If you haven’t seen Happy Valley, your first thought when you read a synopsis may not be “I should be planning a weekend break there”. The organized crime and cold-blooded murder he portrays doesn’t exactly scream vacation. But join the millions of viewers who curl up to watch it on Sunday nights (more people watched the second episode of the latest series than Prince Harry’s ITV interview) and you’ll find yourself unable to get caught up in the windy moors or honey. Stone houses of West Yorkshire.
Sarah Lancashire’s stunning central performance as the police sergeant who has endured too much might rightly draw attention, but the background of Calderdale (also known as Calder Valley) is crucial to the story. Her bleak and vicious beauty reflects not only the struggles of the characters, but also their perseverance. At some points, the windy country walks seem like the characters’ only break from the gray plot.
And there is love for the place behind the lens. Creator and writer Sally Wainwright grew up in the market town of Sowerby Bridge, three miles outside of Halifax, where many scenes from the series were filmed. Other highlights include the imposing Hebden Bridge and the villages of Heptonstall and Mytholmroyd, also known for their connections to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
Fans began flocking to the area after the first series hit screens in 2014, and with the third and final season now in full swing, interest in all things Happy Valley is heating up. However, long before Calder Valley became a must-see television setting, it inspired some of Britain’s most outstanding writers, namely Emily Brontë. And it’s hard to get around before encountering a landmark referenced in a Hughes or Plath poem.
From long walks in the heather to vegan soups, here’s how to best experience Happy Valley country.
Channels, craft beer and independent cinema at Hebden Bridge
Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) may not be into artisanal coffees and local crafts, but she lives in Hebden Bridge, a market town turned hippie hub that’s more Totnes than an old textile town. After the cotton mills’ closures in the 1960s and ’70s, cheap rents meant creative types built homes here, and a determined indie attitude was consolidated (also known as the lesbian capital of the UK).
Much of the series is filmed in and around the town, and fans have been known to head to Hangroyd Lane to see Catherine’s home. Beyond Happy Valley, the Hebden Bridge Open Air Market (9:00 – 4:00 PM, Thursday – Sunday) is a good starting point for a taste of the town’s creative spirit. Saturdays are dominated by local artisan products such as homemade incense and jewellery, while Sundays are for gourmets with pies and pastries of all kinds. Not surprisingly, given its hippie credentials, Hebden does a great streak in vegetarian and vegan brunch options. Try Leila’s Kitchen for a full Persian breakfast (with herbed feta, walnuts, scrambled eggs and tomatoes) or a simple Yorkshire tea.
An after-lunch stroll along the town’s Rochdale Canal, where villain Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) takes refuge on a barge late in the first series, is a highlight.
In the evening, head to the Hebden Bridge Picture House, a gorgeous 500-seat independent cinema of the 1920s, showing the latest releases as well as collaborations with local LGBTQ+ community Happy Valley Pride (sponsored by Sally Wainwright). A few doors down is Vocation & Co, a brewery and bar serving the likes of Swaledale beef burgers from Slap&Pickle, as well as affogato-flavored stouts. A longstanding independent music venue and bar, Trades Club is where you can end the night – previous artists here have included Richard Hawley and IDLES.
A little further afield, Yakumama in Todmorden (a six-minute train ride from Hebden Bridge) is a distinctive canteen with a menu of Latin American-influenced oyster mushroom quesadillas and dark chocolate empanadas.
Walk the winding roads of the South Pennines
Visiting Calder Valley inevitably means long, moody hikes. From Hebden, take the well-known trail to Heptonstall, a mile away, where Catherine was often shot while visiting her daughter’s grave. In real life, the cemetery is also the resting place of American literary icon Sylvia Plath, and in the very first episode, Ryan Cawood (Rhys Connah) notes the number of pens left in her grave. Pilgrims there, in addition to leaving gifts, damaged the Hughes inscription on the tombstone due to statements that her estranged husband, Ted Hughes, had abused her.
For a longer hike, head to Hardcastle Crags, a forested valley with more than 15 miles of trails protected by the National Trust. Attractions include numerous waterfalls, streams, and an old mill at its centre, which nowadays houses a cafe.
With so many flocking to Top Withens to experience Wuthering Heights moments, you’re definitely here in Bronte country, of course – Emily Brontë was thought to be inspired by her dilapidated farmhouse. The literary sisters’ hometown of Haworth is also accessible within half an hour from Hebden by the aptly named Brontë Bus.
Enjoy a slice of European glamor in Halifax
While their tastes have not been fully explored, Halifax comes up almost as often as those three grisly words: “Tommy Lee Royce.” In terms of filming locations, the old swimming pool was converted into the police station used in the third series, and the popular Neapolitan pizzeria Knead featured a meeting between Catherine and her ex-husband Richard (Derek Ridell).
Not shown, but a must-visit is Piece Hall, the outstanding Georgian landmark, originally built as a grand arena for merchants to trade pieces of cloth. The central square, which wouldn’t seem out of place in Venice, doubles as a music venue and will host the likes of The War on Drugs and James this year. Meanwhile, the surrounding building is filled with independent shops and restaurants, as well as a permanent exhibition on its history.
Fans of Gentleman Jack, another Sally Wainwright hit, will also want to visit Shibden Hall (currently closed for the winter and reopening in March), a 20-minute walk from central Halifax. The wood-clad listed building was the real-life home of heroine Anne Lister and featured prominently in the television series.
The Calder Valley train line makes navigating this region surprisingly easy. Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mythomroyd, Sowerby Bridge and Halifax can be reached directly from Leeds and Bradford (both connected to London via the East Coast main line).
If you come to Bradford be sure to stop by the Industrial Museum, which explores the West Riding’s role in the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, Leeds has many events to celebrate its 2023 City of Culture title. In terms of places to stay, Dakota Leeds is the most comfortable option, or Hebden Bridge has plenty of comfortable Airbnb options.
Between the two cities (and also accessible via the Calder Valley Line), Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley is a former textile mill converted into a community, arts and cultural center that showcases why West Yorkshire and indeed the Happy Valley characters still stand. Very interesting. Despite their struggle, their resilience to rebuild can be unmatched.
The third episode of Happy Valley will air tonight at 9pm on BBC One.