The Yorkshire Moors of Wuthering Heights
by Magdalena Zenaida
The moors are temperamental. When my daughter and I arrived at Keighley station, the gateway to Bronte’s Haworth, the air was mild and we sweated underneath our jackets. The stone buildings glistened beneath a slight drizzle and thin clouds hid the sun. It appears serenely pastoral at first glance, with cows and sheep gently munching on the dewy grass. But it is also cut with craggy rocks through which the wind slices unapologetically, reservoirs churning with icy depths. It isn’t a countryside to be patronized, and so it is only fitting that these Yorkshire moors are also known as Bronte country, and are home to the recently opened Ponden Hall.
If you love Wuthering Heights devoutly, the words “bed and breakfast” can inspire fear. Would the broad beamed ceilings and mossy walls be protected, or would they be swallowed up into an upscale conversion? Bronte’s “Thrushcross Grange”, or as it is known in reality, Ponden Hall, is exactly as its hero and heroine would have it.
Our taxi driver crawled around the corner of the dirt road and I saw a walled garden where we were met by Stephen Brown, one-half of the inn’s proprietors.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take your bags,” he said as he stepped out the front door. I ushered my daughter into the long, narrow hallway lined with wellies and jackets. It is still a family home. We entered the sitting room to the right and met the home’s other half- Julie Akhurst, a warm and inviting hostess bearing tea and cookies.
The home was deeply and utterly as much the Bronte experience as it ever had been. The large beams stretch across the ceiling, the hearth spreads out commanding the room, and the fragile windowpanes traced along the windows. A long broad table that is as much a centerpiece to the room as the hearth, both inviting you to sit, stay, and join, in that room.
We were upgraded you to the Heaton Room, the first of many kindnesses Our room was as if a home of its own. Two twin beds were at opposite ends of the room while a large four-poster graced the interior wall. Stephen had built a warm fire in the hearth in front of the chairs and sofa, and the ceiling reached up to a height that made the room grander than a suite. It was quiet enough to hear the cows chewing the grass outside our window, and when we went to bed, a slight wind rattled the windows occasionally, but seemed to promise calm.
In the middle of the night, the winds came, creating all of the taps and rattles that vex an old house. The long, broad gusts animated for the ears how they must be sweeping across the land, merely brushing against this house in its path. Though in a cozy four-poster bed nestled in the softest of pillows and blankets, we both slept fitfully. If the sea lulls you to sleep, the wild winds toss your spirit about, raising and twisting it above the earth, toying with your dreams. I read part of my treasured Wuthering Heights quietly, wondering if I was really in the home that inspired Bronte’s Catherine Heathcliff to come to as a haughty and tempestuous bride to Edgar Linton.
Despite the protective comfort of our warm duvets, we eagerly came down for traditional British breakfast. The Akhurst-Brown family invited us to join them at dinner because it would be late for us to take a taxi to the local pub the previous night and Julie proved she is an excellent cook with a delicious squash soup. Julie came in and out of the kitchen juices, fresh eggs, and warm homemade bread. Stephen pulled two large pillows in front of the stone fireplace so my daughter could sprawl out on the stone floors and watch cartoons. Listening to the family move behind us in the daily lives added more warmth to the room, aside from their heated stone floors and their giant Aga stove, than I ever could have imagined. Indeed it felt as if the haunted souls of Wuthering Heights had been set free.
Yet the real roaming of the imaginative spirit isn’t contained within any historic walls as much as it is in the land they call “Bronte Country.” Only a foolish writer would contend to describe the moors better than Emily and her “bleak hilltop of the earth.” It is best to just walk it. It isn’t a very arduous hike to get to Top Withens, the ruins that some historians claim to be Wuthering Heights. Whether it merely lore or not no longer seems to matter when standing at its viewpoint. The ragged horizon of the land provides an understanding why Bronte dreamed up a freedom from “unquiet slumber” for her lovers upon their beloved earth.
The Akhurst-Browns understand the importance of the fabled spirit, and have helped recreate history from fantasy in Ponden Hall. In the Earnshaw room they created a box bed, designed in exact specification to the one described in the novel. On the windowsill sits a large old bible, open as the intrepid narrator was supposed to have left it. But there are so many factual delights as well, as that very window was supposed to inspire the frightening scene in which the ghost of Catherine Heathcliff tries to claw her way back into the home.
I reread part of Wuthering Heights before bed again during my second night. So much of the book continues long after the lovers have been parted and the actual homes, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, become a focus as hope remains alive on the wild and rocky moors; something, quiet, peaceful, and warm enters those haunted grounds. The Akhursts-Browns have created Ponden Hall as a fulfillment of literary destiny- a haunting history within hallowed walls illuminated by new traditions, vibrant and comforting. As it continues evolving Ponden Hall seems even more immortal than ever.
If You Go:
♦ Ponden Hall is open year round. Rooms are available from 85 pounds per night. Tour and tea time is available for 10 pound per head, call in advance. Ring: 01535648608 Web: Address: Haworth, BD22 0HR
♦ Keighley Station can be arrived at via National Rail Services from Leeds. Services to Leeds from London’s Kings Cross are available daily.
About the author:
Magdalena Zenaida has been traveling for about as long as she has been writing. Her children’s book, An Honest Boy, Un Hombre Sincero won the 2014 International Latino Book Award for best first children’s book. She has also written travel pieces for Matador Network, InTravel Magazine, and DeSuMama. www.magdalenazenaida.com
All photos courtesy of Ponden Hall.