The Silver Travel Book Club is proudly sponsored by our good friends at HF Holidays. In December 2019 our book of the month was the timeless classic ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë, and over the last weekend of January 2020, almost sixty avid book-lovers descended on Yorkshire – God’s Own Country – for the inaugural HF Brontë Book Club Weekend.
I somehow wangled an invitation, and here are my thoughts on a rather rewarding literary weekend.
I hadn’t read anything by the Brontë sisters for almost 50 years, but having Jane Eyre as our Silver Travel Book Club book of the month recently allowed me to contact Lizzie Enfield – one of the HF Brontë Book Club Leaders – and reacquaint myself with some of the book’s themes in this illuminating Q&A interview with her.
Seeing a splendid new stage adaptation of Jane Eyre by Blackeyed Theatre the day before heading up to Yorkshire also really helped to reawaken the Brontë senses.
HF Holidays have 18 country houses located in some of the most beautiful places in England, Scotland and Wales. The Brontë Weekend was at Newfield Hall, an imposing house built in 1856 and with some of the best views in the Dales. In Malhamdale, it is less than 5 miles to the famous limestone cliff structures at Malham Cove, but there are plenty of other shorter walks from the house, all thoughtfully printed up for guests to use.
But we were here to immerse ourselves in literature, rather than the landscape. And after a relaxing Friday afternoon and evening, meeting fellow guests and enjoying the restaurant and bar, the bookish fun started in earnest on Saturday.
We were split into three separate groups. In rotation, over Saturday and Sunday, we would discuss three Brontë classics with different Leaders – journalist and author Lizzie Enfield led the ‘Jane Eyre’ chats (Charlotte), fantasy writer Elizabeth Hopkinson was ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ expert (Anne) and – after teaching English for a lifetime – Alison Carr knew all there was to know about ‘Wuthering Heights’ (Emily).
Each of the Leaders had their own structure for the two-hour sessions, but everyone agreed that was a refreshing approach to take for the book-focused part of the weekend. Questions like ‘what might you ask Emily or one of her characters from Wuthering Heights if they were here?’ or ‘which themes in Jane Eyre are still relevant today?’ certainly elicited lively debates. But there was no pressure at all to participate vocally, if you didn’t want to. ‘This is your holiday’ was a popular mantra.
Outside of these core sessions, a trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in nearby Haworth was arranged for Sunday, allowing everyone to immerse themselves in the home of these remarkable sisters, where they penned the stories that stay with us so powerfully today. There was plenty of flexibility over the weekend to stretch the legs outside, as soggy as it was. And I stepped up to the plate to deliver a short presentation after dinner one evening. I talked about ‘books with a strong sense of place’, the basis of what our friends and partners at TripFiction offer. The concept is illustrated so well by the power of reading and talking about these classic Brontë books in Yorkshire, a stone’s throw from the sisters’ old home.
Food is an integral part of the Newfield Hall experience. Afternoon tea, huge breakfasts, imaginative DIY picnic lunches and excellent three-course dinners – sourced wherever possible from local ingredients – mean you won’t go home hungry. The gin tasting session one evening helped with digestion and lubricated the literary passages nicely one evening too.
Newfield Hall has undergone a recent refurbishment to provide top-class bedroom suites, as well as welcoming reception rooms. Nice touches include a boot and drying room, local produce for sale, walking maps to borrow, an indoor swimming pool and free WiFi.
Magnificent scenery, top-class food and the company of fellow book-lovers – what’s not to like! I thoroughly enjoyed HF’s inaugural Brontë Book Club Weekend.
Now then, where’s my copy of Charlotte’s ‘Villette’ …
Huge thank you to HF Holidays for their continued sponsorship of the Silver Travel Book Club, and remember to check back each month to see which book we’re reading, and all you have to do is leave an appropriate comment to be in with a chance of winning a copy.