THE social and natural history that shaped the Brontes is explored in a new book tracing the literary family’s footsteps.

Walking the Invisible, by Michael Stewart, follows the Bronte Stones trail, taking a series of walks through landscapes and buildings familiar to the family and investigating the geographical and social features that shaped their lives and writing. The book also compares the times they lived in with the present.

Michael, who lives in Thornton, where Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell Bronte were born, became captivated by the Brontes after he left school and discovered a copy of Wuthering Heights in a library. “I never encountered the works of the Brontes at school. We were told we weren’t bright enough,” he said.

His 2018 novel Ill Will explored where Heathcliff came from and what happens to him during his long absence in Wuthering Heights. Researching the book, Michael, who is Head of Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield and the author of novels King Crow and Café Assassin, re-traced Mr Earnshaw’s journey in Emily Bronte’s classic, walking 65 miles from Top Withins to Liverpool with his dog, Wolfe.

Now Michael, and Wolfe, have re-traced the Brontes’ own journeys - in Thornton, where they were a happy young family, Haworth, where they arrived in 1820, and surrounding areas of meadow and moor, village and town.

“Up on the moors, I had a profound understanding of the texts. I started to connect with their writings in a visceral way,” said Michael. “It was like I had discovered another layer, and I sank further in. The words and the moors were one.”

Walking the Invisible - a “literary study of the social and natural history that has inspired writers and walkers, and the writings of a family that have touched readers for generations” - takes in landmarks such as Thornton’s Old Bell Chapel where Patrick Bronte was a curate, the grand residence said to be an inspiration for Mr Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre, backdrops to Branwell’s affair with an older married woman, the brooding moorland where the sisters roamed, and the beautiful stones engraved with words of contemporary female writers - Kate Bush, Jeanette Winterson, Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay - in tribute to the Brontes.

Michael came up with the idea for the four Bronte Stones, installed in 2018 in places where the sisters walked, and he leads guided tours of the trails for visitors from around the world.

* Walking the Invisible: Following in the Brontes’ Footsteps is published by HarperCollins, priced £16.99.