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How to spend a weekend in Yorkshire (for literature lovers!)


16th Feb 2024 My Britain

7 min read

How to spend a weekend in Yorkshire (for literature lovers!)
Spend a weekend in idyllic Yorkshire exploring the hauntingly beautiful landscapes that inspired some of Britain's most beloved authors
Yorkshire is best known for its wide open moors and Viking heritage, but did you know it also has a rich literary history? It has been both home and inspiration to a vast array of beloved British authors, including the Brontë sisters, Bram Stoker and J B Priestley, making it a must-see destination for any book lover.
And you can squeeze so much into a long weekend! Just three days of exploring will take you from the storm-beaten moors that evoke Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre to the Gothic charm of Whitby.

The city of York

Begin your trip with a day in the beautiful and historic city of York. It’s said that if the wind blows right, the whole city smells like chocolate. That’s because York is home to Rowntree’s chocolate factory, now owned by Nestlé, where many of the country’s best-loved confectionary originated, including the Kit-Kat. Breathe in the delicious air as you start your day with a stroll round the York City Walls, erected by the Romans as a defence against their enemies. It takes around two hours to walk the full length of the walls, but to save some time you can just go from Monkgate to Bootham Bar, a 20-minute walk boasting extraordinary views of York Minster.
Okay, onto the book stuff. York is full of bookshops! If you’re in the vicinity of York Minster, head to the Minster Gate Bookshop, a cosy little maze of a shop with four floors of secondhand and antiquarian books. Seriously, the shop is stuffed to the gills—you’ll find piles of books almost your height in every spare corner. You’ll be hard pressed to leave without buying something!
Inside the Minster Gate Bookshop
Another cosy independent bookshop with slightly more contemporary offerings is the Little Apple Bookshop on High Petergate. It is small but well-stocked, and you can spend some time perusing the titles. Just make sure you bring a big enough bag for all your new books! Other bookshops to pop into include the Portal Bookshop, which specialises in LGBT+ books, and Lucius Books if you’re into rare and expensive. 
"Head to the Minster Gate Bookshop, a maze of a shop with four floors of secondhand and antiquarian books"
Between your bookshop crawl, make sure to have a wander through the Shambles. It’s one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe, with some of its buildings dating back to the 14th century. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll appreciate the street’s similarity to Diagon Alley. No Harry Potter scenes were filmed there and J K Rowling herself has denied that the Shambles was her inspiration, but that hasn’t stopped several wizard-themed shops from opening their doors there!
End your day by checking into The Grand, a luxurious hotel in walking distance of the city centre. Originally built in 1906 during the golden era of rail travel and formerly the headquarters of North Eastern Railway, it certainly lives up to its name. Friendly doormen welcome you into the elegant foyer, which is like stepping back into Edwardian times with its high ceiling and smiling concierges. Complete with a spa, gym, restaurant and bar, you could easily pass a day or two without even leaving the building! 
The Grand, York. Image courtesy of The Grand
The executive double bedroom. Image courtesy of The Grand
They offer a range of luxury packages, including the Reader’s Retreat, a two-night stay with transport to four literary hotspots near York. After your day in the city, enjoy a delicious dinner at their restaurant, The Rise, and then get cosy on a sofa in the bar with a cocktail and one of your new books.

Haworth and the Yorkshire Dales

Start your day with a hearty Yorkshire breakfast and then it’s time to explore beyond York. If you drive ten minutes in any direction from The Grand, the city just melts away and you are suddenly in the countryside. Today you’ll head west towards Haworth, home of powerhouse literary family the Brontës, accompanied by the delightfully knowledgeable Andrew from Expedition Yorkshire, a tour company offering small, intimate guided tours that give an insight into the heart and soul of Yorkshire. As he guides you around Yorkshire’s literary landmarks, you’ll have a hard time thinking of a question that he can’t answer.
As you move west, you’ll notice the landscape changing (and if you don’t notice, don’t worry—Andrew will tell you exactly what to look out for). While the land just outside York is flat, it begins to get hillier as you move further away from the city, and the geology gets older. It becomes increasingly rugged and wild—less quaint, cosy England and more Wuthering Heights. 
"A bit of lashing rain and screaming wind will put you in mind of Heathcliff and Cathy running to each other across the moors"
Weather doesn’t really matter in the Yorkshire Dales. If anything, it’s more atmospheric in a howling gale. A bit of lashing rain and screaming wind will put you in mind of Heathcliff and Cathy running to each other across the moors. 
The town of Haworth takes about an hour and a half to reach by car, and once you get there you could while away an hour or two just wandering in and out of the various little shops and cafes. Definitely pop into Hawksby’s, a beautifully curated gallery of ceramics, jewellery and gifts made by independent artists.
But the star of the show is, of course, the Brontë Parsonage. A Grade I listed building, the parsonage is perched at the top of Haworth, directly above the church, where the Brontë patriarch Patrick was a minister, and its accompanying graveyard. The house is a site of pilgrimage for dedicated Brontë fans, of which there are many—when it first opened to the public in 1928, people queued all the way past the church for the chance to visit. It is run by the Brontë Society, which was founded in 1893 and is one of the oldest literary societies in the world.
The dining room in the Brontë Parsonage
Today, the parsonage is decorated to resemble as closely as possible how it would have looked when the Brontës themselves lived there. You can see the desk at which Patrick Brontë wrote his sermons, you can see the sofa on which Emily Brontë allegedly died of tuberculosis.
There is an air of death about the place: when you stand at the end of the parsonage’s front garden, you look directly onto the overcrowded graveyard. It is estimated that there are around 40,000 bodies buried there, a fact that will be more shocking when you see the size of it with your own eyes. Haworth was plagued by endless death, with the life expectancy being under 25 years. If you walk through the cemetery, you’ll see gravestones that list three, four, five children from the same family who all died before the age of five. Charlotte Brontë wrote once that when the wind blew a certain way, a horrible smell drifted from the graveyard right up to the parsonage windows. 
Responsible for burying so many of his parishioners, Patrick Brontë wrote repeatedly to the government asking for someone to investigate. Finally in 1850 someone came, and found that the village’s drinking water was being contaminated by the overcrowded graveyard. The Brontë family were not spared from tragedy; Patrick Brontë ultimately outlived all his children.
A guest book with Virginia Woolf's signature from 1904
Attached to the parsonage is a more recently built library which attracts scholars from across the world, as well as filmmakers and documentarians looking to create new interpretations of the Brontës’ lives. The space is full of curious books, including illustrated early editions of the Brontës’ works, and a guest book featuring Virginia Woolf’s signature when she visited in 1904 (although she signed with her maiden name, Virginia Stephens). Virtually anything connected to the Brontës ends up there, no matter how tenuous the link—they even have old Monty Python scripts because they once did a Wuthering Heights sketch.
On Haworth’s doorstep are the Yorkshire dales, which demand to be visited. You can explore them by car or, for the hardiest among you, on foot. As you drive back to York in the evening under a gunmetal sky, the endless dales take on a ghostly air, and it’s easy to image Heathcliff and Cathy embracing on the moor in the fading light. You yourself will be relieved to get back to the warm, welcoming Grand, where dinner is waiting for you at The Rise!

Whitby and the North York Moors

On your last day in Yorkshire, head east towards Whitby. Andrew will drive you expertly through the beautiful North York Moors until you see the sea on the horizon, and then you follow the coast to the beautifully Gothic Whitby.
Yorkshire Dales, Image courtesy of Expedition Yorkshire
Whitby’s literary associations go back a long way. In the 700s AD, a cowherd called Cædmon who cared for the animals at Streonæshalch (now Whitby Abbey) wrote a nine-line poem praising God, called “Cædmon's Hymn”. He is believed to be the first person to write a poem in something like the English we know today with his name next to it—arguably the first piece of creative writing with a byline. You can visit a memorial to him in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church.
"Whitby’s literary associations go back a long way"
More recently, Whitby inspired an infamously gory scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula—you can visit a bench which boasts the view that inspired the scene. Look out across the bay at the 199 steps leading up to St Mary’s Church and imagine Dracula running up the steps in dog form on his way to viciously maul an innocent woman. Or don’t, actually. It’s pretty morbid. Maybe just enjoy your packed lunch instead!
The view from the top of the 199 steps in Whitby
Suitably fuelled, make your own way up the 199 steps to explore the graveyard at St Mary’s Church. The gravestones are all curiously disfigured by coastal weathering, so a hunt for Dracula’s grave will be fruitless, but you can enjoy breathtaking views of the rugged and wild Yorkshire Coast. Then you can wander over to the imposing ruins of Whitby Abbey for a side of history. 
After a day of exploring, treat yourself to a refreshing drink at The White Horse and Griffin, a pub that was frequented by one of England’s most celebrated authors, Charles Dickens. Other authors who visited Whitby in their day include Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Gaskell (known for writing the first biography of Charlotte Brontë). And after your magical trip to Yorkshire, you might be inspired to join their numbers and write a book of your own!
You can book onto a Reader’s Retreat at The Grand here, which includes a two-night stay in a luxury 5-star hotel and transport to four literary hotspots.
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