Guest writer KAREN GUNNING tells us a strange link between Bristol and Haworth that got her thinking about past lives…
In 1985, I was a student in Leeds, and one day we decided to visit Haworth – Bronte country.
Four of us went; myself, my husband and my in-laws.
Haworth is surrounded by wild moorland and trees bent over sideways by the merciless Yorkshire gales. Its bleak beauty lends itself to folktales; livestock-bothering boggarts, tetchy witches and the demonic Barguest dog that isn’t half as scary as my earth-bound Rottweiler.
We didn’t walk on the moors that day, having brought the terrified-of-the-countryside London in-laws with us. Instead we headed straight for the Bronte Parsonage.
Were you expecting a big claim about me being the re-incarnated Charlotte/Emily/Anne Bronte? Fear not. Their old house was beautiful but didn’t provoke any particular reaction in me; it was only later when we walked up the high street that I experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. This intensified, until we went into a gift shop and I nearly fainted; I had to go and sit outside while the in-laws bought Bronte fudge, Bronte tea-towels and Bronte fridge magnets.
I didn’t ‘see’ anything, but the sense of familiarity with that little high street was so intense, I’ve never experienced anything like it.
I came down with quite a severe bout of flu after we got back to Leeds, so I put the faintness down to that; the rest was inexplicable, but I gradually forgot about it.
Until we moved to Bristol in 1989.
I was walking along the Horsefair – the main shopping street in the city. Christmas was looming, and it was teeming with people; serious money was spent on Christmas lights in those days, and the whole shopping centre looked really festive and colourful.
I was trying to forge a way through the crowds to my bus stop, when a man – no-one I recognised – suddenly appeared in front of me, stared right into my eyes and said, “You have links with Haworth in Yorkshire”. Just that.
He was vaguely odd-looking, very tall and pale, but it was his unblinking stare that unsettled me more than anything. People were giving us sideward glances – it must have looked quite odd, two people standing still, opposite one another, right in the middle of bustling crowds.
The man moved around me and went off into the crowd; by the time I gathered myself together to look behind me, he’d gone. I couldn’t work out how I’d lost sight of him, given his height, and how he couldn’t possibly have made much progress through the mass of people.
Ever since, I’ve wondered what really happened.
Did that stranger in Bristol happen to be in Haworth on the same day I was sitting outside the gift shop? And then not only bump into me, but also recognise me, in Bristol? That’s improbable at best – particularly with a four and a half year gap between the events.
I’ve done some research over the years – read up on Haworth, and read the Brontes’ work – and had no strong reaction. I don’t recognise any of its street names or anything. (In case anyone’s wondering, I definitely don’t believe I’m a re-incarnated Bronte sister!) I’ve never been back, but I’m so tempted to find out if it’d happen again. The feeling of homecoming was absolutely profound, a bit like the weird profundity that sometimes happens in dreams.
A friend took me to a past-life regression event a few years after the Bristol incident, but it was pretty nonsensical – all ‘drifting back on a pink cloud and saying thank you to your ancestors’ kind of thing. I learned nothing at all.
Anyone got any theories?
KAREN GUNNING is a Cockney living in Somerset; Creative Writing tutor, Masters student and lover of anything that makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.