“I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë was right. August is the time to head to the hills and immerse yourself in the glorious heather moorlands. Because the hillsides of the Upper Calder Valley are so steep, the carpet of heather on the plateau-like uplands is barely visible from down in the dales. It’s only when you venture up onto ‘the tops’ beyond the hay meadows on the shoulders of the hills that you encounter the purple haze.
Last year the heather was late and didn’t come into the full bloom until mid August. But this year it’s early and has already come into flower by the end of July. As with the bilberries, it looks as though it’s a bumper year.
Good spots for heather walks are Wadsworth Moor above Pecket Well, Midgley Moor above Luddenden Dean, Heptonstall Moor above Colden, Walshaw Dean above Hardcastle Crags, and Great Edge above Widdop Reservoir. On a hot summer’s day with the sweet scent of the heather and the bees buzzing all around as they gather the nectar for honey, it’s an intoxicating sensory experience and a visual spectacle not to be missed.
High Waving Heather
High waving heather, ‘neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars;
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man’s spirit away from its drear dongeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.
All down the mountain sides, wild forest lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind;
Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.
Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing for ever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.
13 December 1836
© Photos copyright Lesley Jackson
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë
During the mid 19th century the small Pennine village of Haworth witnessed an extraordinary literary phenomenon. In the space of six years between 1847 and 1853, three remarkable sisters, Charlotte Brontë (1816-55), Emily Brontë (1818-48) and Anne Brontë (1820-49), wrote some of the most powerful and evocative novels in the history of English literature.
Above: Haworth Parsonage, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum
The Brontë sisters grew up at Haworth Parsonage, where their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë (1777-1861), was vicar of Haworth from 1820. It was here that their novels were written and it was this area that provided the inspiration and setting for most of their work.
Educated partly at boarding school but mainly at home, along with their brother Branwell Brontë (1817-48), Charlotte, Emily and Anne were destined to become governesses as their father did not have sufficient means to support them. Writing was their passion from an early age, however, so they aspired to earn their living by this means instead.
In 1846 the Brontë sisters published a joint collection of poems. Their novels appeared shortly afterwards, initially published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë‘s Agnes Grey were all published in 1847, followed by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë in 1848.
Within a year, however, tragedy struck. Emily died of tubercolosis in December 1848, aged only 30, a few months after her brother Branwell. Anne was also struck down by the same disease and died the following year in 1849 at the age of 29.
Charlotte published two further novels during her lifetime, Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853), but she too died young, at the age of 38, in 1854. Her first novel, The Professor, initially rejected for publication in 1847, appeared posthumously in 1857.
Above: Commemorative window and Brontë memorial in Haworth Parish Church
Haworth and Brontë Country
The atmospheric village of Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, is less than 7 miles from Elmet Farmhouse. Steeped in character, its precipitous cobbled main street leads up to the parish church where the Reverend Patrick Brontë preached. Across the graveyard is Haworth Parsonage, where Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë grew up and wrote their extraordinary novels.
Above: Main street and parish church in Haworth
The world-famous Brontë Parsonage Museum is a shrine for all self-respecting Brontë fans. Here you can see where the Brontë sisters lived and worked, admire rare artefacts, such as the tiny manuscripts they wrote as children, and discover what triggered their imagination and prompted them to write such compelling novels and poems.
For information about Brontë200, the Brontë Society’s 5-year programme of events celebrating 200 years since the births of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë, please click here
Above left: Top Withins, wood engraving by John Greenwood. Above right: Heather moorland above Pecket Well, near Haworth
Elmet Farmhouse is in the heart of Brontë Country, so if you want to get a flavour of the rolling Pennine hills and heather moorland landscape that inspired the Brontë sisters and fired their imagination, this is the perfect place to stay. Haworth and Top Withins – the ruined moorland farmhouse said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights – are both within hiking distance of Elmet Farmhouse.
Above left: Crimsworth Dean. Above right: Pecket Well village with heather moorland above
The Haworth Old Road forks off just above the village of Pecket Well and runs through Crimsworth Dean before climbing up over Oxenhope Moor over towards Haworth. Pecket Well Mill, completed in 1858, was built during the Brontë era, and the ancient stone-built hill-top villages of the Upper Calder Valley, such as Heptonstall and Midgley, are very much part of the Brontë sisters’ world. Crimsworth is the surname of the hero in Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, The Professor.
Above left: Crimsworth Memorial. Above right: Heather on Wadsworth Moor
Elmet Farmhouse itself – a yeoman clothier’s house dating back to the early 18th century – is built in the same vernacular style as Wuthering Heights, with stone mullion windows and a huge carved stone fireplace. Curl up in a window seat and read the Brontës’ novels and poems, copies of which await you in the Elmet Farmhouse library. The countryside that inspired these astonishing literary achievements is literally on the doorstep here, so if you want to commune with Charlotte, Emily and Anne, this is the place to come.
Above left: Elmet Farmhouse. Above right: Heptonstall
To discover more about local buildings and places associated with the Brontës, please click here
Brontë Family Chronology
1815 Reverend Patrick Brontë appointed curate of Thornton, near Bradford.
1816-20 Charlotte Brontë is born in 1816, Branwell Brontë is born in 1817, Emily Brontë is born in 1817 and Anne Brontë is born in 1820. The family move to Haworth in 1820 after Patrick Brontë is appointed perpetual curate of Haworth, Stanbury and Oxenhope.
1821 Following the death of Patrick’s wife Maria Brontë, his sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell takes over the running of the Parsonage and oversees the upbringing of his five daughters and son.
1824-5 The Brontë sisters are sent to Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge near Kirkby Lonsdale in 1824, later used as the model for Lowood School in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The two eldest daughters Maria and Elizabeth both become ill at school and die shortly after returning home in 1825, aged 11 and 10 respectively.
1825-30 Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë and their brother Branwell are subsequently educated by their father at home. As children, they start to write their own miniature illustrated books.
1831 Charlotte attends Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, Mirfield in West Yorkshire, to prepare for becoming a governess. She subsequently teaches there and is joined by Emily and Anne.
1839 Emily returns to Haworth after a brief unsuccessful stint as a teacher at Miss Patchett’s School at Law Hill, Halifax.
1840-45 Anne spends five years as a governess with the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, near York.
1841-42 Charlotte and Emily spend a year studying in Brussels, with a view to learning French so that they can open their own school in Haworth, although this never comes to fruition. Emily returns to Haworth in 1842 following her aunt’s death.
1843-44 Charlotte remains in Brussels until 1844, where she falls in love with her married teacher Monsieur Heger. The story of her unrequited passion later forms the subject for her novel Villette.
1846 Charlotte, Emily and Anne use their aunt’s legacy to publish a book of poems under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. After this they focus their attention on writing novels.
1847 Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, The Professor, is rejected, but her second novel, Jane Eyre, is published in October 1847 and causes a literary sensation. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey are both published in December 1847, prompting considerable speculation about the authors.
1848 Following the publication of Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the true identities of the Brontë sisters are revealed. Before they can enjoy the fruits of their literary success, their bother Branwell dies of tuberculosis in September 1848 at the age of 31. Tragedy strikes again as Emily is struck down by the same disease and dies on 19 December 1848 at the age of 30.
1849 Shortly after Emily’s death, Anne is also diagnosed with tuberculosis and dies in Scarborough on 28 May 1849 at the age of 29. Grief-stricken, Charlotte immerses herself in writing. Her third novel, Shirley, is published in October 1849.
1850-53 Charlotte is feted as a successful novelist and meets other literary figures such as William Thackeray and Elizabeth Gaskell, but is still weighed down by grief for the death of her siblings. Her last novel, Villette, is published in 1853.
1854-55 In June 1854 Charlotte marries her father’s curate, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, but her happiness is short-lived as she dies on 31 March 1855 in the early stages of pregnancy at the age of 38.
1857 Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, is published posthumously in 1857. Elizabeth Gaskell’s memoir The Life of Charlotte Brontë, is published the same year.
1861 Patrick Brontë dies at Haworth at the age of 84, having outlived all his children.
For more detailed information about the Brontës’ family history, please click here
© Text and images copyright Elmet Farmhouse