Book Club Trip to England

Old Jul 12th, 2013, 02:44 PM
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Your report is fantastic! I am so glad that you are writing about your trip. I have been looking forward to it!
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 05:37 PM
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Following along and enjoying the report!
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 01:34 PM
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I survived climbing Mt Democrat and am home now so hope to get this trip report finished in the next day or so.

On to Thomas Hardy Day

We awoke at the Field Farmhouse to rain and cool temperatures. Karen, our hostess, pointed us in the direction of the Dorset County Museum, our first stop. They have a wonderful collection on Thomas Hardy,including his entire study, which was left to them by his estate. It was market day in Dorchester so it was busy and the parking lot close to the museum was full. After several wrong turns, and a walk in the rain, we arrived at the museum. The lady at the desk was very apologetic but that most of the museum was closed for an event of some sort but happily for us, the Thomas Hardy stuff was open and we got entrance for half price.

We enjoyed our visit here and felt that it set the stage for the rest of the day. I had not been aware that he had written so much poetry but they had quite a bit about that as well as his major works, his study, photographs etc... You could even dress up like Tess if you wanted. We did not want to.

The museum gave us directions to our next stop, Max Gate. This was Hardy's home for 40 years and where he wrote Tess among other works. We had some difficulty finding it but once there, we dodged the rain and went inside. Cost was 5 pounds or so. The house is very interesting as he added on to it as his finances allowed over the years. He kept moving back to the rear of the house as his fame grew, to avoid being bothered by fans or people stopping in. I espeically like the attic rooms that his first wife, Emma, used as her own. They were cosy and atmospheric. The gardens there were lovely but it was raining too much for us to get out and enjoy them. There is a very small bathroom there and not much in the way of a gift shop or cafe, if that is important to know. The woman at the desk gave us directions to our next stop, Hardy's Birthplace. After the difficulty we had finding Max Gate, we asked her to repeat the directions many times. She assured us we could not miss it.

Off two cars went to Hardy's Birthplace. She was right, even we could not miss it. The parking situation there is different. You can not drive up close to the house, but must park in the lot that is also for a nature trail. You can then walk through the woods to the house or walk along the road. We opted for the woods, though it was wet, it was still lovely. They have an admission booth in the gardens, cost was around 5 pounds. Lovely spot. Gardens in full bloom and with that thatched roof cottage behind them, it made for a wonderful sight.

It was cold and wet and they had the fireplace going inside the cottage. Hardy was born here and lived here until the age of 20 or so. He returned here throughout his life to visit and to be inspired. The guides said he wrote Far from the Madding Crowd while here. The house is small and it does not take long to see but delightful for sure.

By this time, we were all hungry and needed to take a break so we headed a few miles through the leafy countryside to this wonderful little tea place. I am blanking on the name and my notes are not handy so I will look it up and add it later. The owner there was chatty and told us how clotted cream is made in great detail. I will spare the detail but his cream and scones were fantastic. Pots of hot tea warmed us up and before you know it we were ready to head to nearby Clouds Hill.

The drive from our tea place ( Pine something?), to Clouds Hill was less than 15 minutes. This was the rather odd home of TE Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, as he is often called. Another 5 or 6 pound entrance fee. I think you can get a combination ticket for all the above sights and the Dorset County Museum but since our museuem was half price that day, it did not apply to us. Back to Clouds Hill. The main floor is very dark and it was almost impossible on such a cloudy day to see much of the rooms contents. However, the rest of the small place was more visible and odd. He had a cork walled bathroom with no toilet, just a bath. The house has a lot of his possessions and attempts to explain this complex man. We had not read any of his writings, much of what he wrote were thousands of letters but you get extra credit if you have read his Pillars of Wisdom. He was killed in a motorcycle accident not far from the cottage. As a group, we are going to get together this fall to watch Lawrence of Arabia.

Back down the rainy, leafy,curvy roads to our BnB and yet another dinner at the Royal Oak in Cerne Abbas. The giant was just barely visible in the rain and mist.

Required Reading: Thomas Hardy, especially Tess of the D'Urbevilles, Mayor of Casterbridge, Far from the Madding Crowd and Return of the Native. Poetry as well.

Next stop: Jane Austen Day and on to Woodstock
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 06:24 PM
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Jane Austin Day

We left our comfy farmhouse in Dorset and with one wrong turn in Dorchester, we made our way to Alton. our destination was the Jane Austin House. Admission was 7:50. The house contained a lot of Jane's things, her writing desk, needlework, a quilt she had made. They also re created the rooms with period furniture. There was a donkey cart that Jane and her sister used to drive themselves around in. our Jane Austin fans in the group were thrilled with the house and exhibits. There was a gift shop with a lot of books and Austin odds and ends. The two ladies working at the gift shop were having a lively gossip fest which seemed perfect for an Austin novel.

We went across the street to have lunch at The Greyfriars. We had planned on going over to Chawton House but the Austin fans felt content with what they had seen and so, surprisingly, we headed north to Woodstock.

Our two night stay in Woodstock was at The Marlborough Arms, an old coach inn built in the 15th century. It had great slanty floors and atmospheric lounge area. Our rooms were clean with private bath. Breakfast was served in an added on breakfast room towards the back and was always good.

Several of us just enjoyed the evening walking around the town, taking a peek through the gates at Blenheim Palace and having dinner at the Star Inn. There was a church with a fabulous old cemetery to wander around in and several open antique stores to enjoy. The group needed some time to do their own thing that evening and the next day as there had been a lot of togetherness to this point!

Required Reading: All things Jane Austin

Next stop: In the footsteps of Lewis, Tolkien and Carroll plus a spin through the Cotswolds
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 07:08 PM
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pssst <gray>It is Aust</gray><red>e</red><gray>n
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 07:35 PM
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Yeah, I know. I have managed to misspell just about everything today. Just think what I can do with the Russian authors if given the chance.
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 07:44 PM
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What a wonderful literary adventure! This is reminding me so much of an English Literature Summer School (and tour) I did in Northern England in 1988. We went to Bronte country and saw (and entered) several houses connected to Bronte literature. One of those houses is currently for sale (it was thought to be the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights). We also visited Byron's Newstead Abbey and Wordsworth's homes in the Lake District, amongst others.

But I've never been to the south, and have longed to visit Hardy's homes in Dorset and some Austen places (I did visit Chatsworth in Derbyshire). Would enjoy visiting Lyme Regis, as well, and du Maurier country.

I'm really enjoying these places vicariously through your report. Looking forward to more.
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 08:49 PM
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susan001, stay tuned for Bronte country and Chatsworth as we got there too. Thanks for your interest!

In the steps of Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and J.R R. Tolkien and M.C. Beaton to lighten the mood

Our group of 7 really split up for the day. Two went to Blenheim Palace for the day. Two did a short trip to Oxford and three of us did a longer day in Oxford. I took the advice of several here on Fodors and we took the bus from Woodstock to Oxford. Happily, the bus stop was right outside the door to the Marlborough Arms so we got on the 9:37 and for a 5.50 roundtrip ticket, we enjoyed letting someone else drive.

We did all the usual Oxford sights- Christ Church, Magdalen, Merton, Radcliffe Camera etc... What I really loved were the stone faces and creatures on all the buildings. We were there on a Friday of exam week so enjoyed seeing the students in their black robes covered in silly string and confetti and doused in river water or alcohol celebrating their last exam! We talked with a few of them and they were so happy and relieved and posed for pictures with pride.

We took a punting trip and our guide, Waylon, pointed out the area that Lewis Carroll used to walk through. We saw deer in the Magdalen campus. I never found Addison's Walk, not sure if it was because so much of Magdalen was closed or if we were just inept.

We had a tasty lunch at the Vault and Gardens, a room built in the 1300's and packed with people. We found the Eagle and Child Pub and paid homage to the Inklings.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and headed back to Woodstock to pick up the other two for a drive in the Cotswolds.

I had been in the Cotswolds many years ago and many of the villages were different than I had remembered. Bourton on the Water was cute but very busy and commercial. We had dinner there and headed to Upper and Lower Slaughter. everyone really enjoyed the old church and cemetery and the rolling hills, sheep, and peace and quiet of the evening. Some of us had read MC Beaton's mystery series that has a Cotswolds setting which was fun.

Required Reading: The Mystery of Lewis Carroll and his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
C.S. Lewis- The Great Divorce and Screwtape Letters. Many of us also read the Narnia series of course.
J R R Tolkien- The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
The Inklings by Humphrey
The Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton

Next Stop: Shakespeare, just for good measure.
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 09:19 PM
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Shakespeare Country

Now, this was originally a tough sell as my book clubbers were not that big into Shakespeare and had read shockingly little, even in their school days. However, I thought it was worth a shot and it turned into a fabulous day and we now have 7 people with a renewed interest in reading more Shakespeare!

We had a 45 minute drive to Stratford Upon Avon from our BnB in Woodstock. Again, Rick Steves had good parking advice and we parked right where he told us to. We purchased a combo ticket from the TA office for 19 pounds which gave admission to 5 sights ( Birthplace, Nash, Hall Croft, Anne Hathaways Cottage and Mary Arden Farm)

Our cars became separated on the drive into town and the other car load started with the Hathaway and Arden sights and we began at Shakespeare's birthplace. They have a media presentation once you first enter that paces the crowds through it as the doors only open from room to room when the film clip is done. For the non Shakespeare knowledgeable, the film is a nice introduction. If you are already a fan, it would be too simplistic. Once you exit that presentation, you head into the house itself.

The birthplace house has well informed guides who give a lot of information in every room. You can move through the house at your own pace. In the lovely gardens, they had actors who would perform a scene from 3 plays that those gathered about would suggest. They were enthusiastic and blessedly, brief as well.

The Shakespeare folks win the award for gift shop merchandise. William is on everything imaginable, including cookies. I have to admit that I bought buttons with Shakespeare's Insults for my nephews. I thought they would like those over the love quotes.

We walked from the Birthplace to Nash's House. This stop has great exhibits for school groups. They have a Top 10 Shakespeare's Characters with fun facts about them and a good poster of all the props needed for his plays. Not much else here really.

Hall's Croft was next. I think this was Shakespeare's daughter and son in law's house. It was a lovely large home with a lot of medical exhibits as the son in law was a doctor I believe. Shakespeare's grave was not far from here so after a quick stop there we walked back to the main pedestrian zone for lunch and to meet up with the other car.

They had spent the whole morning at Anne Hathaway ( Shakespeare's wife) and the Mary Arden ( his mother) sights. We did those next. Anne Hathaway's cottage was a highlight for many in our group. The gardens were blooming, the thatched roof cottage was perfect and the setting,just perfect. Great photo opportunities here.

Last stop was Mary Arden's farm. This is now a Tudor era farm with all kinds of animals and costumed interpreters doing things like making bread, demonstrating games and chores and answering questions. Nicely done and kids would especially enjoy the farm animals.

We spent way more time in Stratfor Upon Avon than I had thought so we cut our farm exerience short and headed north for Shipley.

This turned into the nightmare drive. We made it to Bradford without problem but then could not find any signs for Shipley. We drove around and around and asked several people on the street and in businesses. We ended up in sketchy areas of town. Finally, in utter frustration, I got out at a little corner restaurant and went in and asked a man and wife if they were from the area. They said they were and when I asked how to get to Shipley, they both launched into conflicting directions. They finally said, "do you want to just follow us there?" Seemed like a scene from the Amazing Race! We said yes and they jumped in their car and led us down and around and around some more right to Shipley. With honks and waves and heartfelt thanks, we said goodbye. They were Muslim. I mention this because so many people only have negative images of Muslims and this couple went WAY out of their way to get us where we needed to go. God/Allah bless them.

We gratefully checked into The Abbey Lodge Hotel which was a BnB. The other car had an equally horrid time finding Shipley and had driven into oncoming traffic at one point but were recovering at the bar when we arrived. Dinner and bed were all we had the energy for at this point.

Required Reading: Shakespeare. Abridged versions count!

Next stop: The Day I Have been looking forward to the most- Bronte Day!!
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 10:30 PM
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Yes please. Wuthering Heights is my favourite book.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 12:29 AM
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"Several of us just enjoyed the evening walking around the town, taking a peek through the gates at Blenheim Palace and having dinner at the Star Inn."

For anyone in a similar position on a June evening in Woodstock, it's easy to do a great deal more than peek at Blenheim through the gates.

Walk NW from the Marlborough Arms for about 300 yds along the main road till you've got the Black Prince, on the NW edge of Old Woodstock, on the other side. You're now close to a green gate in the walls of the park surrounding Blenheim. This is open (well, openable) all day, every day and gives unlimited access to the extensive public rights of way around the Blenheim estate. Since it doesn't get dark till tennish in June, you can stroll the estate (the notice at the entrance explains which bits) almost as if you owned it.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 12:43 AM
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A colleague of mine broke her ankle getting down from the Cobb.
She wasn't even leaping into the arms of a strong young man.
There is a large population from the Sub-Continent in Bradford. It's a good place for curry
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 03:45 AM
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>>A colleague of mine broke her ankle getting down from the Cobb.<<

She's not called Louisa, by any chance?
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 07:13 AM
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Bronte Day

I awoke with a spring in my step. Might be because I had a single room for the first time in over two weeks or the fact that it was, at long last, Bronte Day! I love Wuthering Heights and am almost equally nuts about Jane Eyre. So after breakfast and re checking our directions with the helpful desk folks, we set out in the misty, drippy morning for Haworth. Found the village with no problem. I had read lots of advice about parking here as there is a private lot who boots your car if you are one minute over your time limit. We parked in the public lot next to the Bronte Parsonage Museum and paid for the whole day, which was only 4 or 5 pounds.

Admission to the Parsonage was 7 or 9 pounds, can't remember which. I would have paid whatever they wanted! It was Sunday, so as we walked into the house, the nearby church bells began to ring. The house/ museum is wonderful. They have so much of the family's actual belongings. They have clothing that Charlotte wore and her dress was so small and petite. They displayed her actual writing tools, paints, lots of art work, personal belongings, as well as Emily's and Anne's. T he brother was represented with his art as well. There was a little knitted baby bonnet and booties that a friend made and sent for Charlotte. She was pregnant at the time of her death. For the Bronte fan, the Parsonage was perfect. There is a gift shop there with a lot of books and a small amount of merchandise but they did not have the Shakespeare over the top selection!

Outside of the Parsonage is a former gate that led right into the church cemetery. The tombstones are just stacked on top of each other and it was the best old cemetery ever. Big trees, cawing birds, large stone slabs slanted willy nilly. The small stone church with Sunday services going as we stood in the cemetery. There is a Bronte family chapel and a grave marker inside. This was not the same church that the family worshipped in as it was re built after their lives.

Most of us signed on for the walking tour with Bronte Walks that was available from the TI just down from the church. Very helpful people there. We paid 5 pounds for the walk and Johnnie met us outside at the designated time. He was fantastic! He started the walk with the love story of Mr and Mrs Bronte and told family stories, read from their letters, and referenced information from biographers as we slowly made our way around the village, into the church, etc... There is not a much walking, more stopping in front of key places and hearing the story. He was funny and poignant and engaging and I feel like I earned a college credit on the Brontes in the 1:5 hours. He talked a lot about the brother Bromwell as well as the girls. So tragic that the father outlived all of his children.

Johnnie also described how the village of Haworth was so unhealthy and filthy in those days. Fun fact: the cemetery holds between 20,000 to 60,000 bodies and as they used to plop dead bodies on top of each other with a flat stone over the top, the bodies could not decay, they oozed. All of this oozing, contaminated the towns drinking water. Great visual there, huh. The village now is just this wonderful, very hilly place with several old pubs, some stores and is surrounded ny those famous moors. It is safe to drink the water now.

One can not come to Bronte country and not walk the moors. Okay, five of our group could, they opted to shop and eat in the village. The lone male in our group, plus me, got a walking brochure from the TI and headed through the cemetery and out of town onto the moors on the Bronte Way. You can walk for hours up to Top Withens and see what experts think was the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange. We did not have that much time but we did walk for an hour and a half just to get a feel for that empty wind swept area. You had to walk away to get away from farms and other signs of people but we did get a feel for it. Being from the American west with miles of flat, open, empty spaces, it was not as dramatic as it would be for people from more populated places though. We walked back into the village, picked up the rest of the group and drove out toward one of the most scenic drives of the whole trip.

We drove from Haworth to Hebden Bridge. Wow, what views between the two! Empty, rolling hills with sheep. Desolate looking farms. We were way up on a ridge and pulled over to admire the ruggedness and oddly, there was an ice cream truck parked up there. We bought ice cream and watched as every car that was driving along this odd landscape, pulled in for treats too. Strangest place to do a brisk business Ihave seen. Hebden Bridge was a unique town. we parked and walked along the locks on the river. Got scones and clotted cream. This whole part of England is so different from our other stops. It is grittier, harder, the accents are really different when we talk to people. Hebden Bridge has connections to Sylvia Plath and Ted Williams as well.

Eventually, we made our way back over the hills. Are these the Pennines? Got back to Haworth and headed to the Noble Come for dinner. It wa packed for Fathers' Day and the food was just okay but the day had been so perfect for a Bronte lover that who cared about food.

Required Reading: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, many different Bronte biographies.
Plah's The Bell Jar

Last stop of the trip coming up: The plague village of Eyam and Chatsworth.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 07:38 AM
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Well yes - you were in the South Pennines, the southern end of the backbone of England! You have certainly had a packed itinerary and I've enjoyed reading your reports.

If you want to know a bit more about Hardy I would recommend A Pair of Blue Eyes - his third novel, semi-autobiographical in part, where the central female character bears a strong resemblance to his first wife, Emma Gifford.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 08:14 AM
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Grindeldoo, I have A Pair of Blue Eyes in a stack. I will move it up in the pile now, thanks.

The final day

At long last, our final day of touring arrives. We dropped two of our group at the train station in Shipley, as they were heading to Scotland. The other five of us, re shuffled car driving responsibilities and left Shipley for Eyam.

One of my favorite authors is Geraldine Brooks. I heard her speak here in Colorado when our town did a town wide read of her book March. However, it was her book, A Year of Wonder, that brought us to Eyam. As she tells it, she and her author husband, Tony Horwitz, were needing a break from covering the Middle East as journalists and traveled to Englad for a few days. The stumbled upon the little village of Eyam and she became fascinated with the story of this town during the plague. A Year of Wonder is that story.

We arrived on a day that the museum was closed but we walked around the village and read all the plaques in front of the plague cottages that gave you a sense of the story. The church there has information boards about the village and how they sealed themselves off from the surrounding towns to try to contain the contagion. There is an interesting stained glass window that tells the village plague story. The churchyard also has a 7th century Celtic Cross.

It was a short drive from Eyam to our last stop, Chatsworth. I had to let go of visiting Haddon Hall, as really, at some point you just have to admit defeat. That was hard though as it was used in the latest Jane Eyre movie among other things. On to Chatsworth. Parking was a pound or so. We ate in one of the cafeterias. This place was unreal. The infrastructure just to support tourism is massive- restaurants, cafeterias, bathrooms, gift shops. No wonder it cost 16 pounds to tour the house and gardens. There was an annual floral arranging exhibit in the house at this time so besides the over the top furnishings, art, decorated ceilings, we had amazing floral displays to take in too. Really, what does one say about this lavish place? I really enjoyed the gardens, with the fountains, rock grotto, water features, green houses and specialty gardens. Something for everyone!

Why were we here? Well, a lot of the Keira Knightley version of Austen's P and P movie was shot here. if that wasn't enough of a draw, we read Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and our lovely friend, Keira, also starred in the movie, The Duchess, about Georgiana. This is the home of the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Cozy little place they have here too. We spent hours soaking it all up.

Eventually, we flung ourselves down the M1 to the Jury's inn at Heathrow for a next day flight home. We had seen so much and yet, left so many literary sights undone. Wish we could have done the Lake District for instance. Another time I suppose. The British have a lot to be proud of in their lovely country. We were met everywhere with kindness and good humor. Enjoyed walking in the footsteps of so many of our favorite authors and seeing places we had imagined for so long. Thanks again to all of you who helped plan our Book club tour ! feel free to contact me if you want any information about where we stayed etc... Beth
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 08:16 AM
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<<Hebden Bridge has connections to Sylvia Plath and Ted Williams as well.>> Ted Hughes?
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 08:29 AM
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yes, had a baseball moment there! Ted Hughes, sorry.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 09:22 AM
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Regarding Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, their country home “Green Court” was in Devon I believe. She used the farm as a backdrop to many of her poems.

Love to roam, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your report. You visited the environs of my favorites writers including Hardy and Bronte – love their dark sides. What a job to put that trip together and maintain good cheer! Thanks so much for sharing.

If you organize another such group, I would love to sign up.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 09:40 AM
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I also have thoroughly enjoyed your wanderings, especially Haworth & the moors. Small point - Patrick Branwell, known as Branwell, was the Bronte brother. Branwell was his mother's maiden name. Note to self - include Haworth on next trip.

I also enjoyed Eyam. The story of the village's courage during the plague is inspiring.
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