Possibly one of the reasons why I love being back in Europe is the fact that it is full of old stuff. Generally Australians think that buildings built in the 1800s is soooo old, where as in London at least, that’s the average age of everyone’s house. When you have thousand year old castles and abbeys to compare it to, 150 years really wasn’t that long ago, and I find visiting these buildings from another time utterly awe-inspiring. I find myself wondering who the people who used to live here were like and what their lives would have been, what kind of banter would the guards have thrown around the guardroom as they took an occasional peek out of an arrowslit. Would the ladies have been totally freezing sitting stitching inside a giant hall? What would it have been like to be a monk living in a medieval monastery when you have to get up at 4am for morning prayer and you just can’t be arsed because you stayed up late illuminating last night and Brother Ignatius was snoring again in the cell next to you? All jokes aside, these huge abbeys and castles and towers – always dominating a hilltop or a valley – would have been so incredibly powerful and intimidating to the peasants living in tiny cottages and cabins, and that sense of awe is somewhat lost these days. Every city has its own collection of skyscrapers, they’re always building something bigger and taller and shinier than the last one, so the magic of a structure this impressive is kind of gone now. But these continue to impress and inspire – at least me anyway!
Each time I visit Yorkshire I find I love it more. Every corner of it is beautiful, from its wild grassy moors punctuated with blasted trees and lonely ruins, to the cute stone villages tucked cosily in the creases of rolling green hills, striped with ancient stone walls and dotted with sheep. All of it seems pretty and interesting. Last week I went up to Haworth – the home of the Brontë sisters. It’s almost surreal walking around in the everyday world which inspired the romantic, dramatic, Gothic landscape they wrote about. The town sits on a steep hill, and right at the top, next to the old church and an overcrowded graveyard still sits the parsonage where they lived. This graveyard was everything a Gothic fangirl could possibly desire: a forest of tall, crooked headstones, mossy stone slabs cracked by tree roots, gloomy misty weather and a murder of squawking crows!
The guide described how Charlotte, Emily and Anne used to sit in the dining room all writing together, throwing around ideas, reading each others’ work and critiquing each other. Charlotte would pace the room and Anne would sit with her feet on the fender, arguing over their dark anti-heroes and whether the Tenant of Wildfell Hall wasn’t an ‘entire mistake’ (Charlotte’s words, not mine!). The old farm house that inspired Wuthering Heights still stands as well, about 4 miles away on a hilly moorland path (how the hell Emily Brontë managed to climb over the rocks and hills in a long skirt and a corset I have no idea!) It’s amazing how isolated it feels out there: moors can be pretty but they are desolate places, and Top Withens sits on a hill in the middle of one – I can certainly see where Emily was coming from by describing her characters as completely cut off from the rest of the world.