02 Jul 2013 In Search of Heathcliff on The Yorkshire Moors
“Heathcliff, Heathcliff,” I whisper but the wind claims victory over my words. I raise my voice and am more than a little disappointed when there’s no reply.
Mud-splattered stained cloth slapping round my ankles, I hitch up my petticoats and splodge on through the quaking bog. Heavy high-laced boots, the only sensible thing I’m wearing, are patterned with half-dried mud and squelch protest as I clamber over the uneven stones. Once reaching higher ground, gloomy crags indicate the way to heaven.
There’s not even a sheep in sight; heavily charged clouds slump their way across the disconsolate sky and the wind is clearly preparing for an outburst.
Untameable, ravenous, starkly lonely, the moors pulse with freedom, which creeps out of every crack in brash purples and cloying earthy perfumes. Gingerly crossing the oozing beck, I reach a sign in Japanese pointing the way to Top Withins, which stands at 1,400ft.
“Wuthering”, a word taken from Old Norse, meaning “roaring like the wind of a stormy day” seems a fitting epithet, despite there being no sign of a storm. The ruins of Top Withins farmhouse bare a plaque laid by the Brontë Society, which quite frankly states that the house bears no resemblance to the dwelling described by Emily Brontë in her novel but “the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the Heights.” Rather an anti-climactic result for a literary pilgrim, however, resting here long enough in the damp, inadequate shelter provided by gnarled sycamores, it would surely be quite possible to develop a romantic dose of consumption.
Charlotte Brontë wrote, “My sister Emily loved the moors. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights, and not the least and best loved was liberty.”
Away from prying eyes and conventions of society, the artistic Brontë sisters surely must have found pure independence here and space to let their imaginations fly. Accompanied only by the elements, they were at liberty to act and speak as they pleased, fully out in the open, yet almost surely without being seen. Even today, although you may encounter enthusiastic walkers and romantic souls in search of inspiration at the Brontë shrine, the vast expanse of the moors means it is possible to remain in almost complete solitude.
This invigorating sense of freedom permeates the earth and makes you believe anything is possible in this place, that even wandering ghosts may meet again and be reconciled. The relentlessly buffering wind certainly blows the cobwebs away, paints rosy cheeks and cripples the fingers.
Half paralysed from an overdose of “pure, bracing ventilations”, I dare to call out again. On receiving no reply, retracing my steps seems the most sensible course of action. Clutching my pilfered sprigs of heather I reluctantly pick my way back across the muddy paths and set off in search of a cup of tea in the village below, to thaw the ice out of my veins. Something more than the chill touched my soul on the heights. Perhaps Heathcliff will leave the window open for my next visit?
About the Author: Sarah Humphreys: I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I am originally form near Liverpool in the Uk but I’ve lived in The USA, Greece, The Czech Republic and Italy. I’ve been living in Pistoia, near Florence for 15 years, where I teach English. I am passionate about poetry, Literature, music and travel. Find me on Facebook.