Sunday, 8 June 2008

This favourite holiday memory

This week's "This Is" theme was suggested by Hila. Interestingly, she included a holiday memory that's a bit like mine!

Sadly, I have no photos to show of the week I spent in Haworth, England, although I've borrowed a few from tourist sites for the purpose of this story. All my photos from this holiday are pre-digital - from 1998 when I was in England for the first, and so far only time. At the end of this particular part of my trip there, I could have gone home happy, and I probably should have, because the rest of the trip was pretty ordinary. At that point, I'd done what I most longed to do.

The day I travelled by train to Leeds, then got a bus to the small village of Haworth is still very clear to me. I dumped my stuff in the backpacker's hostel and before I left, called my mum said, 'I'm here! I'm really in Haworth.' I just couldn't believe it.

Haworth, if you don't know, was the home of the Bronte sisters and since I was a little girl, I'd loved them. When I thought of going to England, I thought first and foremost of seeing Haworth.

I walked down the long road from the hostel into the village and straight up that narrow cobblestone path that leads to the parsonage that was their home. I know I was still young, and that I was alone and therefore all senses were heightened, but I really can't overstate the importance of first stepping into the graveyard and finally being there.

For the duration of my week's stay in Haworth this was my base. I went into the parsonage, now a museum, at least once a day to look at wonders there in their rooms and to try and feel them. I make no apology for sounding overly gushy here. This was the culmination of twenty years of love and I wasn't going to waste a moment.

The first night in Haworth, I went into the Black Bull pub where Branwell Bronte spent much of his time. I drank a beer and wondered where all the people were. Then I heard the barman talking about the soccer game that night. England was playing. Clearly everyone was at home and I left there feeling a bit sad and lonely. Even being in the home of your literary heroes can't make up for the feeling of isolation that comes from drinking alone in an empty pub on a Friday night.

Soon, I made friends in Haworth. I'm sure they see Aussie tourists a lot but for some reason, I fell in with a bunch who were amazed by my accent and, after the isolation of London, I found those northerners so welcoming. I hadn't made friends in London. I couldn't connect. But in Haworth I did.

Most notably, I met two brothers who were in their 40s and who told me that every year, they left their families and went to Yorkshire for a walking holiday. Together they crossed the moors and spent what they unashamedly described as time reconnecting with each other. I therefore felt honoured when they invited me to join them on part of one of their walks. They told me that they'd part ways with me at some point, because they were there to walk together, but for some reasonable distance, we traipsed together and though I can't remember a thing we talked about, they were kind and welcoming and made me feel included.

Towards the end of the week, I was brave enough to walk out on the moors alone. At the bottom of the parsonage graveyard is a sign pointing to 'Top Withins' - the ruins of a stone cottage which local mythology says is the building Emily Bronte conjured when she dreamed up Wuthering Heights.

Off I went. Those small, plain wooden signs are sparse on the moors and after some hours, I felt certain I was lost. Miles and miles stretched either side and I had no supplies and felt suddenly quite isolated. Nevermind, I thought, I'll just keep going. How hard can it be? This is a tourist trail, after all. I'll meet other tourists.

In winter. Oh how naive we are when young!

I did finally make it to Top Withins and truly, I felt like I was sitting on top of the world. It's a tumble down ruin, a low wall of stones set high up on the moors, miles of vivid landscape all around. I sat and I dreamed. I soaked it in. Whether or not it's the real Wuthering Heights of her imagination, no one knows. But it might have been and I loved it.

After a while, two figures came walking towards me in the distance and for some time, I had no idea who they were but when I did work it out, I was delighted. It was the two brothers I'd befriended! Soon, they joined me sitting on the wall and shared with me a hip flask of whisky. We looked out at land and sky and passed some lovely, reflective time.

Eventually, they moved on and pointed me in the right direction. I headed for the village and somehow found my way, arriving back quite late and feeling sure I was lucky. My sense of direction is crap when I have a map and ready street signs and landmarks.

Haworth, Yorkshire remains my favourite travel memory to this day. I'd go back there in a heartbeat.