My Yorkshire: Brontë expert Juliet Barker on her favourite people and places

Educated at Bradford Girls' Grammar School and St Anne's College, Oxford, Juliet Barker is a world expert on the Brontës. She lives in the Yorkshire Dales with her family.

Juliet Barker, who is a world expert in the Brontes.

What’s your first memory of being outdoors? My earliest and most vivid memories of being outdoors all relate to the weekends and holidays my family spent in a cottage in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. As we lived on a large suburban housing estate it was sheer bliss to be let loose in the countryside: I loved making dens in the hay meadows, learning to identify the wild flowers and birds, and just sitting quietly on a large rock in the middle of the stream at the bottom of the garden.

What’s your favourite part of the county and why? If you’d asked me that question 15 years ago I’d have said the moors above and around Haworth but now I can’t bear to see the desecration (and irreparable damage) caused by all the wind turbines. So now it has to be the Yorkshire Dales, not just because of my childhood connection but because I love the contrast between the moors on the hill-tops and the pastoral green valleys.

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What’s your favourite walk/view? The view from the top of Penhill: a panorama of the Dales with the North York Moors on the horizon. We’re very privileged to have some great walks from our front door; we try to go out every day, and one of our favourite circular walks is by Aysgarth Falls – I always like to call into Aysgarth church (where we attend classical music concerts from time to time). If we’re feeling energetic we hike up a hill, but there are plenty of lovely flat routes along rivers in the valley bottom too.

Juliet Barker admires the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen.

What’s your perfect day out in Yorkshire? A long walk over the hills, with a picnic lunch overlooking Semerwater, followed by a quiet potter round the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey and rounded off by dinner in a Dales pub with a roaring fire. Glorious weather obligatory, notwithstanding said roaring fire.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star would you like to take to lunch? Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess and quintessential Yorkshirewoman: what you see is what you get – she’s hard-working, funny, devoted to her family and the Dales, unaffected by media interest and just good company.

How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? By being part of it. Reading and listening, visiting castles, abbeys and historic places, with occasional trips to the Georgian Theatre at Richmond and to see touring theatre groups like North Country Theatre and Northern Broadsides. The Middleham and Dales Local History Group host some really informative and interesting talks, as does the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes – they get some great speakers! The annual Swaledale Festival is a must; they always host lots of good music.

Do you find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to non-believers? I’m not sure about ‘non-believers’ but I make a point of referencing Yorkshire in all my books. Obviously Yorkshire is central to the lives and works of the Brontës, but so much of writing about medieval history is London-centric that I always introduce Yorkshire events, men and women to redress the balance.

The Upper Falls at Aysgarth is one of Juliet Barker's favourite spots.

Favourite pub or restaurant? The Granary restaurant at Caring For Life’s Crag House Farm in Cookridge. You can enjoy top quality fresh food and drink, much of it produced on the farm, knowing that you are also contributing to the vital work of the charity in looking after the homeless and vulnerable in Leeds.

Favourite food shop? The Granary farm shop at Caring For Life – for exactly the same reason.

Yorkshireman or woman you most admire? It would have to be the Brontë sisters collectively. It’s invidious to separate them out as individuals because they not only lived, but also worked and wrote together, which makes Charlotte’s courage and resilience after her sisters’ deaths so admirable. But if I had to choose one it would be Anne, often overlooked, but just as talented as her sisters.

How has living in Yorkshire influenced your work? It’s absolutely central to it. I understand the way that its landscapes inspired those I write about because they also inspire me. And I share with the Brontës and Wordsworth that sense of what it is like to be a provincial writer, an outsider and different.

Juliet Barker admires the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen.

If a stranger to Yorkshire had time to visit only one place, where would you send them? Richmond in North Yorkshire. Embedded in beautiful Dales scenery, it’s also full of history, with a spectacular Norman castle, medieval abbey ruins, the oldest working Georgian theatre in the country, a regimental museum and a cobbled market place.

What are you working on at the moment? I’m contemplating writing a book about Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë but I simply haven’t had time to do it because I’ve been travelling up and down the country giving so many talks. In 2015 it was the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt and 2016 was the bicentenary of Charlotte’s birth. This year is the bicentenary of Branwell’s birth, followed by Emily’s in 2018, Patrick’s appointment to Haworth in 2019 and Anne’s birth in 2020.

The Upper Falls at Aysgarth is one of Juliet Barker's favourite spots.