IF you are familiar with Emily Brontë’s only published novel, Wuthering Heights, you will know that quite early on in the book, we learn that one of the main characters, Heathcliff, was found on the streets of Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw.

In the summer of 1771 Mr Earnshaw walks from his Yorkshire farm to Liverpool town. It’s odd that he does this. Summer is a busy time for a farmer, and Liverpool is not a market town, but it does happen to be the biggest slave trading port in Europe.

Why he would walk all this way on foot is another mystery: there are horses in the stable, and a coach from Keighley to Liverpool. When he returns three days later, he is carrying a whip, a broken fiddle and an orphaned child. I measured the distance, a 140-mile round trip. That’s some going, I thought. Why did he choose to walk all that way? Is it even possible?

I became enthralled, so much so that I wrote a novel that answered some of the mysteries of Wuthering Heights. That book was Ill Will: The Untold Story of Heathcliff. I decided that in my book Heathcliff would re-create this journey, in order to discover his origins.

When I came to write this part of the book, I chose to write it on foot. I’d also walk from Yorkshire to Liverpool, writing on the way. I liked this way of writing so much that I began to compose other sections of the book, on the hoof. Up on the moors, with my Dictaphone, I felt liberated from my keyboard and writing desk. The writing became more organic and responsive, and I hoped, more immersive for the reader.

This new way of writing led to my current book, Walking the Invisible, which is to be published by HarperCollins on June 24. The book is a sort of hybrid memoir. Each chapter is about a landscape that has inspired the Brontës and their writing, and each chapter was written on the hoof. I walked the talk. Walking and writing became intertwined, like a strand of DNA. The book starts in Thornton, where Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne were all born, then spreads out, going first to Haworth, where they wrote their poems and novels, reaching Liverpool, on the west coast, and Scarborough on the east, before returning to Thornton.

Along the way I visit Thorpe Green in the Vale of York, where Branwell was sacked for having an affair with his boss’s wife, a slaves’ graveyard in Dentdale, and the most likely place of inspiration for Charlotte’s best-known work, Jane Eyre.

The book also includes a re-creation of the Luddite attack on Cartwright’s mill, and more information about The Brontë Stones trail that I launched in 2018, which features a poem by Kate Bush, carved into a rock.

The book includes maps of some of these walks, together with directions. There’s also an audiobook, so you too can listen to my journey while immersing yourself in that very landscape.

I didn’t just want the book to be about the Brontës and their landscapes. I hoped that it would also be a book about the state of England now, particularly the North. On my travels I meet a Hungarian neo-Pagan, a hard-drinking ex-squaddy with PTSD, more than one angry farmer, and an assortment of other colourful characters. Eventually I return home, with several blisters on my feet, and a deeper understanding of why these writers and these places are so important and significant.

* Michael Stewart will be leading In the Footsteps of the Brontës, a Bradford Literature Festival event, on Sunday, July 4. The eight-mile walk, starts at Thornton’s Bell Chapel at 10am and ends at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. Michael will share the stories of responses of Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Bush, Jackie Kay and Jeanette Winterson to the world-famous literary sisters, engraved on the Bronte Stones and commissioned by the festival in 2018.

l Walking the Invisible is published by HarperCollins and released on June 24.