Around 2014, while working on my dissertation on Emily Brontë, I suddenly realized that it was rather strange that I had never been to Yorkshire. I had never walked around the dark heath, I had never seen the heather bloom, I did not even know how exactly the air in the moor of Heathcliff and Catherine smelled like. So, right after the spring semester ended that year I boarded a plane to visit a load of literary places. And you can guess, Haworth was on top of my list. I was mostly depending on my best friend Nausheen's knowledge of England and in due time found myself on a bus headed to Keighley.
A local bus dropped us off at 8:30 in the morning at a kind of crossroad at the edge of a park, perhaps half a mile away from the famous Haworth parsonage. It was the end of May and still quite cold. Nausheen did not seem much bothered by the weather. But I was pretty much shivering and also had developed a fever. We asked somebody which way to go, and they said that the parsonage wouldn't open until 10. Perhaps, we could have some breakfast then? We walked up and down a charming cobblestone street with little cafes, pubs, and gift shops, but unfortunately, nothing was open yet. I had goose bumps when I wondered if the Brontë sisters walked by the same street. The local people have preserved the town as of old days. This was indeed a pilgrimage for the Brontë fans.
Finally, we located a small convenience store and got a loaf of fruit bread. I got some steaming coffee for my sore throat and we sat down on a decorative boulder to have our breakfast. Then we walked up the hill to the Brontë Parsonage, and were greeted in the churchyard by a friendly black cat which came and rubbed at our legs. There were not many visitors yet and the house was indeed a museum with various items on display. I could not help smiling at the size of Charlotte's gown—she must have been petite. Emily's room was the smallest in the house as it was originally children's nursery. I had intended to take a look at the archives of the Brontës, but unfortunately, they were kept under lock and key and the Brontë Society that was responsible for looking after the place, exerted a high fee if anybody wanted to examine them. We had earlier visited the Keats House in Hampstead which allowed visitors to look at the archives free of cost. Hence I was somewhat disappointed at the turn of things. Still, we spent half the day walking around the house and the adjacent graveyard. I could not believe that I was really walking by the house where Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were written.
After leaving the parsonage, we tried to get our bearings and figure out which bus to take to get to the place run by the Youth Hostel Association. We met a couple of very friendly locals at the bus stop, and one of them explained how the bus routes work. I was surprised at how affable the locals were – they seemed to be genuinely interested in us, a pair of strangers. I was quite taken aback, because that's not the picture of Yorkshire I had gotten from my reading. In any case, we got to the hostel, where the staff was also very friendly. The hostel itself was an old mansion, imposing and majestic.
Next day, my cough had reached an awful state and all I could think of was coffee and hot soup. But Nausheen was acting like a restless puppy. “Don't you want to see Top Withens (the farmhouse that EB used as a model for her Wuthering Heights)? What's the point of coming all the way?” I had to agree. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to walk miles through the hills and wildernesses. I recalled in embarrassment that Emily Brontë was a great walker. Finally, we reached a compromise and decided to spend the day riding around on the different bus routes and enjoying the scenery from the bus. The little houses and their small gardens were really charming to look at. At one point, things appeared so inviting, that I decided to get down from the bus in spite of my fever and walk around. The green pastured dotted with white lambs are still etched in my memory. It was cold and raining and windy, with sunlight shifting to clouds and rain in the wink of an eye, and I really got a feel for the “windswept moors” of Wuthering Heights. We were soaked by the rain, and our shoes and trousers were muddy and wet, but we were deliriously happy. Suddenly I knew that if the spirit of Emily was still there, it was in the moor, not inside the parsonage. And I recalled the lines:
There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.
(“No Coward Soul is Mine”)
We took our lunch at a restaurant and alehouse called Wuthering Heights. With that kind of a name, we had to go in! It had a nice Victorian décor and they served a delicious and pretty-looking tomato soup with freshly-baked bread. We also had other stuff, but it's the soup that I remember.
At one point, we had to visit a pharmacy to ask a pharmacist for advice about my cough, and he suggested I see a doctor at the clinic across the street from the primary school. So we went there next, and it turned out that the doctors had all gone out for the afternoon to do house visits. What a delightful little town, that the doctors still make house calls! We got an appointment for 5 pm.
It was about 3:45 and we had an hour to kill. Therefore, we spent the afternoon walking aimlessly in the small village of Haworth standing on the edge of the Pennine moors. I wondered at the tea rooms and pubs scattered all around the place. The shops with display windows appeared really charming and I bought post cards and some prints of local paintings. At one point, I found myself standing in front of Black Bull, a pub that Branwell Brontë, Charlotte and Emily's wastrel brother, frequented.
Then we went to the clinic and I saw a doctor. She seemed friendly and said she had seen us earlier at the bus stop. It's such a small town that probably the whole town had noticed us for our brown skin! In any case, the doctor prescribed an inhaler for my breathing difficulty. After the doctor visit, we went to an inn & restaurant called the Old White Lion and had Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and gravy.
Next morning felt sad and gloomy as we were to leave the quaint but picturesque village of Haworth. However, while sitting inside the bus, I burst out laughing when I saw a half sheared sheep standing at the end of a meadow with its coat hanging from its back. No wonder it had run off from the shearing knives in the middle of the task. The day was sunny and as I looked back from the bus, I thought of Wuthering Heights and I knew that someday I would have to return to finish my walk and to visit the farm house named Top Withens. I promised myself that next time I would surely come for a longer visit.
Sohana Manzoor is Assistant Professor, Department of English & Humanities, ULAB. Currently, she is also the Editor of the Star Literature & Reviews Pages.