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Haworth to Top Withens

Last Friday my husband and I dropped our son at school and set off once more for Haworth. We headed there a couple of weeks ago, a few days after losing our old cat Maisie, to try and walk to Top Withens, known to many as the possible inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Grief made us long for the hills, our home was too sad to be in. But that day it rained and rained and we had to abandon our plans, retreat to the cafe for a warming drink and cake. Practically everything was closed in Haworth and we returned home feeling damp and rather defeated. Almost one month on and we are feeling a little better, although still missing our furry friend a great deal. This time the weather forecast looked more promising, so we made plans to walk the 7.5 mile round trip to Top Withens. 

I don't really consider myself a walker, although it is something I'm starting to show more of an interest in as I get older. I'm needing to get more active as I'm not as fit as I once was, so 7.5 miles was a bit of a challenge. I won't go anywhere unless I know there is food at the end of it, preferably a pub lunch with a pint of the local beer, although this being a week day that wasn't going to happen as we had to collect the boy from school. Instead, my husband promised me lunch at Cobbles and Clay in Haworth (a super little cafe with the nicest bowl of lentil soup you could possibly wish for on a cold winter day). 

It's well signposted to Top Withens and the markers are in Japanese as well as English (there are a tremendous amount of visitors from Japan in the summer keen to visit the Bronte locations and I think it's brilliant that the signs reflect this). Once you leave the village you are pretty much in the middle of nowhere and we found ourselves deep in mist and snow flurries. It was quiet, although there were  a few dog walkers at the start of our trip. As we got further into the moorland we saw no-one else for a good hour, then we came across a woman on her own fell running. I don't think I'd ever be that brave. The path is quite hard going in places, lots of climbing and steep descents, many of which had icy patches and had to be taken slowly and with care. The last thing I wanted was to fall over up there. But for every tough part of the track you are struck by the sheer beauty of the moors - the bleakness, the calls from the grouse who leap out at you unexpectedly making you jump with fright, the miles and miles of stone walls traversing up the steepest of hills and the thoughts running through your head of how on earth did anyone live in these conditions and work this land?

Silence is of different kinds, and breathes different meanings.
— Charlotte Bronte
I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free...Why am I so changed? I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills.
— Emily Bronte

On the way to Top Withens we took a slight detour to the Bronte falls which I'm sure in summer must have been a perfectly lovely spot for the sisters to have a picnic. I was rather nervous of crossing the very thin strip of stone bridge that crosses the water for it was covered in ice. But thankfully I made it over to the other side and hiked up the hill for the last part of our journey to reach the farmhouse. It felt a lot longer than 2.5 miles at this stage of the walk and so much of it was battling wind, snow and ice. We'd been going for quite some time and at this point I was feeling shattered, my legs were shaking with the sheer exertion of climbing on the rough terrain and I was getting to the point where I didn't think I'd make it. The signpost said there was another 1 mile to go so I battled on, determined to get to the end (I was trying not to think about the return journey). I didn't want to come so close and then give up. My face was bright red, my hair looked like it had been permed really badly and I was sweating - it was such a good look for me. 

The sun then came out for a few minutes and coats came off as we were hot. As we edged closer to the farmhouse, we were once more plunged into mist and drizzle. Coats went back on. It's an eerie, strange place and it does make you feel like you have stepped into a gothic novel. The farmhouse itself is mostly a ruin, although some repairs have been done which slightly spoils the overall effect (I'm sure it'll be for Health and Safety reasons). Someone had left a heart wreath with Christmas decorations and more recently a little posy of daffodils. It's a place that means something to a lot of people and it's easy to see why. The moors are a special place indeed. 

There is always a but in this imperfect world!
— Anne Bronte

Returning is a much more straightforward affair. We followed the gravel path on the Pennine Way, which is much easier underfoot. You cross over the beautiful Lowther Laithe Reservoir, wandering through pretty little villages and then a final hike up a bridleway into Haworth. Back for a warming bowl of that lentil soup, a quick trip into Rose & Co and the traditional sweet shop. Sadly the vintage book store was closed. I'm super proud of myself for walking 7.5 miles, my muscles ached for days but I'd do it all over again, although I think next time I'll tackle it in the summer, take a flask and a picnic and sit for a while at Top Withens. It's important to have good footwear to do this walk, a waterproof jacket and take a bottle of water (we didn't bring a drink and it was a mistake). If you want to visit Top Withens there are several places to park the car and walk up the Pennine Way, so it's slightly closer and easier. But it's not as impressive as heading out of the village as you are immediately out on the moors and blown away by their mysterious beauty. 

We printed out this walking guide from The Guardian as a back-up for our walk. It came in really useful, particularly on the way back to Haworth. 

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