Wednesday 27 June 2012

Haworth, a little piece of Heaven on earth? or how a dream came true after fifty years

Top Withens

At the beginning of February 2012 I learned for the first time about the existence of the Brussels Brontë Group. Reading about the Brontë Society’s Annual General Meeting in Haworth, all at a sudden, an old and dormant dream reared its head.

It was at the end of the sixties that Heathcliff, Cathy, Nelly and Mr Lockwood came in my life and never would leave it. That time I swore an oath that one day I would go over there and see Haworth, the Parsonage, Wuthering Heights, the Brontë Waterfall, Penistone Crag and Thrushcross Grange and experience the atmosphere of the Moors in good or bad weather, in rain, sunshine or in the clouds. 

However, everybody knows how the river of life can flow in a strange riverbed before it is flowing into the sea. In my particular case, full with obstacles and it would take me fifty years before this dream came true. 

Perhaps you will find that I am exaggerating but one could compare this trip with the last five days of Sir Edmund Hilary and Tensing Norgay on their Himalaya Expedition, climbing and climbing till they reached the top of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953.

Friday 8 June 

Arrival at Haworth, my “base of operation”. The programme planned so carefully was now to be carried out. Would I, just like Hilary, reach the summit too? 

After exploring the Parsonage and Haworth I joined the Brussels members in the Old White Lion where I also made new friends and experienced for the first time that I had made a step in the direction of this small piece of Heaven on earth, or to the top of Mount Everest. The second camp was attained.

Saturday 9 June 

4.30pm: Annual General Meeting of the Brontë Society. “Society members only. Membership cards will be required.” 

With my new membership card in my hand, somewhat enjoying being, as a Belgian, a member of a British literary society, I walked into the conference room on the first floor. For a newcomer as I was, it was the people attending this meeting who drew especially my attention. Young, middle-aged, old and very old, all interested in one thing, the progress of this beautiful part of British Heritage: “The Brontë Family”, a special experience, a special feeling. 

7.00pm: Supper in “The Old White Lion” with the Brussels friends 

We kept talking and talking for hours because there was so much to tell although it was only my second day. And when for each of us the time came to go back to our B&B or hotel, I realized that not me, on my own, but all these people together, this crew, our “expedition”, had reached our third camp on the way to the summit. 

Sunday 10 June 

Breakfast time in the B&B was not simply enjoying the copious delicious meal prepared by David but at the same time taking part in the “group discussion” with other members about what else than… the Brontë Family, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, Emily, Cathy, Heathcliff and so on, the whole family “passait le revue”. Each one of the guests with his/her point of view and sometimes trying to convince the others. 

11.00am: Walk over the moors to Oxenhope 

1.00pm: Walk around historical Haworth. 

6.30pm: Informal evening of friendship, fun and food at The Old White Lion. 

Today the informal evening of friendship was officially organized by The Brontë Society but we had already had two and this one could only extend this magnificent feeling. Every evening, meeting with these friends after the daily occupations was just bringing us to a higher level of harmony, bringing us to the next camp, the camp of Hilary and Tensing before their effort to reach the top of Mount Everest. So I felt. 

These everlasting conversations about all kind of subjects, from “the Brontës” to our own families (we even drew sketches of our houses), literature, movies, music, all this meant that we realized that the moment when we would have to say good-bye would be difficult for each of us.

Monday, 11 June 

11.00 am: Tourist Information Centre – meeting point for the walk over the moors 

This day I was to realize my dream of more than 50 years, the reason why I was coming to Haworth. Sarah, my guide, was to take me and possibly a few other people to do the walk over the moors to Wuthering Heights (Top Withens), The Brontë Waterfall and Bridge, Penistone Crag (Ponden Kirk) and Thrushcross Grange (Ponden Hall) back to Haworth. The places so beautifully described by Emily Brontë in her novel “Wuthering Heights”. 

Whatever the weather should be, I wanted to do it, wanted to be another Mr Lockwood or Heathcliff and go to these places. 

And here comes again my comparison with Sir Edmund Hilary: this last and famous trip meant to me, perhaps, something similar to what it might have meant to him: the last day bringing me to the summit of my stay in Haworth, as if I was stepping into the story and experiencing a little bit what was told so well by the author two centuries ago. 

We were joined at the last moment by a young Swiss man who had read about the trip on the Haworth website. We were ready, our clothes, our boots, our packed lunches, and soon we were marching, leaving Haworth behind us, soon entering into the moors and in my mind, at the same time, going back into the nineteenth century. 

For me, unknown rough territory but I enjoyed it, especially because of the whole story behind it. The weather was what it should be: the sun was not shining but it was cloudy with low-hanging fog banks, some wind, from time to time a little bit of drizzly rain alternating with an up-clearing sky. I became a part of this “Brontë atmosphere”. 

The landscape was varying very strongly, we followed the path of the sheep, climbed to the crest of the hill, got for the first time a glance of a distant tree near Wuthering Heights, descended, and climbed and descended again to arrive at the end at Brontë Waterfall and Cathy’s chair. 

We wanted to stay longer but the way ahead was still so long and so many places had to be seen so that we continued our path, direction Brontë Bridge. Marvellous place with the splashing water in the wild nature. Some photos taken at the spot should help to keep it saved in our brain. 

And again we continued our path, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence listening to the splashing water of the brook, a bird in the sky, the bleating of a faraway sheep or just to the wind in our ears, climbing out of the valley towards another crest of the hill, passing through the haze to find out that this distant tree ahead, finally, is close by and we are only some hundreds of metres away from “Wuthering Heights” (Top Withens). 

I feel my heart beating faster coming closer to this place I have dreamed about so many years and now it is here. An unforgettable moment. I look around and see the panorama and understand very well what the memorial stone in the wall is telling me: 

“This farmhouse has been associated with "Wuthering Heights", the Earnshaw home in Emily Brontë's novel. The buildings, even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described, but the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the Heights”. 

The building in itself may be unimportant, but not so the location. 
We took the time to have our lunch in this sacred place so that we could stay a little bit longer, experience the atmosphere, feel nature, join Emily’s characters and of course take some pictures to preserve this place for posterity.

Had I now reached the summit? Yes and no, because Penistone Crag (Ponden Kirk) and Thrushcross Grange (Ponden Hall) belong as well to these places that had to be seen. 

And so we continued our walk to Penistone Crag. 
In reality a grit stone outcrop, a nature reserve but for Brontë fanatics a place where the two young people in love, Heathcliff and Cathy and later Hareton and Cathy’s daughter, met each other to find some happiness. 

What a feeling, how wonderful to stand there on top of this rock in the idea that Emily Brontë one day must have stood there admiring the beautiful landscape. 

Only Thrushcross Grange (Ponden Hall) remains to be seen, the contrast with Wuthering Heights, the contrast between a humble farm and a manor. 

The path to Ponden Hall is much easier as we are descending to the valley, more houses and farms appear and the landscape shows more signs of people’s activities. After a while we pass some outhouses and a little later an impressive house with a stately entrance, many windows and surrounded by a garden and a high imposing wall. At the other side of the road another garden, also surrounded by a similar imposing wall. Ponden Hall. 

Sarah, our guide, tells us: “This is Thrushcross Grange in the novel”. 

What a difference with “Wuthering Heights”, a difference that makes one better see all the consequences and influences on the lives of the characters. Now, after all these years, having been there, I better understand this wonderful novel. 

The task was fulfilled, the summit was reached. 

With some luck we would have had a guided tour of the house by the owner but the lady of the house had to leave. The window in the bedroom where Cathy begs: “Let me in, let me in” I did not see, perhaps this is for another time. 

Slowly we took the way to Stanbury which further on would lead us back to Haworth. 

An intense feeling of contentment came over me because the dream of more than fifty years had come true. Sir Edmund Hilary had reached the summit of Mount Everest, I had been in the places I dreamed of and that was for me the summit. 

It took us seven hours but these seven hours gave me such a strong wonderful feeling, put me in such a pleased mood that I wanted to share it with all my friends. 

8.00 pm Farewell supper in The Old White Lion

For me and for a lot of our friends this supper was indeed the last one before our return journey back home.
The Old White Lion was filled up with a magnificent ambience of joy, understanding, kindness for each other. The room was filled with sparkling conversations alternating with laughter from different sides. 

But as the clock was ticking and the time of farewell came closer, here and there in a hurry addresses and e-mail addresses were exchanged because one thing was sure: I had made a lot of friends and wanted to stay in contact with them. And when then the ultimate moment was there and we really had to say good-bye I felt pain in my heart because such a spirit, such an enveloping warmth between so many people, I never had experienced. 
It was here that a new, another dream was born, the dream to come back, perhaps next year, perhaps one day if I should get the opportunity.

Celebrating with Brontë friends
Tuesday, 12 June 

8.00 am: Enjoy for the last time David’s English Breakfast, arrange the last formalities, pick up my luggage and take a glance at my room, appropriately called the “Charlotte” room. 

Good-bye to David and, on my way to The Old White Lion from where I was to leave by taxi for Keighley, a last look at my B&B. 

Good-bye to Haworth, Keighley, Leeds, London and back to Belgium. 

My body was in the train but my mind and my heart remained in Haworth. 

In the evening I came home, happy to be back with my family but with a heart that brimmed over with enthusiasm about my adventure in the neighbourhood of the Brontë Family and I realized, indeed, Haworth is a little piece of Heaven on earth.

Jean De Wolf

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