High up on the Pennines above Haworth is the ruin of an abandoned farm house, known as Top Withens. It’s long been rumoured to have been the location Emily Brontë had in mind when she wrote Wuthering Heights, because of its remote location and the obvious similarity in name. On a less literary note, it’s also been the destination of some of the coldest, wettest walks I’ve ever endured/ enjoyed, a place where I’ve discovered the folly of cheap waterproof gear and have vowed to invest in Gore-tex if I ever make it back to civilisation, and been harrassed for a share of my soggy sandwiches by mean-eyed West Yorkshire sheep.
Mr Kirstwrites and I have fond memories of slogging it up to Top Withens on several occasions in our youth. On a wet day it’s the kind of walk that helps you understand why Branwell Brontë felt the need to over-indulge in malt liquors; Pennine rain and mud certainly make you feel you’ve earned a few of pints in front of a roaring fire. But we’d never taken the 12YO and 6YO up there, thinking it was perhaps too tough a walk for their little legs… Until this weekend, when a dry-ish looking weather forecast and a hankering for the wide open spaces inspired us to give it a go.
Turns out that little legs are perhaps better equipped for running across moors than we thought, as both girls behaved like sheep dogs let off the lead, and ran most of the four mile walk. Given that being asked to take toys upstairs to their bedrooms can cause them to fling themselves sobbing on the floor because they’re “soooo tired!”, this amount of energy and enthusiasm was unexpected, but very nice to see. I don’t know if it’s just a sense of excitement at being in such a wide open space, because really, it is massive up there. You feel like you’re on top of the world.
The plaque on the ruined farmhouse, with its disclaimer from the Brontë Society that this is NOT Wuthering Heights and any resemblance is purely coincidental etc, has never entirely convinced me. I know, there’s no evidence, and the layout of the building doesn’t match Emily Brontë’s description, but really? If you’ve ever been up at Top Withens when the light is fading and the wind is howling…
And walking back down the hill, it’s only too easy to imagine Mr Lockwood, floundering his way back down from Wuthering Heights in a blizzard, getting stuck in snow drifts.
Luckily there were no snow drifts for us, and we made it back down to Haworth in plenty of time for a round of hot chocolates at the Villette Tea Rooms. We were walking for just over 2 hours and covered maybe 4 miles. Obviously it’s bleak country up there, and despite being well-signposted, you do need a map and sensible outdoor clothing, but the route was easy enough for two energetic children. It’s encouraged me to look around and see what other family friendly walking routes we could find in West Yorkshire. And it’s also reminded me that I’m incredibly lucky to live so close to such wonderful and inspiring scenery.