Nestled amid the stark beauty of the Yorkshire moors, Top Withens stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.” This desolate farmhouse, believed to be the inspiration for the novel’s haunting setting, draws literary pilgrims from around the world. Yet, beyond its connection to Brontë’s masterpiece, Top Withens harbours tales that veer into the realm of the supernatural, intertwining folklore with the fabric of literary history.
But is it haunted? I have seen tantalising references in books, online, for years suggesting yes but never got down to a primary source. Until now.
Frequently, references to it being haunted support themselves with a quote from a 1922 Yorkshire Evening Post article about an ex-soldier who occupied the farm building at the time… The quote, as given, runs, “A man can’t be lonely at ‘Wuthering Heights.’ “, often with words describing the tone as “ominous” or such like. BUT… The full quote goes on to say, “A man can’t be lonely at ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Scarce a day passes but some Brontë admirers visit it”.
Not quite the ominous tone implied!
Indeed, when the ex-soldier is questioned by visitors to the site about possible spectral encounters, he deflects these questions with a sense of humour to his companions, Jerry and Nelson, a dog and a one-eyed fowl, suggesting a light-hearted interaction with the supernatural curiosity of the visitors.
However, the atmosphere shifts when the conversation turns to the “Hunter’s wind,” a phenomenon distinct from the playful banter about phantoms. The soldier narrates a chilling experience: “One day,” he recalls, “I had my brother staying with me. I brought Tommy (note: Tommy is the ex-soldier’s horse) up from the village and let him loose in the field. Suddenly my brother, who was in the kitchen, shouted and asked what Tommy was doing. I looked out the window and there was Tommy lying in the field. Then my brother exclaimed ‘Listen’ and we heard the noise of horse hoofs beating on the ground.” This sound, linked to the ancient superstition of the “Hunter’s wind,” is believed to foretell death, a legend that the soldier admits having encountered multiple times.
This account of the “Hunter’s wind” at Top Withens offers a fascinating connection to the broader tapestry of mythical lore, particularly the Wild Hunt and Gabriel’s Hounds. In various cultures, the Wild Hunt, led by figures such as Herla, Odin, or Gwyn ap Nudd, is a spectral procession seen as an omen of misfortune or a harbinger of death. The legend of Gabriel’s Hounds, associated with the sounds of the Hunt’s ghostly hunting dogs, similarly forebodes doom, providing a link to the Guytrash, another spectral entity in local folklore, further enriches the supernatural narrative of the moors surrounding Haworth.
The 1922 newspaper article thus paints Top Withens not just as a literary landmark but as a confluence of folklore and spectral phenomena. The “Hunter’s wind,” with its ominous portents, adds a layer of mystique to the already enigmatic location. Whether one believes in the supernatural or not, the stories and legends associated with Top Withens enhance its allure, making it a place where the boundaries between reality and myth seem blurred.
Through its association with “Wuthering Heights” and its own unique folklore, Top Withens emerges as a fascinating destination for those drawn to the intersection of literary history, ghostly tales, and ancient superstitions. It stands as a symbol of how places can become imbued with the stories and legends we weave, creating a tapestry rich with the echoes of the past and the whispers of the unseen.