Kirklees – a landscape of heather moorlands, literary inspiration, gigantic pies and, quite possibly, the remains of Robin Hood…
The borough of Kirklees in West Yorkshire, which forms part of the South Pennines and Peak District National Park, is named after Kirklees Priory, the supposed burial place of Robin Hood. While the roots of this tale may be slightly dubious, there can be little doubt as to another literary connection in this historic area; that of Charlotte Brontë who penned her novel Shirley, inspired by the rugged hills, historic houses and local people of the beautiful Spen Valley.
Literary and TV fame
Whether you're a Brontë fan or not, you cannot fail to be impressed by the 17th-century Red House in the village of Gomersal, home to Charlotte's lifelong friend Mary Taylor and inspiration for 'Briarmains' in Shirley. It's now a museum boasting elegant period rooms, flagstoned kitchens and a rose-filled garden. Oakwell Hall in Birstall inspired 'Fieldhead' in the novel, home of heroine Shirley Keeldar. Visitors can still see many features Charlotte describes in the book, from the stone porch to the latticed windows.
And if you’re more of a TV fan than a bookworm, a visit to Holmfirth is sure to appeal, best known as the backdrop of comedy classic Last of the Summer Wine. This characterful village is brimming with independent shops and tearooms, and in July plays host to the UK’s largest open art exhibition.
Onto the moors
Why not experience the dramatic landscapes that inspired Brontë for yourself and venture out onto Marsden Moor, a haven for hill-walkers, wildlife watchers, photographers and adventure seekers. The heather moorland, wooded valleys, reservoirs, packhorse trails and rugged peaks teeming with red grouse will transport you to another age. Go in search of the US B-17 'Flying Fortress' that crashed in 1945, its remains still scattered across the moors, or follow the trail of the Stanza Stones engraved with poetry evoking the splendour (and changeable weather) of the landscape.
Hearty local fare
For a taster of the mouthwatering produce Kirklees has to offer, there's a wealth of local shops and markets to fill your picnic basket in Huddersfield and Holmfirth, plus the renowned Dewsbury Market, which takes place in a Victorian market hall and boasts many stalls selling Yorkshire fare. The TransPennine Real Ale Trail is a must if you want to explore real ale pubs all within walking distance of railway stations, and if that's worked up an appetite, go in search of the Victorian meat pie buried in quicklime in a field in Denby Dale, a village famous for baking record-breaking giant pies.