YORKSHIRE was Bront"e country long before James Herriot was born, and so it remains to most Englishmen,'' a British friend said. She convinced me, and I promptly put Haworth, home of the Bront"es, on my travel agenda. The village of Haworth, with its quiet country lanes, age-blackened houses, and solitary, wind-swept moors, lies in the West Riding district of Yorkshire. Remnants of the Industrial Revolution still exist in its woolen mills (some now being dismantled) and in rows of workers' cottages on the road into town. Permeating the area is the spirit of the Bront"e siblings, who lived out their short and anguished lives here, leaving behind the beauty of their words for future generations to marvel over, analyze,
An early biographer of the Bront"es said about the family's arrival in Haworth in 1820: ``There are those yet alive who remember seven heavily laden carts lumbering up the long stone street, bearing the new parson's household goods. . . .'' Today, the route into the village is much the same; Main Street is still paved with blocks of stones set like steps to give purchase to horses' hoofs.
At the top of the street stands the ``new parson's'' house, now a museum owned by the Bront"e Society. For a small sum you can wander through the rooms of the 18th-century Georgian parsonage, built of stone from local quarries. When Maria Branwell Bront"e died, she left six small children, all born within a six-year period, and a husband who, legend has it, was not overly fond of young ones -- nor indeed of anyone. Yet he lived to be 84, outlasting his five daughters and one son by many years.
Family items displayed in the old parsonage evoke an aura of early 19th-century life and its austerity. You will find Anne's rocking chair, Emily's piano, fine embroidery done by the girls, and a portrait of the sisters painted by Branwell, the only brother.
Tiny notebooks are filled with romantic adventures written by Branwell and his sisters in script so minuscule it is impossible to decipher without a magnifying glass. Perhaps they wrote this way to hide their stories from prying adult eyes. On the margin of one little book, the Rev. Mr. Bront"e had penned: ``All that is written in this book must be in good, plain, legible hand.''
On a little rosewood desk sits a small oil lamp, toy-size, yet Charlotte and Emily wrote their classics, ``Jane Eyre'' and ``Wuthering Heights,'' under its meager light. Their novels were first published under male pseudonyms because, Charlotte said, ``we did not like to declare ourselves women. . . . We had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked upon with prejudice.''
Trees and grass have been encouraged to grow around the parsonage in recent years, and a showy wrought-iron sign depicting a Victorian girl at a writing desk has been erected. Yet the eye is drawn to the graveyard along two sides of the house, where angular Gothic headstones cast somber shadows, as they have for nearly 200 years. The Bront"es are buried in a crypt beneath the nearby church.
To visit Haworth without walking the moors is like visiting London without entering Westminster Abbey. A favorite walk of the sisters was to the tiny falls (now called Bront"e Falls) about two miles from town. Starting behind the parsonage, a well-defined footpath labeled ``Haworth Moor'' leads upward toward the spine of the Pennine Way, past crumbling stone walls and farmhouses. If you're a good walker, continue another mile or so. Up there, on the ``bluff bold swells of heath,'' in Emily's words, are the remains of an old farmhouse said to be her inspiration for ``Wuthering Heights.'' As you walk the narrow paths, hidden waterfalls and streams burble along the way, and a lark trills sweetly. It's not difficult to imagine ``Six small creatures walking out, hand in hand, through the wild moors,'' as Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell wrote in Charlotte's 1857 biography.
Sturdy walking shoes or boots are a must on the moors, as well as lightweight rain gear, for the Yorkshire weather has many moods.
West of Haworth lies the tiny village of Stanbury, where Ponden Hall, a 17th-century farmhouse, is the Thrushcross Grange featured in ``Wuthering Heights.'' A short drive across the moors will take you to Wycoller Hall, the ``Ferndean Manor'' of Charlotte's ``Jane Eyre.''
A break for piping-hot tea and oven-warm scones may be welcome after a day's sightseeing. Local tea shops serve from 3 p.m. to 5. If you want tea to double for dinner, wait and have high tea or snacks at the Weavers Tea Shop, or in a pub such as the Black Bull, served from about 5:30 to 6:30. For $6 or $7, a ``blue plate special'' ranging from adequate to very good costs much less than a later dinner at these same places. The Black Bull still owns the corner table where, for a free drink, Branwell would
entertain the inn's guests with his storytelling.
You can stroll the steep main street of Haworth, where cars are not allowed, at leisure, and visit the gift, antique, and bookshops along the way. Handloom weaving was the mainstay of the town in Victorian times and is still strong today. The Bront"e Tweed Mill Shop sells hand-woven woolen textiles and clothing.
The Museum Bookshop has hard-to-find copies of books about the Bront"e family (``The Bront"e Story,'' by Margaret Lane, for one) and copies of their novels, even the ``Tenant of Wildfell Hall,'' by Anne Bront"e. The proprietor speaks of the Bront"es as if they were still neighbors and is fully versed in their family lore. Practical information:
Hotels like the White Lion Inn and the Old Sun offer rooms ranging from $50 to $60 a night. Listings for bed-and-breakfast accommodations may be found at the Tourist Information Center on Mill Hey, open seven days a week.
For $25 to $30 a night per couple, a pleasant room and fine breakfast are available, and friendly hosts will answer questions about the area. If you tell them you are sure you heard the whistle of an old steam train while walking around town, they will give you the address of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway nearby. For a modest sum you can ride its recently restored branch line, which steams through five miles of a lovely valley every day from July through September, and on weekends and bank holida ys the rest of the year.
For additional information about Haworth, contact the British Tourist Authority in Los Angeles or New York or your travel agent.