Deep fog wasn’t going to put us off (although it does make you think twice) to going to Haworth and seeing the Brontes. It was a decent drive – south from here and through a national park and lots of farm land. Narrow roads which are alright to drive during daylight but are a challenge at dark. But as the daylight is limited here, Myles grits his teeth and places his feet gingerly on the pedals, and away we go.
We are not, by the way, in the moors proper. They are further north. The Brontes (and us) are in the dales which are not the wild, wild moors but wild smaller versions. Still, large for us. Farmland stretches all the way from Leyburn to Haworth (sheep land by the looks of things), but only to the certain height. The paddocks are walled rather than fenced; walled by stone walls that have been painstakingly put together from stone in the field and look cold and very forbidding. The sheep don’t go near them. Then, at some apparently agreed to height, the sheep fields stop, and the wild (is) moors begin. Amazing colours (Zelda couldn’t decide if they were red or green and I could see what she meant), lots of great rocks that loom out of the landscape. And all the while, we are going at breakneck speed around all these tiny corners on our way to the Brontes.
I had no anxiety about what to wear to visit them. I did about Austen, but she is more a polite acquaintance. Someone I don’t know so well, and need to think about the impression I might make. The Brontes are a different matter. They are much more like family for me. I imagined, for many years, as being them (I was Anne being the youngest and the name most like mine, while I imagined my siblings in the creative space of the others). I thought about roaming large spaces as they did, and working away on a manuscript in hot, close rooms as they did. I was part of the unbound romance of writing before everything. They weren’t going to care what I wore to see them. We were cousins already and grubby or informal clothes were not going to change that.
It did make me think about creativity though, and even more so when we got to the parsonage. These women were dedicated to a life that was all about managing a small house, looking after one another, with some journeys into being governesses and teachers. But always returning to Haworth and the parsonage, and themselves. There is something about a life that is static (or static for the most part), where the tasks beyond writing are known and possibly meditative, and the company is practically yourself. Where there is a routine that is fixed and known to all members of the household, where the expectations are that the routine is obeyed, and part of that routine is time for creativity. I would imagine that this would either provide the perfect (or close to perfect) space to create, to allow the imagination to fly, or it would be too small, not enough experience: ‘what would I write about because what do I know?’ Clearly, this second option didn’t occur to the Brontes. They were peeling potatoes and cleaning in the morning, and writing up a storm in the afternoon. But together. According to the museum, the front room was where they all worked. There is a little table there with four chairs. They would sit – that is Emily, Charlotte and Anne – and work on their novels. And then they would take a turn around the room, talking about their work and getting the opinions of one another. I can see it. Writing quietly, possibly not even particularly passionately. The scratching of pens on paper, some pauses while searching for a word. Perhaps not Emily here. I was reading Wuthering Heights again after we visited and it flows with such rhythm that I can’t imagine that her pen ever actually left the paper for a minute. Then, after a couple of hours perhaps, they would rise and stretch and begin to walk around the table; a kind of tiny whirlpool and talk about what they have done and what they will do next.
It seems to me that knowing what each day will look like would make the creative experience easier. You are not rushing to catch up, or to learn something new, or being ambushed by stuff you didn’t expect. They were not ‘busy’ in the ways that we are (or like to think we are). And limited expectations. Could I live like this? Who knows? It’s probably not practicable anyway … anymore. But would it offer space in which to write in a sustained manner. Probably.
The Brontes were very little people. About Zelda’s height according to the clothes that are on display in the museum. The parsonage is very little too, but clearly was the right height for them. Their clothes looked like they were not warm enough for the climate. And, shocking for me, the shoes were terrifying. There were indoor shoes, like dainty cloth socks with leather inserts, and then there were outdoors shoes that were wood clogs. These wooden shoes must have been terrible to wear, clunky and probably slippery. How on earth did they walk for hours every day in these shoes? Were their other boots that they could wear?
The place made me sad (most of these museums make me sad). It was sort of right up in your face a bit. In the front room, where the women worked, there was a couch on which Emily died. Really. And then upstairs, there was the room in which Charlotte died. Right here. Practically with a white outline of a body (not really, but it was sort of like that). Anne died in Scarborough. She left the house to try to get well. She lasted four days. She is buried there. She is the only Bronte not under the floor of the church that fronts the parsonage. She must be lonely. I wonder if there has ever been a move to get her back. Apparently, she was buried there because Charlotte wanted to spare her father another dead child.
We left the parsonage to eat at the local pub (the Kings Arms; we didn’t eat in the pub where Patrick Bronte drank – the Black Bull – not sure why). The Kings Arms hosts ‘Haworth’s got talent!’. Hmmm. There were a few locals in the pub, one with a couple of dogs. He was feeding his dogs chips. They were loving them. We had the usual – burgers and so on.
Then Myles went to feed the meter. We waited for him in the main street, stamping our feet with the cold and excited about walking off into the moors to follow in the footsteps in the Brontes.
The car had been clamped. Myles lost his mind. We wasted an hour or so paying the bloke 90 pounds and going to the police station to ascertain if the whole thing was legal and so on. I thought for a moment that we wouldn’t make it into the moor, but I figured: here we are. Let’s do it. So we moved the car to another car park and off we went.
We walked about 5 miles all up. The kids loved it (they were spoiling my mood a little with Paris doing his usual snare drum work, and Zelda recounting TV shows with him and laughing). But the place was working its magic. When we got to the waterfall, where the Brontes apparently stopped on their daily walk to rest and find inspiration, we were all a little awed. Not sure why. We found the stone chair where apparently Emily would sit. We walked a little way up to Top Withens, where Emily found inspiration for Wuthering Heights. But the sun was beginning to set. And I didn’t want to get caught in the dark in the moors. This despite knowing that Cathy and Heathcliff had no probably running over the moors in barefeet to look at the lights at Thrushcross Grange. I read that again when we got home and discovered that they ran across the moor that night five weeks out from Christmas (so about the time we are visiting). Don’t know how on earth they could have run about in the dark on the moor without shoes. Dark and cold. Cold and dark.
On the tiny journey up to Top Withens, Niccolo was trudging behind us. We arrived at a stone wall and stopped to look back, to ascertain the light and to watch Niccolo join us. As he wandered towards us, a sheep (with some dangerous looking horns) made a solemn but apparently determined beeline for Niccolo. Myles and Paris saw the same thing – sheep kills small child. They both tumbled down the hill to save the small child. The sheep changed its mind and trotted off up the hill. It was a close thing.
When we got back to the car, Niccolo was as wet as could be. We had to strip him and wrap him up in a shawl to get him warm. Then the long drive back to Cherry Tree Cottage. We all fell asleep early. Like the dead.