Head down the road towards the church and the audio guide will begin all by itself at the beginning- so even for technology haters, nothing can go wrong. It began in the dark, warped graveyard with the Unthanks’ (a pair of Northumbrian sisters who have put Emily’s poems to music) with the haunting and low ‘Deep, deep down in the silent grave’, graves that were rising, silently, beside us.
Then, as we left and walked up the pathway to the moors, the songs took a slightly happier tone, generally, until we reached the top of the ‘High waving heather’- appropriately the name of the song- then, returning back down to the parsonage, the songs took a more reflective tone, as I too reflected on the glory of what I had just seen and how it, like life, was terminal and would soon end. I had heard and loved all the songs before, as we have the CD at home, but there was nothing like this walk. The headset, blocking out every other sign of life beyond me, the music and the moors, made the song more haunting and brought me ever closer to it. The words, depicting mortality and the wild beauties of the moors, were brought to life by the music echoing through your mind, ringing through your soul and singing in your heart.
Waking up the next morning was sad and oddly disappointing. If I could have preserved being there forever, even if it meant not waking up again, I would have done so. I wished fervently that I could capture this moment in a bottle and take it home with me to open on a cold, grey, winter’s day to remember forever the smell, sounds and feelings within this incredible house. But knowing that was impossible, I got up to breakfast, packed and then we left, very reluctantly. Leaving the house felt like leaving home, temporary and new, but loved and treasured all the same. And leaving the surroundings felt like leaving my haven behind. Leaving S and J at the Parsonage car park felt like leaving friends behind.
About the Author
Grace Weerakoon, 15 years old.
First Place Winner- The Tourist Trail Young Persons’ Writing Competition 2019