Station to station: a walk in Brontë country | Holidays in the UK

IIn 1861, the civil engineer John McLandsborough made a trip to Haworth, declaring himself a “pilgrim at the shrine of Charlotte Brontë”. The author had died six years earlier and people were curious to see where she and her sisters had been born, raised and where she and her sisters had been so deeply inspired. McLandsborough was surprised to find that there was no railway line so, despite being an expert on sewers and drains, he proposed a branch line connecting Haworth with the Midland Railway at Keighley. Six years later, a line was opened through the beautiful valley of Worth.


The line closed in 1961, just before Beeching cut hundreds of local services, but thanks to the efforts of an army of volunteers, the Keighley & Worth Valley line still runs every weekend and some weekdays in the summer, connecting six rural stations in just under five miles .

I can’t think of a more fitting route to start this new series of car-free walks. Despite the justifiable controversy over rail fares, there is still no better way to plan a hike: you can see two places, maybe spend a night on them. you don’t have to retrace your steps to pick up a vehicle. and there is something satisfying about walking freely from station to station.

This walk, from Haworth to Hebden Bridge, is an absolute cracker. It is 13 miles long, but mainly involves gentle gradients and very high, flat, moorland walking. Anyone reasonably fit can take it on – I’ve met plenty of retirement age runners along the way – and navigation is minimal. Much of the trail is flagged or consolidated to protect the surrounding bogs.

Haworth’s main street. Photo: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

I hadn’t been to Haworth in years – decades, in fact. I expected gentrification. Always too pretty to be rough and, certainly, steep, quaint Hovis-ad-Main Street is lined with cafes, delicatessens, bookshops, craft shops, galleries (“Wuthering Arts”) and gift shops. I needed a coffee, so I popped into Fairtrade cafe-bakery Hunters of Haworth, where patron chef Nick made me a perfect brew. I had prepared a ham sandwich, but I couldn’t resist putting one of his towering grass pies in my backpack. I asked Nick if the city was very smart these days. “The curtains may have changed, but not the furniture,” he said. The secondaries haven’t spoiled things – not yet, anyway.

I walked up the hill, taking the path behind the church – not just any church, of course, but the one where the Reverend Patrick Brodet preached. It was early on a Sunday morning and there were already people milling around the Brontë Parsonage Museum – a secular church of sorts. I took the rugged frontage of the house through the lovely graveyard – it’s an evocative setting – before setting off on Penistone Hill Country Park.

Even without the English and Japanese signs, the path to Top Withens is easy to find. It’s four miles each way, and a popular excursion for those who park and dine in Haworth. But still it’s great. Once you leave Haworth you’re on heather-clad moorland, which makes for a stunning contrast to the sheep-cut fields in the valley to the south.

The trail climbs steadily, passing through a sheer cliff (or valley) via a clapper bridge (there is a waterfall at times, but it hadn’t rained properly for weeks). Some walkers had eleven. Even as I tried to remember passages from my A-levels about Cathy’s love as “the rocks of eternity”, I was humming Kate Bush.

Top Withens is said to be the farmhouse Emily had in mind when she imagined the house in Wuthering Heights. A somewhat preserved “ruin”, it’s still a magical place. A few trees (it only had to be two) add to the drama and romance of the location. The wet clouds darkened the purples and blacks of the moor. Skyscrapers fell in cascades, a few red grouse squawked low, and the wind blew heartily, if not quite ominously. I drank half my bottle of tea behind a dry stone wall.

Stoodley Pike Monument in Brown Swamp
Stoodley Pike Monument to the Defeat of Napoleon. Photo: Peter Jeffreys/Alamy

From this landmark, the Pennine Way takes up most of the walk. Few people seemed to join me on the slow, steady tramp over many mooring peaks, in a southwesterly direction. From the highest point, just half an hour in, I had a wide-open view of Stoodley Pike – a monument to Napoleon’s defeat – and distant hills dotted with wind farms.

The track took me past Walshaw Dean, a trio of large reservoirs, built between 1900 and 1913 to serve the Calder Valley. Waterfowl skimmed the calm edges. I heard curlews and more partridges. A little chick flew up to warn me to leave her nest at the edge of the third tank.

From here, there are several routes to Hebden Bridge. A sharp left takes you through Hardcastle Crags, a wooded valley preserved by the National Trust (with the option of a pint at the whitewashed Pack Horse Inn, built in 1610). The Pennine Way and Pennine Bridleway continue south-southeast. I followed a mixture of these last two, passing another reservoir, Gorple Lower, before heading east. I was vaguely tracing a line using the Ordnance Survey OL21 map, but once I spied St Thomas’ Church, Heptonstall, I knew where I was going.

The Packhorse Bridge at Hebden Bridge.
The Packhorse Bridge at Hebden Bridge. Photo: Rory Prior/Alamy

I never planned to go on a literary adventure, but since I was passing through, I visited Sylvia Plath’s grave in the churchyard of St. Thomas. It’s a simple affair, with the part of Hughes’ name in a different state thanks to repeated distortions and a poignant epitaph, “Even amid wild flames may the golden lotus be planted,” apparently from the Bhagavad Gītā. Nearby, I had spotted a sign for Lumb Bank, 18u-the century mill owner’s house bought by Ted Hughes in the late 1960s. today it is the home of the Arvon Foundation, which teaches creative writing.

I remembered Heptonstall in the 1990s as an almost too perfect village. It still looks like it: neat with film, filled with lovely stone terraces, and now with its own cafe and patisserie. It’s all downhill from here to Hebden, via the old cobbled horse road. Hebden Bridge, less a village these days than a fully developed town, with pubs, restaurants galore, cinema, market, antique shops, Trades Club music venue – you name it – all crammed into a few dozen lanes at the bottom of a valley. It was almost 4pm, though, and there was a quietness in the streets, as if I’d caught the place between meetings, and with most of the day-trippers already on their way back to Manchester and beyond. I walked slowly down various memory lanes – I lived here in 1993, moving suitcases to teach in Nelson – before arriving at the station.

How to do it

Keighley is in Airedale Line between Skipton and Leeds and Bradford Forster Squarewith hourly service up to Lancaster and Morecamp; there are occasional trains to Carlisle via Settle. The particularly run Keighley and Worth Valley Railway operates from the same station.

Hebden Bridge is located at Caldervale Line between Leeds and Manchester There are also direct services to Blackpool North, Chester, Coarse cloth and York.

If you must return to Haworth, the Bus B3 Brontë operates hourly, seven days a week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *