Date: August 28, 2013
I set out today with the intention of hiking to Top Withins on the moors to see the house that’s considered to have been the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. They sell all kinds of walking books in the Visitor Center in Haworth, but I thought I might get some free help at the Parsonage Museum, the old residence of the Brontes. I walk into the gift shop, tell the lady behind the counter what I want to do, and she says the magic words to me: “There’s another place that not many people go to that I can tell you about.” I LOVE discovering off-the-beaten-path places, and this seems to be literally the thing. She says she prefers this walk because it’s more out of the way and takes you past the house that definitely was Emily’s inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, AND it takes you way out on the moors, to Ponden Kirk – Emily’s Penistone Crag! Well. She doesn’t have to talk me into it. She pulls out a map, shows me how to get there, but I’m not at all comfortable with venturing out on my own without a written set of directions. I buy a little book that has several walks in it, including one to Ponden Clough, which takes you past Ponden Kirk.
So. Fortified with an egg salad sandwich and a bottle of water, I set off. First I have a one-mile walk into Stanbury. Tough. Up and down some very steep hills, and most of the way, there is no sidewalk. The roads are very narrow, so I have to be careful of traffic. Finally I reach Back Lane in Stanbury, a little road that branches off the main road and runs up alongside the moors. So far, so good. I’m starting to get excited. Then the book directs me to take the Pennine Way. And it’s here that I start to get very lost.
I come upon a gate with a signpost – very inconspicuous, and the book says nothing about a gate or signpost – but after walking past it a couple of times, I finally notice that the signpost says in faded lettering “Pennine Way.” I go through the little gate and suddenly I’m on a narrow trail descending steeply through thick grass and trees! I come out at the bottom of the trail onto a wide road by Ponden Reservoir. The reservoir was built in the 1870s to supply water to the mills. I look at my directions again. Now I'm supposed to be looking for an access road that runs along the base of the moorland. But I'm clearly not by the moors. I walk all the way to the end of the road, up a steep hill, and back again. I go back to Pennine Way and walk all the way back up to the top of the trail – quite a hike. Retrace my steps. Maybe I missed something. Then I see it. The access road running by the moor! I walk along it, now looking for a kissing-gate that will lead me onto the edge of Stanbury Moor. But what's a kissing-gate? I see a signpost and a little trail leading onto the moor. Is that what I'm looking for? The problem is the book doesn’t give any kind of distances so you don't know how far you should expect to walk before hitting a landmark, and some of the landmarks are vague. "A gate leading onto a path by a wall" could describe a dozen or more places in Haworth!
I decide to take the trail and end up walking a long, long way. At this point I know I'm hopelessly lost, but I don't mind so much anymore. Kind of cool to be able to say "I got lost on the moors," isn't it? The wind is kicking up now, so I really feel like a character in a Bronte novel! And there are sheep everywhere, just wandering around loose. I can’t help stopping to snap pictures of them, like they’re some kind of woolly celebrities. Then over the hill, after not having seen another living soul since I set out, I spy two people approaching – an older couple who look like serious hikers. I wait for them to draw near and ask if they know where Ponden Kirk is. The man very kindly pulls out a map, and after looking for a few minutes, we find it. I’m not even close. Lol… They tell me they’ve just come from seeing Top Withins, which is just up the hill behind them. If I go that way, the trail is clearly marked and will lead me straight back into Haworth past Bronte Falls.
Well, I guess this is what I was meant to see all along. I decide to give up on my Penistone Crag and settle for Wuthering Heights. Some guidebooks will tell you that Top Withins WAS Emily’s inspiration for the Earnshaw house, and some will tell you that it MAY have been. Seeing it, I can believe it was. It looks very plain - a bit mean. Just a stone shelter sitting forlornly in the middle of the moors. There are some guys working on it. Don’t know if anyone lives there now, or what’s being done to it, but I ask them if they know where Ponden Kirk is. They don’t know. And now I REALLY want to go there. If the people who work here don’t even know how to get to it, it must be a pretty rare place.
I hike away from Top Withins and follow the trail across the moors, toward Bronte Falls. Wow. Now I feel truly awed and a little scared. Because I am in the middle of nowhere, and I am on my own. It’s windier up here, but the sun is out. Starting to get a bit boggy too, so I have to watch my step more. I slip a few times. Lots of rocks and uneven ground. And as far as the eye can see, nothing but moors. A large tree off in the distance, a few dots of sheep. As I get closer to the tree, I can hear the falls. I’m actually glad I ended up here instead of Ponden Kirk. Wouldn’t have wanted to miss this. The falls are beautiful, pretty small, but I’m told they used to be more impressive. I cross the stream and set off back toward Haworth. By now, I’m really tired and my legs are killing me. Ready to be sitting down somewhere with a cool drink. But I still have a long two-mile walk ahead of me. As I approach Haworth, I see one of those tourist buses you see going through Times Square all the time – the ones with the open tops so people can sightsee. I laugh to myself. It’s kind of funny to see one of those out here, especially after having walked probably six miles. How do you experience the moors from a bus?
I trudge back into the village, get a drink, and go back to my room at The Apothecary House to rest for a bit, make plans for the rest of the day. I decide to go see the Bronte Parsonage so that I can have tomorrow for trying to find Penistone Crag again. Just cannot leave Haworth without at least attempting it!
There's a wonderful biography of Charlotte Bronte that was written by her good friend and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell. In Charlotte's letters, she describes the parsonage as a very gloomy place, cold. But when I walk up to it I think, "This is beautiful. How could anyone not like living here?" What I'm forgetting is that Haworth looks nothing like it did in Charlotte's time. There was no running water, sewage in the streets, and the parsonage looked out on an overflowing cemetery that had no trees in it. The first room I enter is the dining room. And it’s here that Charlotte, Emily, and Anne would gather in the evenings to write and read their stories to each other, walking round and round the table. I cannot believe I’m in the very room where Wuthering Heights was written! Where Jane Eyre was born! Most of the furniture in the parsonage actually belonged to the Brontes, and the sofa in the dining room is where they believe Emily died. I wander through the rest of the house – Mr. Bronte’s study, the kitchen, then upstairs to the bedrooms. On the landing is the grandfather clock Mr. Bronte would wind every night before going to bed. I see what they call the "Children’s Study" – where Charlotte and her brother and sisters would play and write their “little books.” They actually have one of these on display – the writing so tiny there’s a magnifying glass hovering over the book so you can read the words. I see Charlotte’s room, which she shared with her husband during their brief nine months of marriage before she died. You can also see one of her gowns, her wedding bonnet, her writing desk. There’s a lot to look at and I feel overwhelmed, so I decide to stop trying to see it all, go back downstairs. Stand in the dining room once more. Try to feel what it must have been like. To really take in where I am.
I’m standing in the room where some of my favorite stories were written. Stories that made me want to become a writer.
Tomorrow I'll spend my last few hours in Haworth searching for Emily's elusive Penistone Crag! Will I find it? You'll just have to check back and see!
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.