Travel: Wear your wellies to Wuthering Heights: Rosamund Ridley and her family braved the tempestuous weather on a study tour of Bronte country. It was an education

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The Independent Travel
Half the staff at our children's schools seem to be fully paid up members of ABTA. Given the most tenuous excuse, they send home letters about the latest unmissable expedition, vital to the kids' education. The history teacher, currently half-way through the Second World War with our son's class, suggested nipping over to Berlin to see the remains of Hitler's bunker. The cost was more than our holiday budget this year for six of us.

Curiously, the English teacher hasn't suggested a trip to Bronte country (too near, perhaps, too unexotic). And yet Wuthering Heights, with all that unconsummated passion, demands first-hand experience. A mile or two of Haworth moor, in horizontal hailstones and howling wind, should give students the general idea. So we decided to organise our own 'school trip' for our A-level candidate, Richard. The other three came along for the ride.

Richard had a fair idea already of Wuthering weather. Our own house is 800ft up in the Cumbrian fells, two sweaters colder even than the village. Some years, the trees barely make it into leaf in time for autumn.

In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, who should know, talks about bluebells in June. In my schooldays our English teacher, who came from down south and talked posh, explained that this was a mistake. Emily Bronte meant harebells, or Scottish bluebells. Real bluebells flower in April. I put up my hand.

'Please, Miss. She does mean bluebells in June. It's too cold before that. They don't get crocuses till March. It says, in chapter 13.' I should have left it there, but added, recklessly, 'She says harebells at the end, on the last page.'

Miss said nothing, but a week or two later a few of us walked the Haworth stretch of the Pennine Way. It was June, freezing cold, raining stair-rods, with hailstones thrown in. Reaching Top Withins, aka Wuthering Heights, we cowered in the little shelter , hands too stiff to unwrap a Mars bar. Two hours later, the weather relented. It was still raining, but not quite torrentially. We fairly pelted down to Haworth for chips, hot Vimto and the bus home.

After that, we knew exactly why the Brontes' social life was so constrained. The weather and distances rule your love life. No girl, even Catherine Earnshaw, is worth the battering of those hailstones; no mere male, even the smouldering Heathcliff, is worth the risk of double pneumonia. It's the girl/boy next door, or celibacy.

Anyway, we planned a quick recce, just enough to give Richard the general idea. We booked the teenagers into Haworth's youth hostel, and set off with the little ones in search of a campsite. The farmer looked a bit startled, but took our money all the same. The kids were ecstatic. There were two donkeys, and a wind generator competing with Sizewell B. The tent enjoyed pure, bracing ventilation all night.

In the morning, Richard and Lizzie did the Parsonage. We read gravestones in Haworth churchyard, wondering if we should have taken out health insurance. (Hardly anyone seemed to have made it past 15.) Then we retrieved the teenagers, paid for souvenirs and for a Wuthering Heights study guide. There was not a breath of wind. The sun shone. Wrong book, wrong film. We'd caught Haworth in its Railway Children mode. Half a mile out of town, the special effects team reported for duty. The sky turned black, the wind wuthered, hailstones bombarded us from all directions. This was more like it. The only other pilgrim around was Japanese, stomping through the mid-calf mud with his nose in a guide book. The signposts for Top Withins are in Japanese and English.

Half a mile from our goal all hell broke loose, the wind was storm force, the hail became murderous. The little ones howled. Richard said he got the message. No wonder Cathy fancied the fleshpots of Thrushcross Grange.

We reached Top Withins in soft sunlight. The Japanese youth smiled and took photographs - of the ruins, of us, of sheep. Richard and Lizzie yelled 'Cathy' and 'Heathcliff' at each other. It didn't rain again until we were 200 yards from the car.

How did the Brontes cope with muddy treks across the moors? If they'd dressed in Gore-tex and sensible Hunter wellies, maybe they wouldn't have snuffed it so young. We dried out browsing from book shop to gifte shoppe.

Next day, the teenagers discovered incredibly cheap Metro fares and took themselves off to Leeds. The little ones rode up and down the Worth Valley line. They all ate fish and chips in Keighley. We bought gingerbread pigs from a Haworth bakery, and five kilos of broken biscuits, the posh, hand-baked kind we can't usually afford.

On Sunday morning, we shook a couple of inches of snow off the tent and drove home. The kids were extraordinarily happy. We took them to Prague last summer, but they've asked for more Yorkshire, a s a p. Explain.

FACTFILE

Getting there: train to Bradford Interchange, then buses 663/4/5 every 20 minutes to Haworth. The 664 continues to Stanbury, close to Top Withins. Metro information: 0274 732237. A day's unlimited travel on all West Yorkshire trains and buses costs pounds 2.20 for adults, pounds 1.10 for under-14s.

Where to stay: Haworth Youth Hostel (0535 642234): adults pounds 7.75, under-18s pounds 5.20.

What to do: The Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth (0535 642323) opens 10am-5pm daily. Adults pounds 3.60, under-16s pounds 1.10, family ticket (two adults plus three children) pounds 8.20.

Daily services on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (0535 645214) begin next Saturday and continue until 2 September; Family Day Rover pounds 12. Haworth tourist office: 2/4 West Lane, Haworth BD22 8EF (0535 642329).

(Photographs omitted)

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