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Thursday, 17 January 2019

What Anne Bronte means to me - marking 199 years since Anne Bronte’s birth


Anne Bronte was born on 17 January 1820, which is 199 years ago today.   

It’s no exaggeration for me to say that the entrance of Anne Bronte’s novels and her own life story appeared in my life so dramatically and at such a well-timed juncture, to make its meaning life-changing for me, the detail and implications of which are still being ruminated upon.  I'm slowly drip feeding the meaning I make into books and blogs and thank you to those who support and read the little I publish on here, my own blog.

The view south from Anne's grave

What Anne means to me

On a practical front, as readers know, I live close to Anne’s grave and try to keep it looking nice.  Her grave is highly popular with visitors all year round and it’s no wonder owing to the location.  Today it’s both blustery and snowing.  It was snowing when Anne was born in 1820.


Back when the ground was very dry, July 2018

On an intellectual front, when I find moments in between work, parenting and illness, I’m writing a book to help people understand the patterns of abuse and the steps that can be taken to remove yourself from it and rebuild your life, taking Anne’s work and the Brontes’ own life stories as an illustrative basis.

But how to mark the anniversary of her date of birth?  To my mind this isn’t so much of a “birthday”, what with her being deceased and all, so decorating her grave with balloons and party poppers formed a ghastly if hilarious vision and no doubt I’d set the place on fire by trying to put that many candles on a cake.

Having decided on the traditional laying of flowers, the weather decided to curtail that one for now, so instead, I decided to note down a few thoughts on where my heart and head has taken me through the reading I've done over the past few months with Anne:

A few thoughts on Anne Bronte

I’ll admit to growing weary of the “twin-like” comparison between Anne and Emily.  We have enough evidence of their different adult life experiences, anecdotes by character witnesses and plenty of evidence in their own writing to suggest they were unlikely “twins”, a phrase coined by Ellen Nussey.

I’m not denying their connection, nor that they most likely entwined arms on their walks, nor that they wrote together as children, all of which is based in factual evidence.  Rather I feel that overemphasising their connection can be reductive to the bonds they both had with other family members.

Perhaps by virtue of living in Scarborough, I can’t help but notice that Anne, Branwell, Charlotte (and Ellen, the Robinson family and Margaret Wooler!) all had parts to play in parts of the story that happened in the seaside town of Scarborough.  Which brings me to Anne and Branwell.

Anne holidayed here for 5 weeks with the Robinson family every summer during her employment in 1840-1845 (although not in 1845 as she’d resigned her post by then) in a place called Wood’s Lodgings on St Nicholas Cliff overlooking South Bay, where the Grand Hotel now stands.

Wood's Lodgings

Grand Hotel, same location as former Wood's Lodgings

During the years when Branwell was employed by the Robinsons too, Anne and Branwell would have been in Scarborough together, as well as working together in the same family household at Thorpe Green.  That’s quite a chunk of time they spent together as adults.  There is no evidence to suggest that either of them did anything but a very good job, as you’d expect: intellectually, they were more than qualified.

The Rotunda Museum of Geology 

The random picture of the Rotunda above is because when I see the place I imagine both Branwell and Anne visiting it.  Without a scrap of evidence, it's just that I think it can't all have been Branwell and Lydia nipping off for a smooch while Anne minded the youngsters. Maybe there was an educational element to their hols too, such as the study of fossils.

In the summer of 1845, however, Branwell was dismissed from his position, unexpectedly to him.  The Robinson family had come to Scarborough without him and dismissed him before he was due to arrive in the town with young Edmund.  Like the harbourside, it was all very fishy.

Bronte Parsonage Museum
Formerly The Parsonage, Haworth

But this wasn’t the first time Anne and Branwell had spent time together.  There were those months of the horrific missed goodbyes during 1824-5 when the others were farmed out to the Clergy Daughters’ School.  Relatively little is made of the time Anne and Branwell spent together at home, carefully watching it all as children under the supervision of Aunt Branwell.  Perhaps their shared bond at home during this time explains why Anne and Branwell reported a stronger connection with Aunt Branwell than the other siblings did.  Certainly, Aunt Branwell must have found it easier to handle two children than six.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to be out and about during the Crow Hill bog burst in September 1824, and listening to their father talk about how it heralded the end of the world, they then witnessed various other destabilising childhood events: the dismissal of Nancy and Sarah Garrs, servants who’d lived with them all their formative years, the arrival of Tabby, the exit of Emily off to school, the arrival home of Maria and the three months of nursing her until she died.  All the family are buried in the family vault under the church of St Michael and All Angels, Haworth.

St Michael and All Angels, Haworth

Attending a funeral of a sibling must have been very hard for young Anne and Branwell, especially when dislocated from their other sisters.  To see it play on repeat the following month when their sister Elizabeth died, must have been traumatic in the extreme.

Although Anne was only five years old at that time, it’s no wonder she grew up with an old head on her shoulders.  It’s a wonder anybody wanted to venture out of the house ever again.  But venture out she did.

Anne Bronte, by her sister Charlotte 

Anne may have been “quiet” but that didn’t stop her brain from working nor her keen eye observing the unjust behaviour of others and it didn’t stop her bravely dedicating herself to writing works that could be of use to society, regardless of whether the course of action she proposed for her heroine was illegal, both then and now for different reasons.  This girl had guts.

Not only was Anne real and down to earth, with a desire to “copy from life” the behaviours she witnessed (in so many ways EXACTLY the same as Charlotte did!) but she was also way ahead in her thinking.

Anne's second novel

I don’t feel there was anything lacking in Anne’s work whatsoever, BUT she did write fearlessly about the underhanded covert abuses that are insidious in our society.  My own angle of observation tells me time doesn’t seem to change the battles of the human spirit, nor the answers.  Society on the surface will appear to change, laws will change, but underneath it all, you have the same core issues and resolutions.

The fight is real and the themes Anne discussed are hugely important right now.  If you haven’t yet read Anne’s two novels, she promises topics covering domestic abuse, sexism, parent alienation, rights of workers and animal rights.

Yet to readers both then and now, Anne’s topics are apparently not as appealing as a ghost sticking her hand through a window but maybe that’s because escapism is easier than real life.  CONTROVERSIAL!  No matter, when all else fails, you can always pass everything off as Charlotte’s fault or just criticise Branwell.

Visual interlude: Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald
BBC Adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1996

Anne does offer a thread of “love story” for traditionalists, but I certainly didn’t come away from either of her novels feeling like “I just read a love story”.  Neither can I truly feel that Anne had a smouldering Toby Stephens lookalike in mind when she penned (quilled?) Gilbert Markham.

Anne’s protagonists Agnes and Helen make their counterparts work hard for love and prove themselves over time.  Love didn’t come easy: it took time through solid, consistent interactions and a focus on practical, grounded daily life.  Showing up, day after day, putting in the commitment.  If they weren't looking after animals for real like Farmer Gilbert, they were metaphorically taking care of their flock like Rev Edward Weston.  Or rescuing dogs.  You get the theme, which is just about as far removed from Heathcliff as you could possibly imagine.

Because most abusers start with animals, and it ain't long before they drip feed their abuse onto children and women before doing something truly horrific, say like ploughing a truck into a crowd of people or getting a rifle and taking people out at a concert.  Anne's message couldn't be simpler - get the basics right, like looking after household pets.  I'll add to that, if pets are too hard, start your nurturing journey with plants.  And never marry anyone who can't look after either.

Anne took great care to explain how the opposite love story works, the apparently easier route, in her portrayal of her husband Arthur Huntingdon – all show, meaningless flowery fancy language, arrogant selfishness and over the top gestures that ultimately resulted in nothing.  And how could it mean a thing when he was permanently operating from a place of ego?  If only Helen had known.  If only we'd all known.  And this was what Anne was trying to tell us.

Anne is for the brave.  Anne offers healing for the suffering through her intimate character portrayals, and shines a light of hope for those unafraid to stare at truth and live in a way that honours their true spirit.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

What is Manifestation and did I manifest my Endometriosis?


I have many issues with the concept of manifestation and the law of attraction, which I will document separately.  Here I am going to attempt to address the spiritual connection and energy flow within the human body, with how manifestation works.  When manifestation goes wrong, we have an energy block and we manifest a Disease – the opposite to Ease.

Manifestation is the actualising of your desires into reality

It’s about being a conscious creator -whether you desire a new car, to be a doctor or to paint a picture. The possibilities are infinite.

Your manifestations are moving through you and they must be flowing.  The energy needs to flow – from thought to word to deed.  Where you are out of alignment is where your thoughts and feelings are not allowed true flow of expression.

Manifestation is when you say what do I want or need in my life?  And then you bring that into reality

When viewed through the energy flowing through your chakras, in a spiritual sense, your desires appear as thoughts and emotions, in the higher chakras, but in order for those to manifest you must bring them down into your lower chakras.


The sacral and root chakra is where you birth your ideas into life

The womb is the seat of creativity.  Creative blocks, therefore, can manifest in the reproductive organs in both men and women.

The spiritual inspiration comes in from above and arises when you connect to the higher chakras
You integrate this into an energetic flow throughout your body, bringing it down into the physical manifestation chakras

Finally it is BORN into this world through the last chakra



The red chakra, the root, the red spectrum.  And here we are, back to red.  The fire I can’t stop about, the fire that burns within me, the red I keep wearing and choosing

Red, the colour of the planet Mars, the ruler of my Sun sign, Aries.  The Grand Fire Trine in my chart that links my Sun (great ball of fire!), Mercury (communication), Neptune (spirituality) and Saturn (blocks, barriers and Old Father Time)

And I think for the first time, how much the head of the Ram looks just like the shape of the female reproductive organs

The red energy that is getting stuck and has no true outlet

The great red inflamed womb stuck inside me, constantly bleeding with no outlet, with no one paying heed to its cry (ME NOT PAYING HEED TO ITS CRY!)

My red blood-filled sacs of endometriosis that line my reproductive organs

Advanced endometriosis 

The inflammation stuck inside that has no outlet, that will not be birthed but stays trapped inside me like the blood that finds no release, crying in pain

Is it any wonder I look pregnant half the time when there is so much to birth that is getting stuck?

There is only one thing for it...

Stop blocking and start creating

It is time to start the birthing process

Wearing a red coat



Womb Work - Does Rape have any effect on Endometriosis?


Red spots show endometriosis - but the causes remain a mystery

I’m writing a reflective series about my endometriosis and considering the part that my life experiences may have played in contributing to the illness.  As part of looking at the specific trauma I suffered, I’m going to briefly document the rapes and accompanying abuse I suffered during the  time period 2000 – 2003.

·         During 2000-2001 I was a victim of rape, perpetrated by one of the senior managers at work.  This was supposedly a top-notch, highly sought after graduate training programme at one of the world’s largest professional services firms.  Scandalous, huh?  His rapes were mixed in with routine workplace sexism passed off as banter, attacks on my professionalism, and a culture of affairs and promiscuity pervasive in the department that provided a whole raft of enablers and silence on my part.  Maybe I'd done something wrong, I thought.

·         The rapes were sustained for 6 months, carried out in hotel rooms whilst working on client jobs and in my own home, until I felt I had no choice but to leave the company.  His accompanying behaviour was to construct a narrative to trap me and make me feel I was unable to tell anyone.  He always smirked when he checked me for bruises and produced a counter story so convincing, I believed he would find it easier to convince others his story held more truth than mine.  I still believe I was right to remain silent, in fact it was an act of survival.

·         It’s interesting to note how oddly open the abuse was, in terms of being consciously discussed between the pair of us, yet it remained undisclosed by me through the place of fear and horror I was in.  I can only assume part of the thrill psychologically for him was to be able to knowingly get away with it.

·         The worst and most immediate effect was a feeling of cold, soulless blackness, that the light had been turned off in my world.  I was unable to find myself.  A feeling of wholeness (body, mind and spirit intact together) that comes with well-being was absent from my life for a matter of many years.

·         Another overriding feeling I took with me for so long was that he wrecked my career.  It was always going to be obvious that my relationships and sex life would be a complete car crash after what happened, but to feel that my career was a hard slog as well magnified my hurt.  The effects were far reaching: I startled easily, the damage to my mental health resulted in the erroneous belief that I could only take on increasingly menial work, I trusted no one and gave zero workplace loyalty.  In being suppressed from the honesty I so valued, I had a constant feeling of being unable to produce what needed to come out.  The hurt and shame stayed locked inside me.

·         After this, he stalked me for 2-3 years and only let up a little when I was living with others.  When I was living alone, he saw me as fair game again and he’d turn up on my doorstep, my workplace, call me at work or come and stand grinning in my garden waving at me through the window.  The impact on my life was that I constantly kept moving jobs and houses.  I had no stability, no roots and lived in fear.  All of this was suppressed and I pretended to everyone I was fine.  This went on until 2003 when I accidentally grey rocked him one day.  Look up grey rock technique, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it, but it worked and that was the last day I saw him.

·         It's not really a surprise that with those experiences I manifested an illness in the womb.  My creative potential in my career was stunted too.

What are the implications for the womb here?

·         Location of site of bodily attack consistent with area of manifested disease
·         Suppression of voice consistent with energy being stuck where should flow out
·         Invisibility of the repeated attacks – the effects remains stuck inside


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Endometriosis blog and womb work


At the moment my emotions are up and down due to the lack of pattern with my pain levels from my endometriosis.  I’m going to be writing some updates on my blog and sharing them on my social media sites because it’s not easy to understand – for me, let alone anyone else.  It’s tough to deal with an illness that is unpredictable, misunderstood, impacts my life greatly and has no end point.  1 in 10 women suffer with this disease (if not more) and it's about time it was treated with the seriousness it deserves.

I’ve been signed off work for 4 weeks due to the severity of my pain levels and the quantity of drugs I’m having to take to ease the symptoms.  Some days I might be fine but on the days I'm crawling on my hands and knees crying in pain are not days to be lecturing in front of a class for a matter of hours.  Nor can I get my brain to work in the way it needs, to function in capacity as a lecturer, which feels really sad.

Last week I took back a tiny amount of control by booking a private appointment with a specialist. NHS waiting times are inappropriately long and completely out of kilter with the severity of symptoms of this disease.

Yesterday I felt good for the first time in 3 weeks.  Today I feel so bad I’ve had to take maximum strength painkillers again and I struggled with walking to town (15 mins away) and to the castle (5 mins away).

There is NO PATTERN to the pain I suffer which is really hard for people to get their heads around but it’s also completely true.

I know from when I suffered before, there is still a lack of understanding from doctors but moreover, it’s so frustrating to perceive other people’s desire for an easy fix.  They want me to be better – of course they do, and this is normal, but the evidence says I’m not going to get better without repeated surgery.

There is so much to unpick from all of this - the ups and downs of it just fly around my head all the time.  If by writing down the truth of the situation I can get my head around it a little better and perhaps even help someone articulate what they are also experiencing, then maybe it will do a little good.  I’ve also started to jot down some thoughts on the emotional side of womb work (since endo is a disease of the womb) so I *may* be sharing some thoughts on what comes out of that.


Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Goodbye 2018 and thank you for a year of writing



Almost everyone I know has had a tough year in 2018, which makes it difficult to say that for me, 2018 was one of the most enjoyable and transformational years of my life.  That’s not to say things have been easy.  If my year was easy or otherwise unremarkable, I wouldn’t recognise it as being my life.

2018 held the vibration of 11 which is a master number: there are always challenges to be faced with a master number but as a life-path 22 only just stepping into my truth, the 11 suited me well.

Not much has changed from the outside, but profound shifts have taken place within.  By orientating from within not without, my reactions to external events have noticeably shifted.  Perhaps that’s what happens when you set your intentions for the year based on Emily Bronte.

Thank you 

I’d like to thank every reader for following along, reading my blogs and for being involved, whether we’ve been in contact or not.  There have certainly been some interesting chats and discussions, mainly private, as a result of some of the things I’ve posted.

Your own truth

No matter how small you start, no matter how insignificant you think your message is, no matter how others criticise or want to make you wrong, when you stand strong in your own truth and your own voice it can’t help but empower others to do the same.

People still come to me baffled, aghast and disbelieving, asking why I’m writing and publishing so much personal information!  Let me answer.


Where did this come from?

During 2016 and 2017 over and over I kept giving the same advice to my social media clients: it doesn’t matter the current impact of your name or the size of your following.  What matters is that you find the right words, tone and images that most truthfully convey who you really are at your core.
Whether you’re an individual or business, the same principle applies.  You know truth when you see, hear or read it because it feels good.  Stick to your values and communicate what matters most to you.  There is zero point in publishing anything inauthentic although sometimes I think social media will burst with it.

When you stay true to your own voice and passions, the right people will magnetise to you.  This is just how it works.  Quality over quantity, always, and if you need to say something that feels outside the norm, that’s not only okay, it’s necessary.


Then came my own voice

What I hadn’t realised is that in 2018 I would use this same advice for my personal writing and start to communicate some of my pet themes: recovery from abuse, empowerment of women and developing spiritual awareness.

No matter how small and insignificant you find your own stories to be, I promise you they are valuable to someone.  We are all equal and we are all connected.  When you find the courage to step up and honour yourself even in small ways, you honour everyone else.

I didn’t concern myself too much with my audience, more on connecting with what I really wanted to produce.  So I try to connect with, “what feels like the right thing to write about – for me?”  What do I really want to share?  I held strong the belief that even if my blog is only read by one person then I reached that one person and it would have been worth it.  As it is I can't believe the number of hits this blog gets and from various parts of the world.  Hello!! And thank you again :) 

Instead, what happened without actively trying, was increasing numbers of individuals who held significance and meaning for me, gravitated into my life.  In particular, my writing about abuse has brought me into contact with a number of incredibly brave people who have shared their own confidential and heart-breaking stories with me.  I thank every one of them for trusting me with what some have barely uttered to others.

Little ripples can turn into big waves.


Life writing

Even more surprisingly, I’ve been staggered and flattered to be contacted by writers (people who do this for a living!) asking me how I “got into” life writing and can I give them tips on getting started with it?  Umm...

The answer is it’s just a stream of consciousness, one that flows in from above my head, percolates through my brain and flows out through the tap of my fingers on the keyboard.   Some of it has been stuck inside me for too long.  I've worn silence like a shroud all my life and slowly, that cloak is falling away.

Allowing the space for the right message to flow through is important, and writing is usually a cathartic process otherwise it remains unfinished and unpublished.

Once it’s done, the difficulty is always finding the courage to press publish.  The more people press publish on their authentic life, the more we give others the permission to tell their stories.  The highly sensitive, the vulnerable, the downtrodden - I want to hear from them.  I want to know the magic inside and help them find the reverse side of their pain, stepping into the beauty of a new truth.  There is courage and strength in vulnerability.



Practice

The purpose of me starting a blog was to practice.  To practice writing, yes, but moreover to practice the courage of telling my story.  To create something from nothing that was my own little space saying what I wanted to say.

As family and friends have guessed in frustration, there’s a whole raft of information that I’m still withholding, that is set to come out.  The cloak is heavy and can't be removed all at once.  All in good time.  Some of it is being poured into books and having a blog often helps organise my thoughts.  Thanks for being there for the start of this journey.

To all the people who have contacted me this year and shared their powerful, incredible, often heart-breaking stories, thank you for trusting me enough to be the recipient of your truth.  I hope the things I said in return were enough.  It is my greatest wish that you will know yourself fully and see yourself in your most magnificent light.


Your own story

The magic starts inside every one of us, when we realise the full power and truth of the wonderful creation that we each are.  I know my writing often comes over juvenile, basic and unsophisticated.  Sometimes the topics may be banal, sometimes the writing is rushed.

I suspend judgement on myself.

Thank you for every single person who has made even one positive comment towards me this year – all of your kindness has made me happier than you can know.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Remembering Grandad who would have turned 100 today


Thomas Redhead, born 31 December 1918

To see out 2018, it feels fitting to remember and honour my Grandad, who would have turned 100 today, 31 December.  Think of it as an alternative kind of telegram.

My Grandad, Thomas Redhead, was like my third parent: an honest, hardworking man with a philosophical outlook, earthiness and strong principles.

In his final years, we spent a lot of time together, him as an old man and me as a girl.  I always thought, isn’t life funny how this man who knew so much and had lived through a World War during the prime of his life, ended up spending his widowhood looking after me, his youngest granddaughter, in the school holidays?   You just never know who is going to turn up in your life, or when.

We'd go grocery shopping every day, and buy just enough to get by for a day or two.  It was all about the routine of getting out of the house.  There was no such thing as a big shop; Grandad's cupboards revealed the opposite of stockpiling.  As with many men of that era, after a lifetime of being cooked for, it was a shock for him to be in charge of food shopping and cooking.  We'd do jigsaws together, he'd teach me bits of German and we'd debate any topic under the sun in between listening to Connie Francis records.  I remember he had a particular aversion to the character of Paul Robinson on Neighbours (although from memory I think PR was a money-grabbing, scheming manipulator, so fair enough).

Grandad considered himself very lucky that he wasn't required in action in the war.  He stayed in Leeds and worked on building aircraft, but he had many tales to tell from friends and family who had served.

He was also very lucky to have married the love of his life and had a lifelong love affair with her.  He adored his wife, my Nana.  When he recalled her, it was clear he still saw her as being vivacious, passionate and beautiful.  Their love affair started in a munitions factory of all places, and they married soon after at Christmas.

Three children later and their back to back terrace with outside loo was getting cramped and inadequate.  While the Queen was having her Coronation in 1953, my Nana and Grandad were moving from their backstreet terrace to a brand-new housing estate, and by all accounts my Nana acted like Queen of her own palace.  They had a bathroom inside!  And lawns!  She curled her hair, put on her best lipstick and ironed her apron before going out to mow the lawn.  She took being a wife and mother very seriously.  They lived at number 111 and they never wanted for anything, perhaps because they had real love.

Grandad outlived his wife by ten years and his heartache told me he was still in love with her for every second of that time.

Grandad served dinner at precisely the same time every day and drank very strong tea made with loose leaves.  Even though he did have a few nice clothes, he kept wearing the same old jumper with the elbows worn through.  No matter how much Mum and I tried to convince him to wear something that wasn't threadbare, this old blue V-neck sweater kept re-emerging.  When he smoked, he'd open the kitchen window as though that would be enough for it not to impact my young asthmatic lungs.

He bitterly regretted ever having started smoking and firmly stated school trips should be to the hospital lung cancer ward so that everyone knew the perils of how smoking affects your health in later years.  He was ashamed to be addicted to nicotine and gave himself a hard time over not being able to quit.  He talked with some anxiety about what would happen when his own time came.  He was desperate not to have tubes in his face or an oxygen mask.  He always spoke of wanting "to be able to say goodbye properly".

He made life look simple: be honest, love fully, pay your bills on time and don’t ask for anything more than you need.  He told me never to smoke a cigarette or get a tattoo, so I didn't.  If only I’d have been interested in how to build aircraft, I could have learnt a lot more from him.  As it was, he taught me through example how to be fair, just and to do right by others.

I watched over him like a hawk every time he coughed, hoping he’d catch his breath again.  I didn’t understand the seriousness of emphysema until one day he suddenly wasn’t with us anymore.

The week he left us, I frequently saw and felt both my Nana and Grandad together again. I felt enveloped in love by both of them and I knew that ten years of separation no longer mattered.  The soul knows no timescale.  Love is patient.

I was so lucky to grow up protected by his stable, loving values.  Today I honour the part of me that came from a long line of Thomas Redheads.  Here's to Grandads everywhere: I'm truly grateful for the input of mine, into my life.

Down to earth.
Grandad and I making mud pies together.
Maybe this was when the patio was laid too
(concrete mixer casually sitting in garden)

Playing in a rather humongous sandpit
(think Flamingo Land)
Thursday, 27 December 2018

Walking in Bronte Footsteps: Cowan Bridge to Tunstall Church



On 19th December 2018, my children and I visited Cowan Bridge for the first time, the former site of the Clergy Daughters’ School attended by four of the six Bronte children between 1824-25.

Timing

I’d like to give an intelligent reason as to why I chose the anniversary of Emily Bronte’s death to visit the school, but truthfully, the idea spontaneously arose in my consciousness.  One minute I was going about my daily business, and the next, the idea was suddenly there as a “thing that must be done”.  I happened to glance at the time on my phone and it said:

Screenshot

I took the repetitious 18’s as confirmation of a positive sign; that this mission was somehow necessary.  Just as in July 2018 I’d had the urge to visit Penzance for Emily’s bicentenary, to pay homage to her mother and Aunt at that time, her summer birthday connecting with the blossoming of life, a celebration of birth, motherhood, the motherland.  I supposed it would be fitting to visit the place of death, doom, neglect, religious doctrine and childhood abuse to mark the anniversary of Emily’s death on 19th December to close out her celebration year.

Brief history

We know from Charlotte Bronte’s later accounts of Lowood School in Jane Eyre, based on the Clergy Daughters’ School, that the girls had a very hard time there: they weren’t fed sufficiently, instead dished up revolting inedible food that left them malnourished and susceptible to illness.  They washed six girls to a basin when the water wasn’t frozen and on Sundays they trudged miles to church for not one, but two services.  The sermons they heard from their deluded narcissistic Headmaster, Mr Hellfire and Brimstone himself, Rev Carus Wilson, were the stuff of nightmares.

I’ll refer to him as Carus (his original surname) from now on as I have no reverence for a man who psychologically abused and physically neglected little girls, no matter how many people he convinced in his own time to hold his name in high esteem.

The pupils of the boarding school didn’t have the opportunity to come home for Christmas: they would have been expected to walk miles in cold temperatures across wet terrain to listen to services and sermons that would be horrific to young ears.

Over a third of the pupils died within the first year of the school opening.  Out of the four Bronte girls who attended the school, the two eldest, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825.  Charlotte and Emily were pretty lucky to escape alive, although calling it “lucky” hardly seems fitting.

Traumatic

The resultant trauma from the time period during 1824-25 in the Bronte household has reverberated through their family story since and undoubtedly helped to shape and produce their famous literature: Charlotte, in her literal retelling of the saga as Lowood School in Jane Eyre, Emily, in her recurring obsessional themes of death, grief, loss, generational patterns and eternal love, Anne in her deep understanding of the nature of abuse and desire to speak out about it, and Branwell in his dissipation and self-destruction possibly through unresolved trauma connected with this time.

Sermons of old

It is worth pointing out that Headmaster Carus had a particular predilection for speaking about death, dead children, dead mothers and his Calvinist belief was in the elect – that only those already chosen - would be granted a place in Heaven.  By today’s standards he would be viewed as deluded, narcissistic and abusive.  What’s worse, he totally got away with it.  I wanted to experience first-hand how far their death-obsessed Headmaster marched the girls from school to church to experience his religious doctrine.

Healing

It’s no secret that I, like many other people, have had my fair share of traumatic issues to deal with.  And perhaps strangely, I’ve found more personal healing in the books written by the Brontes than in any other place.  In that way alone, I feel a strong connection with the Brontes.  Can I give anything back in return?

Ancestral healing seems to be everywhere I look lately, a hot topic if you like.  Here’s what it means:

Ancestral Healing involves Healing your ancestors' unresolved emotional issues, problems or trauma. In so doing, it releases you from any energetic patterns that link you to them - patterns that can have an inhibiting or disruptive influence on your life today. More here.

But what of those who have no descendants, like the Brontes?  Who, pray tell, is going to do the healing for them?

Well how about their huge global soul family?  Can we do some resolution?  There does seem a lack of modern creative output centring on the time 1824-25; perhaps people just don’t want to go there.  But that’s exactly where I intended to go and it didn’t matter that I couldn’t fathom how or why.  I just knew we needed to go there.  Somehow, in some way, we were going to “do healing” i.e. reverse a pattern.



Preparation

I was determined that we’d start the day with porridge.  It wasn’t even faintly burnt unlike the inedible burnt sour mush served up to the clergy daughters, and we had a full bowl, topped with banana and a scattering of sugar. We ate so much we could barely bend over to tie our boot laces.

We dressed in waterproof boots and multiple layers.  It was a sunny, bright, beautiful day so we were treated to the best views of the countryside.

The School Building

The building was interesting to see close up: I hadn’t realised the row of houses is now split into three private residences, all of varying degrees of upkeep.


The Bronte School House at number 2 in the middle seemed to be well appointed and well kept.  It has very good online reviews but I decided against staying there.  I’m not up for integration on that level.  For those without a predisposition toward spirit life, go for it.

There was a driveway between the row of houses and the garden.  The weak winter sun was rising over the garden in front of the building:


I imagined the girls taking exercise there, well, what little exercise they could muster on empty stomachs and long lessons.  As these are private residences it’s not really suitable to go poking around too much.  One owner appeared and kindly questioned our nosiness.  I apologised by way of a feeble “Bronte fan” to which she said, “we get quite a lot of those”.  Hmm, trespassing obsessives, I thought.

End of terrace opposite end to road

Back of building, roadside

The building is right beside the main road which makes turning into it slightly hazardous and it’s the last building in the village as you head northwards to Kirkby Lonsdale and beyond to the Lake District.  Its set up feels a little isolated and out on a limb - a pretty limb.

The Bridge

The Bridge (of Cowan) is right outside the former school buildings.  The fast-flowing Leck Beck running beneath was of notable beauty on this bright winter’s day and was framed perfectly with trees lining the sides; the stones in the river gave extra noise and a fast energy to the water running beneath the bridge.

I spy with my little eye something beginning with CB
Don't fret, I mean Cowan Bridge

Leck Beck 

The Walk

Starting from the former school house, stay on the same side of the road and walk south. You’ll see on the left Cowan Bridge tea rooms, behind which is a car park, perfect for a visit like this.  A few new homes have been built in the village, all low and with little windows, in keeping with the traditional stone buildings of the area.  Opposite the tea rooms, turn right down Woodman Lane.

The countryside was merely gently undulating and quite beautiful to behold.  Beyond were great hills, but this was low lying land.  Having not studied the OS map in great detail, I hadn’t realised how much lower it would get.  There are many sheep to observe your passing, standing and staring perfectly still except for their comedic chewing mouths.


I was determined not to walk along roads to get to the church of St John the Baptist in Tunstall and instead tried to figure out the shortest route (hmm) across the paths and fields.  Where might the girls have walked, I mused?  Where the road naturally turns right, we took the Roman Road to the sharp left, which was due south and obviously very straight.

On the way, my daughter asked a thousand questions about how the school had been run, the pupils’ regime and the experience of the Brontes.  Luckily, I’d re-read the section of Dr Juliet Barker’s book on the school recently, so made a fair attempt at answering some of her questions.  


She folded her arms in protest at their treatment at this point.  This is either what empathy looks like or a disgruntled child being dragged along on a walk.  Or both.


Boggy and a Doggy

After what felt like quite a way and upon approaching a farm, we happened upon a black dog beckoning us with a loud gruff bark which made us all momentarily concerned.  Good God, it’s the Gytrash, I thought!


He was, however, a gentle old black Labrador with a white beard and he limped slowly up to us, gave us a good sniff and declared us friends.  He continued barking though less loudly, as though he was talking to us.  He might as well have been saying “come this way” as he stopped for a pee or two on the overgrown grass verge.  He guided us to the top of a path and seemed to nod weirdly as we walked down it.  I was not expecting the appearance of such a chaperone.

My son said, “it was like he was expecting us.”

We walked down a very muddy path where we were constantly sinking, unable to find anything firm and non-sludgy to get our feet on.  Now another noise was piercing our eardrums, this time a selection of penned geese and ducks.  We looked at each other astounded at the level of noise.  No other human appeared despite the animal cacophony.

At the point where the Roman Road runs out and the Gytrash appears, you can either go right to Coulter Beck (which I couldn't find) or south to Cant Beck. Can’t go any flipping further over this mud, more like.

Imagine doing this in school uniform


Where the Gytrash led us.
I mean Labrador.

Throughout the rest of the walk, there was a mixture of styles and gates, however, the gates were tied up and un-openable. We did a lot of climbing and jumping over walls and gates, which wasn’t easy and landing on boggy wet ground just made our boots and trousers wet through.

Thankfully my son found a big stick that we had to use a few times to propel ourselves across stepping stones in random streams that had appeared in the middle of fields, which I suppose were due to generally wet conditions.

Looks pretty enough, oddly a bit tough to walk on

There were no signs for the footpaths.  On more than one occasion I was confused as to whether we were walking on paths at all, but the presence of styles would suggest that our route was to be used for walking.

Will this ever end?

The direction we took seemed to take us lower and further south until we’d reached another stream, perhaps at the confluence of the Lune and Cant Beck.  We needed to be heading south west, which we were, but the path situation was not good.  By this point the grass had become extremely difficult to walk on, boggy potholes mixed in with stiff tufty sections of hardy grasses.  I looked around, bemused at whether I’d totally misled us (hey, blame it on the Gytrash?!) but the only other option would have been over a hill to the north that was fenced off.

Never-ending tuftiness 

Worth noting it’s called Lune Valley or Valley of the Loons as I churned it over in my mind.

It was so hard to know where to put your feet and we wasted time changing course twice.  What looked like paths turned into such difficult terrain we ended up trying to walk closer to the stream, which only made it wetter.

See you on the other side. Good luck.

In the tufty difficult sections, my daughter fell three times (she swears it’s more!) and got her trousers wet through.  On the third time down, she cried.  She wasn’t hurt, so I can only imagine her tearfulness was partly being sick of falling over and partly a lack of confidence that we’d ever be able to navigate to an end point.  I kind of felt the same.

I couldn’t help but think of the pupils of the Clergy Daughters’ school doing this winter walk in inadequate footwear and empty stomachs.  I briefly imagined the “unexplained accident” where Elizabeth Bronte had cut her head open.  Lifting up my tearful daughter, it wasn’t hard to imagine girls falling over left right and centre.

The more I thought about it, the entire story seemed like an accident waiting to happen, both then and now.  Hiding my growing anxiety, we pressed on.

Churchfields House

Eventually, my son, who was walking slightly ahead, declared he could see a house.  Halleluiah!  Like an oasis in a desert (bad analogy, it was sodden), Churchfield House suddenly appeared on the horizon and told us we were now very close to our destination.


The field was completely waterlogged (as above) so we messed about a bit more trying to find the shortest route to church.

Their faces lit up when the house came into view!

Please let the church be open, I thought.  I scanned the vicinity for a shop or bench.  Nothing.  Boggy fields, a church and a couple of very big houses.

The final hurdle.
Keep going, little one, almost there!

The approach was rather stunning in outlook and I made a mental note to visit one time in summer though perhaps by another route (hell yeah, like by CAR).  We could hardly complain though as it was very sunny for a December day.

The Church – St John the Baptist, Tunstall

The churchyard is so pretty, and the trees were a particular delight.  The church was a welcome sight after such a long, arduous walk.

It really was gorgeous 

Back in the Brontes’ day the church had been dedicated to St Michael, but is now called St John the Baptist.  It really does feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s incredibly beautiful from the outside.  The church is apparently listed in the Domesday book, but surviving parts of the church that can be seen now date from the 13th century.  

Castle-like in its exterior

I’m not sure what I expected from the church, but to know in advance that those little girls had endured difficult services with questionable content and tone, I somehow expected it to be more terrifying.  Just goes to show what man can do in any setting.

Inside the Church

This next section of my write up could potentially offend.  If anyone finds it disrespectful, I hope we can just agree to disagree in advance.

Luckily, the church was open.  But what would we find inside?

Looking down the central aisle

I honestly cannot remember ever being in a church completely alone before without vicar or visitors.  It was just the three of us.  There was a display of Christmas trees open to the public.  The pews seemed especially low, fitting for children I thought.  It was funny, we’d never discussed “protocol for what one does in an empty church” (who has?) but we each laid down our things on a totally separate pew and went individually to look around the church.


As a person who is highly attuned to old buildings and sensitive to energies, I did expect to feel something.  Nothing came, nothing at all.  Absence of feeling is not something I normally do but that’s exactly what happened in this church.  It had been so promising on the outside, and it seemed so cold inside.  Not chilling, just absent.


Windows all dressed for Christmas

My son enjoyed himself a lot and went to play the rickety old piano, but I didn’t think his particular brand of unmelodic hammering was okay, so I put a stop to that.  Look round more quietly, I suggested.  The piano music of carols was open at the following page and the old man’s pained face really tickled me.

He must have walked here too

In front is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. In the chapel is a very strange looking mutilated effigy (which I didn't photograph) said to be of Sir Thomas Tunstal.  Giving each other knowing sideways glances, my son and I quickly back tracked out of there.

Chapel of Holy Trinity

There were plaques galore devoted to the Fenwick family littered throughout the church but my brain is not working to find a connection between the Fenwicks and the Brontes / Branwells. I felt sure there was a connection but can’t find anything.

Fenwick plaques abound 

You might like to know the church features a ring of three bells (three bells, you say?!) all dating from the 18th century.

More Christmas trees:
I remained unmoved.

Nothing going on here

I sat there waiting, expecting and wondering.  Would anything take place?  What had we even come here for?  What was I doing, dragging my kids over boggy terrain to sit in a cold church devoid of feeling despite Christmas trees, fairy lights and pretty stained-glass windows?  Some holiday!  My thoughts turned to our sandwiches and where we’d eat them (huddled together like the Bronte girls?) and then I noticed, the church had gone awfully quiet.  Where were the children?

Finally, laughter erupted.  They’d been hiding behind pillars and I hadn’t even noticed!

A new kind of service

I needn’t have wondered what would happen next because my daughter had the whole thing in hand.  Parading to the front of the church, she began to conduct a service.  Now she does love to invent plays as after-dinner entertainment, but a bare church was a new kind of auditorium.  In describing this, I cannot possibly make it as funny as the real-life event.

Here she goes...

She started off, “We are gathered here today (What? Are we at a wedding?)

To celebrate Advent.  True enough.  I moved forward a few rows to get a better view of this.  Sorry no more pics, it got too funny to be bothered.

Turn to your hymn books and SING!  she demanded, picking a random number.  She then sang something completely different and danced to her own tune, a fitting metaphor for her character, to be fair.

Next, she said we’ll have a reading from the Gospel of St Luke.  Clearly, she’s been listening in church.  She held out a book in front of her and made up the words, paraphrasing the entire Christmas story.  Mental note to praise the Sunday School teacher, I thought, this was good.

Next, she ordered her brother, who was listening agog in the choir stalls, to read aloud the Creed.
He dutifully turned to the right page, got a third of the way through before she said “Stop now! That’s far too boring!”   To have a little girl standing right there in the spot where Carus must have delivered his services seemed too funny.

She announced the lighting of the Advent candles and, holding her hands in prayer position and nodding sagely, she asked her imaginary congregation if anyone would like to step forward and light a candle?

I thought I was the only one sitting in the pews.  How wrong!  Before I could volunteer, she stepped out into the congregation to help her first candidate.  Thank you, Madame Pyramid of the Lectern Isles, she said.  Good grief, you had to be there.  Her guest had arrived from Egypt, come all the way to light a candle.

My daughter assisted this noble invisible exotic woman up to the Advent candle, miming helping her as though she was an elderly lady struggling to walk, complete with arm around her shoulders, guiding her and presenting her with a taper.  We all waited patiently while the invisible Madame Pyramid did her thing and my daughter assisted her back to her seat.

Her next volunteer was Madame Pirouette.  Apparently, we had a French ballerina in the congregation and she needed no assistance up to the candles.  My daughter spun around and did a plie before handing Madame Pirouette the taper to light the second candle.

We sang another hymn and she announced there was to be a parade during the hymn (huh?)  Both my children paraded to the back of church and got ready to come back down the aisles.  They removed the Queen and Bishop-headed poles from the end pews, however, this was a step too far and I insisted they put them back.

Let there be light

Just then, the Christmas lights in church spontaneously went off for around three seconds and came back on again.  We looked round to check we were still alone.  We were.  Still, we had just listened to the Creed – we believed in the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen AND UNSEEN.  Invisibility is no proof of lack of existence.

Perhaps sensing a supernatural audience, my daughter took things up a notch, ran down the aisle brandishing her air guitar like a cross between Brian May and Slash (she does genuinely play electric guitar), she stopped to bow from her waist to the big tree, then moshed at the front with her untied hair flying everywhere.  Somehow it felt like a final two fingers up at Carus as he’d been sure to insist that the girls had their hair tied up or cut off.

After this I thought it best to call a halt to proceedings before she got any wilder.  The service had been entertaining, funny and mercifully short unlike in the days of old.  And just like that, my little girl had indeed reversed the pattern of times gone by.  I rather hoped some of the spirits of former pupils of the school had been there to watch it all and wondered which comedian had turned the lights off and on.

The return walk

As it was a pleasant day, we ate our sandwiches in the church yard before heading back.

And there's me thinking Scarborough does the best blue skies

The view North West from church 

The return walk was north from the church yard up through the main lane between Churchfields House and the plot next door, taking us to a barn beyond that was being converted.

Bit happier on the way back

Barn ahead

From here it wasn’t too far to the road although again it was a bit muddy.  This time we saw a few people and a family having fun on a quad bike which felt far more civilised than the friendly Gytrash and falling over in boggy fields.  Walking back by road was far easier than the ridiculously difficult walk there and the countryside again was picturesque.



Tea Rooms

The Cowan Bridge tea rooms were most welcome for cake and a cuppa following our experiences.  I was so intent on coffee my camera didn't reappear but you can see the place on their Trip Advisor page here.  The place had low beams, low windows and was decorated in a sympathetically old style.  The staff members were extremely friendly and the Victoria sponge was apparently very yummy and impossible to eat a slice in its entirety for children.

As it was only a few days before Christmas, the owner asked my children “have you been good this year?”  To this totally subjective question, my daughter straight up said NO without even making eye contact for reply.  Cringe.  She’s embarrassing, wilful, stubborn, creative and utterly hilarious.  And as we found out on the walk, she can’t half deliver an entertaining church service for an eight year old. Daughters, eh?

Was anything resolved?

Daft as it might sound to some, I found great personal satisfaction in physically going to the place where the Bronte girls attended school, walking to the church, understanding on a first-hand basis the terrain they’d trodden and seeing the surroundings with my own eyes.  Even more satisfying was being treated to an unexpected service conducted by my daughter.  If I was looking for a reversal of a pattern, I think we achieved something that day and I rather hope Emily would have approved.