The Full Brontë

The British countryside is home to the real sites behind Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and other works by the literary sisters

Following the Brontë Trail across the moors, the Wayfarers group walked between eight and 10 miles a day in Yorkshire and Derbyshire. (Susan Ecenbarger)

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Then we were on England’s famous Pennine Way, a 267-mile national trail that runs from Derbyshire north to the Scottish border. As we approached the village of Stanbury, the sun came out, the countryside glistened and a rainbow smiled over the scene. Each day we walked eight to ten miles, pausing to chat with the characters of the English countryside and inhaling the lusty odors of earth amid sounds bovine, equine, porcine and ovine.

Just outside Stanbury we paused at Ponden Hall, a privately owned 17th-century farmhouse that Emily is said to have portrayed as “Thrushcross Grange,” home of the Linton family in Wuthering Heights. At the end of the second day, we sat inside the huge fireplace at Wycoller Hall, which in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre became “Ferndean Manor,” where Jane and Rochester lived at the novel’s end.

By midweek we had shifted from Yorkshire to Derbyshire and the village of Hathersage, which Charlotte portrayed in Jane Eyre as “Morton,” a hamlet set “amongst romantic hills.” The vicarage where she stayed has not changed substantially in 164 years; we heard the same church bells she used in her novel to signal major changes in Jane’s life.

The Peak District landscape seems much as Charlotte’s heroine describes it—“the hills, sweet with scent of heath and rush... soft turf, mossy fine and emerald green.” After four miles we came to North Lees Estate, a castle-like building once owned by the real-life Eyre family and now the property of the national park authority. North Lees emerged as “Thornfield Hall,” home of Jane Eyre’s enigmatic Mr. Rochester.

Pinkney called us to a halt, reverentially opened a dog-eared copy of the novel and began reading: “I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman's manor-house, not a nobleman's seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look.”

The battlements were the stage for one of the most dramatic scenes in English literature—the insane Mrs. Rochester leaping to her death from the fire she had started. Not even the arrival of a red van carrying a utility employee to read the estate’s electric meter could break the mood.

We left the green fields and woodlands of the Hope Valley and made a lung-bursting ascent of some 1,500 feet to the crest of Stanage Edge, a rim of fissured gray rock. As we crossed a 2,000-year-old Roman road, we had to hold on to boulders to avoid being blown down by the gale.

At Moorseats Hall–our final stop on our final day—a fenced-in bull shot us an out-for-blood glare. Charlotte made this “Moor House,” where the starving and penniless Jane was taken in by the Rev. St. John Rivers. Pinkney stood in front of a stone wall and read again: “I put out my hand to feel the dark mass before me: I discriminated the rough stones of a low wall—above it, something like palisades, and within, a high and prickly hedge. I groped on.” We were rapt with attention as he continued reading—“Again a whitish object gleamed before me; it was a gate”—and reached out to touch the wall, bringing the moment back through the decades and generations and reminding us why we had taken to calling our trek “the full Brontë.”


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