About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Saturday 20 August 2011

A Literary Trip around West Yorkshire

Offspring number 1 having just graduated from Leeds University with a degree in English, it was high time she visited the local literary landscape, so I took her on a repeat of a jaunt I really enjoyed a few years ago. 

Here we are outside the house in Mytholmroyd where Ted Hughes lived till the age of seven.  The good news is that it's now owned by the Elmet Trust and can be rented as a writer's retreat.  The bad news is that the nice black embossed plaque has been replaced with a tinny (and already defaced) blue one.

And here is Offspring number 3 at the canal where lurked the famous literary 'Pike'.  I remember being excited at an impressionable age by Hughes' use of a noun as a verb - 'green tigering the gold'.  Those four words made me want to study English at University and become a poet, but my teacher told me I wasn't good enough - pffft!
Next stop the steep, cobbledy village of Heptonstall, high above Hebden Bridge (where we would have stopped had we been able to find a space in a car park).  We had a scrummy lunch in the Cross Inn, served by the very friendly landlady, along with her two equally friendly dogs.  

It was a lot less bleak than the last time I visited in February 2008.  This is Heptonstall Old Church seen from just outside the newer one.  

It's impossible to negotiate the site without treading on graves. (Though they were like this when we got there, I hasten to add!)

These fine examples are from the mid 18th century, and 1601 respectively.

Of course, this was the grave we'd really come to see.

It's the custom to leave votive offerings here for Sylvia Plath, and I found a small silver and gold mosaic mirror in my bag which seemed an appropriate gift for the woman who wrote a poem from the point of view of one.  Liz left her a Citalopram, carefully buried so that it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.  

I liked the way the mirror became a portal by reflecting the sky.  

Then it was on to Haworth, another quaint, steep location much visited by literary pilgrims.  The Black Boar pub is reputedly haunted by Branwell Brontë.

After visiting the Parsonage, which houses much Brontë memorabilia, we wandered around the churchyard.  Again, it was less dispiriting than the last time I was there, in part, possibly, because the exhibition about the appallingly unsanitary conditions in which the townspeople lived in the mid 19th century was no longer on display (which is a shame).  It is estimated that 40,000 people are buried there, with records dating back to 1645, and the graves still seemed to crowd in on the idle bystander - just in much leafier surroundings this time of year.  

This grave seems pretty typical of a town where, in 1850, 41.6% of children died before they were six years old and the average life expectancy was 24.

The Brontë family would have enjoyed more sanitary  conditions than most, although it is speculated that their water supply, like much of the village, was contaminated by poor sanitation and surface runoff from the vast cemetery, and that this would have made them more susceptible to the illnesses which killed them.  Mrs Maria Brontë, the children's mother, died of cancer in 1821, the year after her husband took up the post of Perpetual curate in Haworth.  She was followed by Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest offspring, who died of TB in 1825.   

Of the four children who survived to adulthood, Branwell famously died an alcoholic and laudanum addict at the age of 31; Emily died aged 30, reputedly on the couch in the room where 'Jane Eyre', 'Wuthering Heights' and 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' were all written; and Anne at the age of 29 in Scarborough.  They all perished within a year of each other, reportedly of TB.

Charlotte lived until 1855, when she died aged 39 of TB, possibly complicated by typhus and her pregnancy.  Patrick, their father, outlived them all, dying in 1861, aged 84.


  1. beautiful pictures and blog.

  2. Thanks, Andressa, glad you enjoyed the trip.

  3. Agree the mirror was an apt offering, also loved how the clouds are reflected. Looks like you had grand day out. Am rather envious! And two fingers to that teacher who didn't think you were good enough!!

  4. Yes, the Citalopram was probably a bit after the fact ...

  5. I also had a day like this, visiting Ted's place. Next time nip a short distance along the canal from Hebden Bridge to the Stubbing Wharfe pub http://twitpic.com/b7ig1o. http://twitpic.com/afyx1r

    My 10mins at the grave led me to write:-

    "Quiet now but
    Not silenced or stilled,
    in the high ground of Heptonstall,
    lies centre of a heartquake;
    unaccountable no more,
    rattled windows,
    shimmered tea in clinking cups;
    It is the windhorse,

    1. Will do, and thank you for sharing your lines. It's a very resonant place.