Hidden away in the moors and sheep country of the Pennine Hills in southern Yorkshire is Haworth, a lovely old village of dark stone houses, and stone roofs. Birthplace of the Brontёs: Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, the gray of the buildings is offset in late summer by a kaleidoscope of flowers cascading from window boxes.
My friend Silke and I had come to pay our respects to the Brontёs and to spend a day walking the moors described so vividly by the sisters. We had decided to test our boots, and our endurance with a day hiking on the moors, before facing the real challenge which had brought us to England, a week-long hike on the Dales Way about an hour north of Haworth.
We spent the night at Haworth Old Hall, a bustling village pub dating back to the 16th century, with several rooms for rent. Breakfast was at 8:00, brought to our rooms by our charming host, Johnny. Unshaven, and still in his pajamas, he was blurry eyed, but cheerful. A simple breakfast of porridge, toast, and coffee, set us up for the day. We set off for Top Withins, the abandoned building which was, according to local legend, the site that had inspired Wuthering Heights. From Top Withins we would walk across Stanbury Moor to a nearby village, and from there back to Haworth.
At the top of Sun Street, which looks pretty much as it did when the Brontes lived in Haworth, we rounded the corner to an even narrower street that took us past the Brontё parsonage, much grander than I had imagined, and then along a narrow lane, through a gate and onto a hillside of open meadow. At the bottom of the meadow, we passed through a kissing stile, a complicated u-shaped metal pass-through in the stone wall, with a tricky gate latch. Once through the stile, we consulted our map. Haworth Moor was at the end of Cemetery Road, through another gate and over a cattle grid. Clumps of heather spread a purple haze over the hillside. The moor rose on our left, a great empty curve along the horizon. It was a perfect morning, vast dome of sky, nice breeze, and the sun already warm on our backs. A narrow footpath led down through a stand of gnarled trees to a small creek, or beck. We crossed on a low bridge made of slabs of gray stone. Then we began to climb out of the valley, passing through squeeze-stiles, over step-stiles, always among the grazing sheep. The path was narrow and steep, eroded in places to a ditch. Rough roots tripped the unwary and loose stones slid away under our feet. It was noon by the time we reached Top Withins, a stone ruin set on the brow of the highest hill with a lone tree standing guard. We sat down to eat our lunch and enjoy the view spread out below dotted with sheep, yellow wheat fields, stone walls, and the darker moors that rolled away into the distance.
Before we had finished eating, thunder heads appeared on the horizon.I reluctantly pulled my boots back on and we started across Stanbury Moor. I found going downhill difficult. Before long the soles of my feet were burning like grilled sausages. We reached Stanbury about 2:00, and stumbled on a cozy little pub called The Friendly with a sunny front room, and a couple of old codgers enjoying their afternoon pints. A cheerful lady barkeep brought us two enormous bowls of coffee, and we chatted about our day on the moors, and their dire weather predictions for the weekend.
Revived, we set off down the main street toward Haworth, crossing a bridge past the reservoir we had seen earlier in the day from a higher elevation. Across the bridge we found a bridle path that led up the hill to Haworth and by 4:30 we had reached the top of Sun Street again. Before starting back down the hill to Old Haworth Inn, we stopped in a charming tea room for some homemade ice cream, a very satisfying way to end the day. We had passed our first test .