Part one of Bronte Country

This narrative begins a few pages into the story of my holiday; I have written to this point in ink and paper, and I now continue my narrative on my laptop; for the inconvenience of writing with pen and ink is really very great. What has already happened can be explained with very few words, though with less detailed descriptions than the original first pages.

It must be understood that we went to Haworth for a surprise on my tenth birthday. On the morning of that day I received a real letter from Charlotte Bronte herself. I seem to be very cool; but were I not so I should fill the whole page with expostulations of incredulous joy and wonder, and this is not my intention. Instead, I will copy in my history.

 

The letter was an invitation to stay at Ponden Hall. (Ponden Hall, it must be explained, in the house upon which Emily based Wuthering Heights, and Anne Wildfell Hall. Charlotte’s writing also may have been inspired by it). I am so confused as to whether the letter was really from Charlotte or not; I cannot say what I really think. It seems impossible, she died so many years ago, and yet it was her real signature; it was written with a dip pen, and in the style of a Victorian letter. I shall remain puzzled on the point all my days, and for all my days too I will jump for joy at the recollection of receiving that letter.

On the bed I discovered a pair of pantalets, a yellow velvet spencer, a cream coloured regency dress and a choice between three rolls of ribbon for my sash. There was also a pair of black boots with laces, and a real period pelice and bonnet. Tassy had already received his regency and Victorian clothes; and thus attired, I, Tass, Mum and Dad set off on our journey.

Us, playing in the garden in our regency clothes, just before we left for Bronte Country

 

FERNDEAN

Ferndean is the old castle in which Jane meets Mr Rochester. It is ‘a building of considerable antiquity, moderate size, and no architectural pretensions, deep buried in a wood.’ Such is Jane’s description of the place. She says also that as Mr Rochester’s father purchased the estate for the sake of the game covers, Rochester could get no tenant for it, so it remained ‘uninhabited and unfurnished, with the exception of a few rooms fitted up for the accommodation of the squire when he went there in season to shoot.’ To continue with Jane’s narrative, she came to the house

“just ere dark on an evening marked by the characteristics of sad sky, cold gale, and continued small penetrating rain. The last mile I performed on foot, having dismissed the chaise and driver with the double remuneration I had promised. Even when within a very short distance of the manor-house, you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood about it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me where to enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight of close-ranked trees. There was a grass-grown track descending the forest aisle between hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches. I followed it, expecting soon to reach the dwelling; but it stretched on and on, it would far and farther: no sign of habitation or grounds was visible.

I thought I had taken a wrong direction and lost my way. The darkness of natural as well as of sylvan dusk gathered over me. I looked round in search of another road. There was none: all was interwoven stem, columnar trunk, dense summer foliage — no opening anywhere.

I proceeded: at last my way opened, the trees thinned a little; presently I beheld a railing, then the house — scarce, by this dim light, distinguishable from the trees; so dank and green were its decaying walls. Entering a portal, fastened only by a latch, I stood amidst a space of enclosed ground, from which the wood swept away in a semicircle. There were no flowers, no garden-beds; only a broad gravel-walk girdling a grass-plat, and this set in the heavy frame of the forest. The house presented two pointed gables in its front; the windows were latticed and narrow: the front door was narrow too, one step led up to it. The whole looked, as the host of the Rochester Arms had said, “quite a desolate spot.” It was as still as a church on a week-day: the pattering rain on the forest leaves was the only sound audible in its vicinage.”

Thus is Ferndean Manor as portrayed in Jane Eyre. The old manor and the valley it is set in is based on a real place, the name of which is Wycoler. We were to pass Wycoler during our journey, and the plan was to stop here and look at the famed Ferndean, the ruins of which still remained in the heart of Wycoler Valley. Like Jane, we stopped about a mile from the old house. We ought to have dismounted; instead we climbed out of the car. Tass made the best amends that could be made for the lack of horses by helping me down gracefully, quite in the character of a regency gentleman.

In terms of setting Wycoler is just as the book describes, therefore I need not really describe it; if any future reader of my history wishes to know what it looked like, they have only to read over Jane’s description with the changes of full daylight, and bleak winter landscape, dripping trees and muddy grass instead of ‘dense summer foliage’.

However, I will describe it at least a little, for these are not quite the only changes that must be made. We walked first over a few yards of flat, moorish scraggy grass, wet with recent rain, and then descended down into the valley. A wooden gate blocked us a little way down; probably in replacement of Jane’s ‘iron gates with granite pillars’. Once opened it led to a small path through the valley with little difference from the one outside the gate except that the bank rose higher on either side, and the trees spread wider overhead, to make the path somewhat tunnel-like. It was just the same as the ‘grass-grown track descending the forest aisle between hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches’ that is described in the book. As also in the book the path soon widened and the trees thinned. The small grassy path spread into a wider, fully formed track. We passed a house and we continued along the track; Tass jumped up onto the wooden railing that now edged the track and shouted ‘ahoy!’ What reason he had for doing so God only knows.

Ferndean itself now stood before us, but half deserted in the Brontes time, it was now merely a mass of ruins. It had little similarity to the Ferndean in the book other than the description of the ‘dank and green decaying walls’ and the fact that it was clearly a ruined castle or manor-house. There was a long stone seat in the midst of the ruins with the remains of a dome roof over it. Upon this I took my seat, and looked out through the ruins at the countryside around.

 

The next part of this history will be published soon.

 

 

Me and Tass, exploring the ruined Ferndean, and me sitting under the ruined dome described.

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Snorkeling

We went to some Spanish beaches in the Caba De Gata last summer (I am writing a book about the holiday called Turquoise Waters) and the snorkeling – especially at a beach called Cala enmedio – was astonishing. Snorkeling is truly an amazing thing. You can spend long hours watching the underwater world; swimming over rocks full of sea anemones and sea urchins, seeing the most brightly coloured fishes swim through the turquoise blueness. Here is a part about snorkelling from one of my stories inspired by the Spanish holiday:

”Parting the turquoise water with her hands, Maggie plunged her face in and looked through into an underwater world where radiant fish swam amid the different shades of blue. Her legs floated up behind her and she was swimming, swimming; swimming with the fishes. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something glinting like tinfoil, and turned in time to watch a shimmering silver shoal flurry past like liquid rushing through a sieve. The shoal swerved – every fish bending itself gracefully in the same instant like one body – and swam away into the blueness. Then a new fish that she had never seen before swum into sight. It was extremely colourful, ever changing colour in the different lights; now it was deep purple, now bright gold, now almost black. Four shimmering bright turquoise stripes were drawn across its body, and its face was patterned with wide turquoise rivers like a map. It also swum away, and Maggie continued with her journey through the water world. After a moment she decided to play a game; picking out one fish brighter in colour and more distinguished looking than the rest she began to follow it through the fields of Poseidon sea grass and between rocks. This one little fish she followed for nearly twenty minutes. As she swam over the rocks, she reached out to touch the streaming yellow and red sea anemones, and felt the tickling, sucking sensation on the tips of her fingers. She fingered also the strange underwater mosses and seaweeds that grew along the rocks, and the spines of dark red and black sea-urchins.”

Most of the paragraph is an accurate description of the snorkeling, with very little enhancing; in fact a few of the amazing things are not mentioned. I really saw the fish with a face like a map (its real is name an Ornate Wrasse), and the shoals of silver fish; and they did look like tinfoil. I also saw the anemones and urchins and played the game of following one fish through the rest.

Seal Beach

This adventure happened on a beach in Norfolk called Horsey Gap. We had hired a boat called the ‘Brink of Joy’, and sailed all about the Norfolk broads for a few days. Near the end of the trip we came on shore to spend a day at Horsey Gap. We had heard rumours that it was a good place for seals. As seals are not a rare animal we were not particularly excited; however when we reached the beach the site was amazing.

It was an ordinary beach –  very like Newborough the beach by the house we used to live in on Anglesey – surrounded by high dunes grown over with maram grass, with  gentle sloping sands and wide expanse of silver blue ocean and white capped waves. But along the beach, stretching as far as the eye could see – we thought at first they must be rocks – was a long line of seals. There must have been over a thousand of them; some were fighting, some mating; there were even seal cubs, slithering along the sand. It was like being inside a nature documentary. I have said seals were common; so many seal were not common at all. A lady photographing them stood on the bank. As she stood, a little seal cub slithered right up to the lady, and to me, who was standing by her. It was brown and grey speckled, and rather fat, with shiny black eyes. We had some work getting it back to the others. The only downside was the seal poo, which there was some quantity of. We spent hours watching the seals, and came home to the ‘Brink of Joy’ talking of nothing else.

On the snowy moors

We went out to the moors the day before yesterday to see the snow. Only a short drive away lies a new realm, a new region, a new earth. When you look up from below at those mountains and moors, blue and beautiful in the misty distance, little do you guess what an experience it is to be up among them. Snow is here, snow is there – everywhere is snow – it glitters like millions of diamonds. The brightness is almost dazzling; hills surround you. The closest of the hills is white with snow like where you stand, the ones a little further, a little lower, are only dusted with snow and the colours of the moor shine through as from beneath a silver veil. Further away still they are blue and purple, and misty like dream mountains.

At first we walked along the track; when we came to the end of the track we decided to leave it and wander a little into the wilderness of snow. It was easy walking at first; the snow was not deep, rocks and heather peeped up above it. But as we walked on the deepness increased. We determined to go to the top of the hill we were walking up, where the view was best. But once up at the summit of hill it is not nearly as easy to get back down again to the car. And partly because we were lost; partly because the snow was far deeper here, the way back seemed to take several times as long as the way up. Several times we encountered huge deep ditches with streams at the bottom. Mum and Dad leaped across but they were to wide for me and my brother to cross. Luckily, we had another way. The ditches were all filled up with snow; in some parts so deep it would reach far above my head were I to try walking over it. But by lying down flat, spreading out arms and legs and slithering  or rolling across the surface of the snow, we got safely across. While crossing one of these ditches we encountered a strange little miniture wooden house with a hole for a door. What is was is still a mystery. We found also a beautiful little mossy cave of icicles, too gorgeous for description with words. After many adventures, and with soaked feet and legs, we reached at last the safety of the car.