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With its rolling valleys, timeless villages and wild moors, it’s no wonder Yorkshire is known as God’s Own Country. Head to the North for a trip from the home of the Brontës to the windswept coast.
Haworth: Best for Brontës
It’s half an hour before opening at Haworth’s Brontë Parsonage Museum, and the house’s corridors are unusually quiet – save for the tick-tock of a grandfather clock, the occasional creak of a wooden floor and the twitter of thrushes in the trees outside. At the front, gabled windows look over cobbled lanes and the village churchyard; from the rear, the view is altogether wilder, revealing windswept heath, dry-stone walls and a moody, iron-grey sky.
‘It’s a privilege to be in the house when it’s quiet like this,’ notes Pat Berry, a lifelong Brontë enthusiast who now works at the museum as a curator and guide. ‘This is when you experience the house as the sisters would have known it. Sometimes, I can almost hear the scratch of their pens coming from the rooms upstairs.’
England has many artistic landmarks, but few can match the literary cachet of Haworth Village. This quiet Yorkshire village was where the three best-known of the Brontë sisters – Anne, Charlotte and Emily – were born, lived and penned their most famous works, including Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights.
The village is inextricably linked with the sisters’ work: their books are full of locations from the village, and it’s thought that they modelled many of their characters on its residents. A short walk across the moors is the famous waterfall where they gathered for picnics and alfresco reading sessions; further on is the ruined farmstead of Top Withens, supposedly the model for Heathcliff’s house in Wuthering Heights.
‘The girls lived nearly their entire lives here, so really their whole world was Haworth,’ Pat explains. ‘It’s only once you’ve visited that you realise what an important part the village, and Yorkshire generally, plays in their work. It makes you view the books in an entirely different way.’
She opens the door into the parsonage’s parlour, where the sisters worked together at wooden writing palettes, exchanging ideas, discussing themes and reading their latest passages. Upstairs, the bedrooms are filled with their furniture, clothes and possessions: in one cabinet is a set of miniscule books they wrote as children, filled with spidery scrawl that’s only legible through a magnifying glass.
Sadly, the sisters’ own story had a tragic ending. Anne, Emily and their brother Branwell died within eight months of each other between 1848 and 1849; Charlotte followed six years later, soon after marrying the village curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. But the Brontës’ early deaths only seem to have intensified their readers’ fascination: Haworth has become a place of pilgrimage, and each year thousands of people flock to the village to wander the lanes, the moors and settle in for tea in one of its cafés.
‘This place gives us a wonderful insight into the sisters’ lives,’ Pat says, as visitors begin to file through the parsonage’s front door, many clutching dog-eared copies of the Brontës’ novels. ‘They were so close to each other that we really shouldn’t view each book in isolation. In one way, they’re all chapters in a larger story.’
Where to eat
Steps from the Parsonage Museum, Weaver's serves Haworth's best bistro food, from crackly pork belly to slow-cooked Pennine lamb (dinner mains from £17).
Where to stay
Eleven miles south of Haworth, at the bottom of a peaceful river valley, Shibden Mill Inn has made a name for itself as one of southern Yorkshire's cosiest getaways. The inn is full of 17th-century charm, with crackling fires, low beams and a great bistro menu, and the rooms are countrified and cosy (rooms from £105).