‘Don’t trust anyone who tells you they know a short-cut!’
So says one young woman as a group of them emerge from the deep shade of many trees on a steeply sloping hillside.
We take no short cuts. But still the road seems to go forever on.
I’m not a walker. Past long walks (the maximum 13 miles) have put a severe strain on my relationship with the long tall Texan. He, too, is a short-form walker, but his legs are considerably longer than mine. And he weathers our self-imposed excesses with far better grace.
Which is why I decide that Top Withens, surely the ultimate destination for an Earnshaw, is beyond me. And anyway, I’ve seen it from afar.
It’s not the Wuthering Heights of my imagination. That’s not a lush, green hill under vibrant blue skies, feathered with weird and wonderful clouds. And it’s certainly not warm.
We aim instead for Brontë Falls, which, so the notes said, are a mere 2½ mile walk.
Hah. Never trust country miles.
I wonder if this bush is a scion of the one she captured in paint.
By the time we get to the sign (also in Japanese, should you need it) saying 1½ miles, I swear we’ve already gone at least that far.
We set out in bright sunshine, but this being Yorkshire – and Brontë country – I assume it will cloud over and rain. I have no hat. I’m wearing a bright yellow jacket with hood. And we have just one small bottle of water.
And still the road winds onwards – and upwards.
Sheep laze or graze.
A dead rat lies splayed on the path.
A wreck of a house is now home to a large and flourishing elder tree and a family of black birds that could be rooks or ravens or crows.
It’s all wrong, this sunshine, this should be a sinister, brooding sight, but hey, it’s the day it is – and we’ve still a way to go.
The sky distracts with a mesmerising pageant. Clouds, performing against a backdrop of gentian blue, under a constant sun.
At last the path dips down Picking our way carefully over stones and muddy ground, we finally reach our goal.
The peace is palpable. We sit, alone a while. We saw only one other couple along the way and they were ascending from this spot as we descended.
And then, a Jack Russell, in harness, pulling along another couple.
The water’s a clear brown, like milkless tea. It gurgles and burbles as it rollicks down the valley.
The air smells like honey mixed with mown grass.
The world is perfect.
Except, we now have to turn around.
Up the hill, through the reeds and bracken, the startling purple foxglove spears. Past the old wreck, again. The reservoir with its stone turret. The dead rat – and a desiccated frog I missed last time.
My head is hot. The water bottle is empty. The longed-for bench bears a sign saying ‘wet paint’.
At last, we reach the field across the back of town. A narrow entrance to be squeezed through.
Strait is the gate, as the scriptures say. But this one’s a warning for the walk-lite and frame-heavy, not the rich.
My own frame is complaining now, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, this walk.
Brontë country looks different now, to me. Not bleak, but beautiful. Magnificent. Inspiring. Or do I mean inspirational?
And now, there must be water. Then, maybe, tea and cake.
A reward and a refuelling, for a weathering.