I have been ill. So ill. And extremely self-pitying. But I feel like I’ve turned a corner today. I can breathe through both nostrils and I have gone approximately two hours without a coughing fit. Yass. At least I haven’t had to rush off and go to work or keep any urgent appointments. I’ve stayed snuggled up on the couch watching Parks and Recreation and Outlander (still catching up on Season One but appreciating it even more now that I live in Scotland!) and doing some creative writing. As of this morning, I have 40,000 words on a current project. Unemployment win! However, I shall not be unemployed for much longer! Mid-May, I start a two-day-a-week job in a library! I am over the moon. I would like a few more hours, but I have the chance to look for additional work now, while still knowing there will be some money coming in, and that the work is related to my career path (something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to obtain while living overseas). In the meantime, I’ve still managed to get out and about to see a few things, in between bouts of resting. Sean and I went to the National Museum to see an exhibition on the Celts. This was awesome. I could not get over the artefacts they had on display – jewellery and handicrafts and stone work that were around 2,500 years old, discovered all over Europe, and revolutionising the way historians think about the Celts as a social group. Oh, and afterwards, we found an excellent Thai restaurant and I ate my weight in soup. Sean has also been baking bread. It tastes amazing and is best when it is still warm from the oven. Not having work can be boring at times, but you get to do cool things like bake bread, so it’s not all bad. I also have made contact with the Scottish branch of the Jane Austen Society. My buddies back home actually contacted them before I left Australia and told them to expect communication from me. As a result, I was taken out for lunch by three members of the branch and we had a wonderful time talking all things Jane and eating Cullen skink, a traditional Scottish meal that tastes so much better than it sounds! The first meeting I will be attending is in May, in Edinburgh, but there are other meetings throughout the year in Glasgow, Linlithgow, and Dunfermline, so I’m looking forward to getting out and about with them. We’re currently waiting for an electrician to come and fiddle with our flat, so I’ll hop off the internet now. I’m re-reading The Kite Runner for a book club that I’ve joined so plenty to get through in the meantime 🙂
Another day, another literary pilgrimage. Yesterday, I rose at the crack of dawn (well…6.45am, which is more than early enough for me) and ninja-d my way around so I didn’t wake Sean before heading to the train station and commencing a journey just shy of five hours long. I took the train to Lancaster and sat opposite a lovely Nepalese girl and then changed trains to a local line, getting off at Keighley. I know I say it a lot, but this really was one of the prettiest train journeys I’ve ever been on. I had good music to listen to (King Eider) and a good book to read (A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf), but I could not tear my eyes away from the scenery out my window. Every time I’d start reading again, I’d be distracted by a sudden blur of green in my peripheral vision. I’d look out the window to see the greenest fields and hills I’ve ever come across, all speckled with little farmhouses and babbling brooks and tiny, baby lambs that were racing around crazily. I saw rabbits and pheasants and centuries-old walls made of stone and the neatest little villages. I don’t think the sight of all this beauty will ever become commonplace to me. I feel like I am in every storybook from my childhood, in the idyllic settings of my favourite novels. Just beautiful.
Once in Keighley, I walked to the bus station and caught a quick bus (only about 20 minutes) to the picture-perfect village of Haworth, most famous as the place of residence of the Bronte family. Even if you’ve never read their work, most people would have at least heard their names, or the titles of their work. Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and disappointing brother Branwell (harsh, but true) grew up in the parsonage, where their father, Patrick, was reverend. The Parsonage is now a museum dedicated to the lives and work of the family. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are novels I love very much, but they are made even more special because of the fact that they were written by members of the same family. These girls were educated, yes, but they weren’t wealthy or privileged or holders of any particularly special societal status. They worked as governesses and Emily and Anne died spinsters while Charlotte enjoyed one year of marriage before her death. Their childhood was, one could argue, quite isolated. Haworth was a quiet village surrounded by wild moors, and despite some travel to Belgium for work and study, all the women ended up back at the home they grew up in before they died.
And yet, the work they are famous for was revolutionary for its time. It was violent and passionate and tackled spiky issues – domestic violence, religion and morality, proto-feminism, the plight of the lower classes, the list goes on. These three quiet, unassuming sisters produced some of the world’s best-loved books and poetry. Scholars have been writing about them for nearly two centuries, and interest in the women and their work is only increasing with more adaptations and criticism being produced every year as well as the approaching bicentenaries of their births (Charlotte is 200 in a few days – April 21). I have waited a long time to see their home.
But first! I was starving. So a giant Yorkshire pudding with roast beef was consumed. THEN it was Bronte time. The Museum is excellent. There are detailed explanations of every room of the house, and countless Bronte artefacts to see. I actually stood in the room where the girls would write. It is thought that Emily died on the couch in this same room. Upstairs there is an exhibition room in an area of the house that was a later extension, and there are plentiful letters and jewellery and all sorts of brilliant little possessions on display. Tracy Chevalier has curated a special exhibition for Charlotte’s bicentenary that emphasises “great and small” – how Charlotte’s literary feats of greatness and brilliance contrasted with the smallness of her physicality (she was a tiny woman) and her obsession with miniatures and intricate artworks, such as the famous tiny books the siblings produced.
There is a brilliant gift shop, of course, but I only bought two things – a copy of Agnes Grey, and a short story by Charlotte, both of which I have never read. Oh, and I bought a map of the local walking tracks. There are…quite a few. The Parsonage overlooks the graveyard of the St Michael and All Angels’ Church, where all the family (except Anne) is buried (and where Papa Bronte was reverend). Unfortunately, the church is closed for refurbishments, and the actual Bronte family plots are inside the building, so I couldn’t see those. But I found a cat, who let me pat him and coo at him so that was okay. Then it was time for a walk down Main Street. This is a long, steep, and cobbled road. It’s lined with lovely shops, most of them featuring some sort of association with the Brontes’ in the name of the shop or the products sold. There are tea shops, second hand book shops, gift shops, restaurants, guest houses, and all sorts. It’s lovely, and I spent too much, mostly on books. But I also bought a Kate Bush postcard, so all is well.
I walked to my hostel, which is a little way away from the main street. I walked through Central Park and uphill for about twenty minutes, stopping frequently to take photos of the absolutely stunning views of Worth Valley, and then found my way to the YHA Haworth hostel. It’s located in a massive, Gothic-style mansion, and my (very affordable) private room is built right under the slanted room, just a little bigger than Harry’s cupboard. It was utterly charming. The place was pretty quiet, but there were a couple of families with children and some hillwalker types. I spent the evening reading and had fish and chips from the hostel kitchens. Then I slept like the dead.
This morning, I was up bright and early again (for me, I mean, bright and early FOR ME). I was in the dining room at 8am and filled up on a yummy full English breakfast in preparation. I walked into town, then had a drink at a lovely cafe on Main Street while I waited until the Museum opened. I had a quick quiz around the shop once it had, then headed off over the moors to Bronte Falls and Top Withens. This is a popular walk, associated strongly with the Brontes’ because we know the sisters frequented the waterfalls and the abandoned farmhouse a mile past the falls (known as Top Withens) is thought to have inspired Emily while writing Wuthering Heights. The map said that the Falls were about two and a half miles from the Parsonage, and Top Withens was another mile or so afterwards. It was the longest freaking walk of my life. It was beautiful – my goodness, was it beautiful – but I hadn’t quite prepared myself mentally for the length. Thankfully, the walk to the Falls is mostly flat. This gives you gorgeous panoramic views over the Worth Valley. The sun was shining and there was a cool breeze, and it apparently rained overnight because it was very muddy in areas and my shoes and jeans got nicely splattered. It felt very authentic. Setting off when I did (about 10am) was a good idea – by the time I was on my walk back (a lifetime later), there were dozens of people out walking the tracks. On my way however, I was mostly alone. This led to many Kate Bush singalongs with myself and practicing my Yorkshire accent (I didn’t bring an iPod and I am a child of the digital age that needs to be constantly entertained). Finally, the Falls! They’re lovely, only a very small ‘waterfall’, nothing exciting, but there is a lovely little stone bridge and some beautiful photo opportunities. There are also the letters C BRONTE carved into a rock…I don’t know how authentic they are but it was cute.
By this stage, I was still optimistic and energetic – Top Withens was only another mile, it couldn’t be that hard! I didn’t realise how much of the next stretch of the walk was uphill. I saw a speck of a house in the distance and thought, ‘Gee, that’s a while away. Hope that’s not Top Withens!’. It was.
But I made it, dammit. I walked and then stopped and then walked some more. Again, I was pretty much alone for the entire walk. I’m talking not a soul in sight. Several times I stopped just to listen, and experienced a silence purer and clearer than I thought possible. It was like I was the last person in the world. When I got to the foot of the steepest part of the walk, I sat to rest and pulled out my mandarin and found that it was gross, so I got rid of that and drank some water and soldiered on. And I got there, eventually. Puffing and sore, I took some pics of the ruins and then sat and read Agnes Grey while I procrastinated the walk back to town. It was pretty special though, lying on the grass in the sun, reading a novel, the entire valley spread out before me. I saw a lot more people around Top Withens as well. People had hiked up with their walking pole thingies and rucksacks full of picnic lunch, in groups and alone, and we all sat around and enjoyed the view. I didn’t stay for too long though. The sight of their food was making me hungry.
I walked back, passing lots more people while feeling smug that I had finished the hard part and they were still on it. Fatigue makes me mean. In all seriousness though, everyone was lovely. I think Yorkshire people are some of the friendliest I’ve come across. I stopped to chat with a few people and patted their dogs, and they talked with charming accents and were interested in where I was from. Once I got back past the Falls, I saw a lot more people with small kids. I’m really glad I got to do this walk by myself. I didn’t have to wait for anyone else or feel rushed to keep up with someone. My own pace was a luxury. There was also a lot more sheep, and that meant a lot more LAMBS!! So sweet and small! And some dumb but beautiful pheasants. By the time I got back to Haworth I was ready to expire. Instead, I had a BLT and a milkshake and sat down for a long time. I worked out that my walk from the hostel, all the way to Top Withens, and back to Haworth was about 14.5km. It took me nearly four hours. When I felt slightly recharged, I wandered back down Main Street and caught the bus back to Keighley, and that’s where I am now, sitting in the public library and typing this blog before I take the train back to Edinburgh. I would have loved to spend the rest of the afternoon in Haworth, but the temptation to spend money was too big – this way, I’ll finish the draft of the blog and I can upload my photos and edit it later.
I’m so pleased I finally had this experience. Bronte country is beautiful, and when paired with the atmosphere and drama of their words, it’s even better. Everyone should see this corner of the world, whether or not you are a fan. Now I’m going to stand outside real-estate windows and be sad.
More and more and more things to see and do! I think the only way to keep up-to-date with reporting everything is to do these lists on my blog. Once I start work, I’m sure I won’t have as much time to explore…so onward! Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
Edinburgh International Science Festival – As Sean has been spending his days and evenings working at the festival, I’ve popped along to a couple of events. A is for Arsenic was a talk on the different poisons used in the novels of Agatha Christie! Kathryn Harkup, who has written a book of the same title, took us through the literary uses and the science behind four different poisons – arsenic, strychnine, cyanide, and phosphorus. Her book discusses fourteen different poisons, so this was just a taster (PUNS! PUNS FOR ALL!) and I can’t wait to read more…I also attended The Mathematics of Why I Don’t Have a Boyfriend, which was a talk by Dr Trina Dinnis. This was hilarious – a very entertaining presentation that treated the acquiring of a boyfriend like a science experiment and maths problem, using case studies from romantic fiction and involving crazy complicated graphs and equations that ordinarily would give me a panic attack. She invented and explained ‘The Darcy Standard’…essential viewing for any Austen fan!
Scottish Poetry Library – Oh, my heart. I can’t express how lovely this quiet little jewel of a library is. I have been in just to sit in the comfy chairs and read the collected works of Carol Ann Duffy (not the entire thing, obviously. That would take days), and I’ve put in an application to do some volunteer work, which involves helping out at their events and weekends. The staff are friendly, the collection is immense, the building is quiet. Bliss.
Edinburgh book sculptures – an anonymous artist has deposited a group of beautiful, intricate, delicate, gorgeous sculptures around the city, all made from the pages of books. The sculptures have all been ‘found’ in various cultural institutions, and most (but not all) are on public display. It has been a joy running around the city to view them! The artist has apparently said they are finished with the project, but they have been appearing at odd times since 2011, so anything is possible…
Iona – No, not the island sadly. But I will go one day! This is a film, about a character named Iona, set on the island she was named after. We went to the Edinburgh Filmhouse to see it (and I will definitely be back there, though it’s not quite as affordable as my beloved Astor), and I really enjoyed it. Everything was beautiful – the score, the cinematography, the scenery (shot on location), and Ruth Negga as the protagonist. The ending made me want to throw something – I thought it was out of place and not fitting with the rest of the film – and I felt like too much was left unsaid, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It’s quite bleak – don’t watch it if you’re after something ‘feel-good’.
Lauriston Castle – I would never have visited this place, or even heard of it, if it was not for my wonderful mates back home, Cara and Alfie. As part of their list of missions for me to complete, they sent me off to the Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden, located in the grounds of beautiful Lauriston Castle. This is a place I am definitely going back to – the daily tour was cancelled, so I need to go back anyway – and it was an utterly stunning and unexpected pleasure. This was even more precious than your normal ‘castle-and-grounds’ combination I’m so fond of. It was relatively small, meaning one day when I eventually win the lottery, I could live somewhere like this (I can dream), and I felt as though I had stepped back in time. The day was a bit grey, and there was barely anyone else around. In addition to the Friendship Garden, there was a beautiful pond, a croquet lawn with fantastic views of the Firth of Forth, and the prettiest toilet block I ever did see (it looked like a little cottage). The castle wasn’t even open, but I spent a long time wandering the grounds and had my picnic (a Subway sandwich, two chocolate biscuits and a nectarine) while reading a 1996 copy of The Paris Review that I picked up at The Abbey Bookshop in Paris. The Friendship Garden has the normal Japanese features, such as water, stones, and cherry blossom, and was utterly still and quiet. Perfection. Even the friggen bus ride there and back was pretty.