The morning after my visit to Skipton, I was having breakfast at Rosebud Cottage, my B&B in Haworth, when my host asked, ‘Have you heard of Wycoller Beck?’ I hadn’t. ‘Wycoller is the village and Beck is the river that runs through it. It’s a beautiful spot and has a Bronte connection, if you’re still looking for those.’ I was. ‘Turn right out of the driveway, then, and just follow the road. You can’t take your car into the village, though. You have to park and walk down the hill.’
I wound my way out of town and into the countryside. Wycoller lay in a deep valley at the bottom of a steep track. Trees draped themselves along the stream that rippled over rocks and stones, its grassy banks an emerald green.
A pathway led me to the remains of Wycoller Hall, built in the 16th century and now in the process of being restored by the ‘Friends of Wycoller’. It’s thought to be the inspiration for Ferndean Manor, Mr. Rochester’s second residence in Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte would have heard from the villagers the story of a mad woman who had set it on fire, a tale she wove into the destruction of Rochester’s first house, Thornfield Hall. Moss-covered stone walls rose up from stone floors as if the ruin was part of the earth.
Stone steps led up and down, through arched doorways into a great hall, one wall taken up with an enormous hearth, into a kitchen and into living rooms and bedrooms.
The river is spanned by a 13th century pack-horse bridge, its two stone arches warped, as if at any minute the structure would quietly roll over into the water. It took a bit of courage to brave it.
Safely across, I ambled past homes hundreds of years old, renovated now and very comfortable-looking. Cottage gardens thrived, flowing over fences, through lawns and up walls and chimneys. I guess with the amount of rain they’d get in this valley they could grow just about anything.
I ordered coffee and scones and cream at the Wycoller Craft Centre and Tea Rooms, trying not to think of the diet I’d need when I got home.
My scones demolished, I returned to the river and strolled for awhile, sunlight flickering through the trees creating lilting shadows across the pathway and sparkling on the ripples of the water. The track joins a network of walking tracks that crisscross most of the country. Sometime in the dim, dark future, I’d like to return to see where it leads. I crossed a clapper bridge, one enormous flat stone lying on two stone blocks.
This could be even older than the pack-horse bridge and it reminded me of how short the life of a human is, compared with what’s around us. How many generations would this bridge have served?
The climb back reminded me of how unfit I was. I always intend, when I get home, to keep up the exercise I get when I’m away but I always fail. If I had these surroundings to walk through, cows to talk to, sheep to nod at, I’m sure I’d do better.
This is an excerpt from, ‘Is This the Road to Stratford?’, the third book in my travel series, Planning to the ‘Nth’. The first, ‘The Edge of the World’, is now available as an Ebook through Amazon. To download a free sample or to buy the book, click here.