Wycoller in Lancashire, not far as the crow flies from Haworth, is a fascinating village. Tucked away down a lane rarely used by traffic it leads to Wycoller Beck with a ford and seven of the quaintest of ancient bridges. Virtually abandoned in the early twentieth century after the Water Board bought up land with the intention of flooding the village for a reservoir it has been spared modernisation: there is no car-width bridge looming over the packhorse or clapper bridges and trees grow right up to the river and the road.
In the thick trees at the bottom lies the ruins of Wycoller Hall often thought to be the building Charlotte Brontë had in mind when describing Ferndean Manor:
The manor-house of Ferndean was a building of considerable antiquity, moderate size, and no architectural pretensions, deep buried in a wood. I had heard of it before. Mr. Rochester often spoke of it, and sometimes went there. His father had purchased the estate for the sake of the game covers. He would have let the house, but could find no tenant, in consequence of its ineligible and insalubrious site. Ferndean then remained uninhabited and unfurnished, with the exception of some two or three rooms fitted up for the accommodation of the squire when he went there in the season to shoot.
To this house I came just ere dark on an evening marked by the characteristics of sad sky, cold gale, and continued small penetrating rain. The last mile I performed on foot, having dismissed the chaise and driver with the double remuneration I had promised. Even when within a very short distance of the manor-house, you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood about it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me where to enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight of close-ranked trees. There was a grass-grown track descending the forest aisle between hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches. I followed it, expecting soon to reach the dwelling; but it stretched on and on, it wound far and farther: no sign of habitation or grounds was visible.
I thought I had taken a wrong direction and lost my way. The darkness of natural as well as of sylvan dusk gathered over me. I looked round in search of another road. There was none: all was interwoven stem, columnar trunk, dense summer foliage—no opening anywhere.
I proceeded: at last my way opened, the trees thinned a little; presently I beheld a railing, then the house—scarce, by this dim light, distinguishable from the trees; so dank and green were its decaying walls. Entering a portal, fastened only by a latch, I stood amidst a space of enclosed ground, from which the wood swept away in a semicircle. There were no flowers, no garden-beds; only a broad gravel-walk girdling a grass-plat, and this set in the heavy frame of the forest. The house presented two pointed gables in its front; the windows were latticed and narrow: the front door was narrow too, one step led up to it. The whole looked, as the host of the Rochester Arms had said, “quite a desolate spot.” It was as still as a church on a week-day: the pattering rain on the forest leaves was the only sound audible in its vicinage.
Jane Eyre, CHAPTER XXXVII
Since the Water Board sold the land to Lancashire County Council in the 1970s people have moved back to many of the cottages, and some of the agricultural buildings have been converted creating a very charming unspoilt village with just one shop/tea room as a nod to the tourism. Tourists walk to the village from the car park outside, so it is not overrun with people, though it can get busy on sunny days in the school holidays. Rather off the beaten track as folks rush past to Haworth, the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District, it is well worth a detour.
The hall itself remains a dramatic ruin as accessible to the public as the elements, a complete piece of picturesque gothic.