“Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold. I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights.“ Yup, you guessed it, this top has a certain famous literary connection with a book that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed, having felt nothing but repulsion for the lead characters. Still, I wasn’t going to let that stop us climbing it.
We had actually thought we were done bagging for the day after our earlier visit to Ilkley Moor. We thought we’d run out of time. However, on arrival at Haworth YHA (after atrocious traffic jams through Keighley) the thought occurred to Jim and I that an evening walk with Jim’s new headtorch may well be in order. We bolted a quick and delicious YHA dinner and called Jus and Cat to see if they wanted to join us. Unfortunately their splendid navigational skills had meant that they’d taken the scenic route to their B&B – that’s a polite way of saying it had taken then 45 minutes to find their way to the only cobbled street in the village. Apparently having failed to find it in Haworth they had for some strange reason driven to a completely different village just in case it had been moved. As a result all they wanted to do was to go down the pub.
So it was just Jim and I that hurried out into the gathering gloom. We knew that we were possibly pushing it doing a 6 mile moorland walk in the evening, but at least it was very close to the hostel, and looked from the maps like it was on clear paths. We were there in about 10 minutes (seeing the only cobbled street in the village on the way). Without Jus and Cat doing all their usual changing all their clothes, having a smoke and being uncertain about what to take with them we were out of the car and walking in record time!
We headed through rough grass on the narrow and too-grandly-named Millennium Way at high speed – about 3.6 miles per hour compared to our normal 2.8, according to the GPS. We soon joined the Bronte Way – everything in Haworth and the surrounding area seems to be linked to the Bronte sisters – and followed it along the side of the valley above a stream which seemed to be named at variously Sladen Beck, South Dean Beck and Rough Dike. The Bronte Way was a wide, well made path, and we made swift progress past a few houses, gradually descending the side of the valley to cross the beck at the Bronte Bridge, situated just below the – you guessed it – Bronte Falls. The falls were tiny and not really worthy of being called waterfalls – I don’t know if they get any better when the beck is in spate. A plaque beside the bridge said it was rebuilt in 1990 after having been destroyed in a flash flood the previous year. The tenuous link to the Bronte sisters is that they once came here for a picnic.
Feeling underwhelmed by the literary connections encountered thus far, we proceeded up the brief but stiff climb on the far side of the bridge, soon turning left to continue following the valley along the snappily-titled “Haworth to Hebden Bridge Walk”. Both the scenery and path grew a little wilder, more rugged and more picturesque, but we were still making rapid progress. In fact, we were going fast enough to wonder if we might actually catch the sunset from the hilltop.
We soon joined the Pennine Way and could immediately see why some people called it the Pennine Motorway. We’d seen other paths laid with stone slabs to prevent erosion - here there were two rows of stone slabs, presumably to allow the passage of huge numbers of walkers on this stretch. It’s probably so busy because of the next Bronte attraction, nestled just below the summit.
The heavily restored (but still ruinous) farmhouse of Top Withins is rumoured to be the place that inspired Emily Bronte’s supposed masterpiece “Wuthering Heights”. [Before I get abusive emails from all the Bronte-ists out there, I’ll admit that, despite the much-vaunted symbolism being a bit in-your-face, it was a well written book – it’s just the characters that turned me off it. If you want a moorland-based love story, try Lorna Doone instead – it’s a cracker.] However, the authenticity of this claim seems to be doubted even by the Bronte Society themselves. Take what it says on their plaque on the building:
“This farmhouse has been associated with Wuthering Heights... The buildings, even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described. But the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting...”
It’s flimsy evidence, to say the least. Once again unimpressed we pushed on to the summit, which at least was solidly there and indisputably the highest point in Bradford Unitary Authority. We followed the Pennine Way a little further on so we could get round the head of one of the tributaries of Rough Dike (which sounds like something from Amsterdam, by the way...). The summit was a wide plateau of unremittingly ankle-turning tussocks – suddenly we were slowed to a hopping stumbling gait. The unitary boundary runs across the plateau – based on its position within the top contour ring it’s probably marginally below the highest point of the plateau. We used the GPS to slowly make our way towards the grid reference others had quoted, but to be quite honest the county top could have been anyway within a miserable 300 metre radius. We took the obligatory summit shot, having missed the sunset by more than we expected, and staggered our way back to the Pennine Way.
A rapid descent of the hill followed, albeit on a slightly different route to the ascent. For ankle safety in the gathering gloom we stayed on the Pennine Motorway all the way until the turning direct down to the Bronte Bridge, rather than taking the slightly rougher Haworth to Hebden Bridge Walk. As it turned out we did not need Jim’s headtorch at all (I think he was a bit disappointed). Let’s face it, there’s usually enough natural light in the countryside to find your way by anyway, but in this instance our progress was aided by a chap at Bronte Bridge with a yellow jacket so flourescent that it illuminated the land for miles around.
After a final word from young Emily (“I am now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to find sufficient company in himself”) we headed back to the youth hostel. And I’d like to say that Haworth YHA is a cracker. Set in an old mansion with gorgeous if somewhat faded decor, it even has a ballroom (we didn’t dance!), along with pool (Jim won) and table football (I won). More to the point, it stocks local real ale. We toasted the ten county tops we’d bagged today (which had taken us past the 150 mark) with a couple of beers. Jim said that the Black Gold from Skipton’s Copper Dragon brewery was “a bit chewy”, although i felt it grew on you after a while. However, I can thoroughly recommend the delightfully fragrant and fruity “Wonkey Donkey” from the Goose Eye brewery in Keighley which more than made up for the traffic congestion there (or maybe actually caused it...?!)