Yorkshire is the real star of Happy Valley

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in Happy Valley - Press Association

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in Happy Valley – Press Association

If you haven’t seen Happy Valley, your first thought after reading the synopsis might not be, “I need to plan a weekend there.” The organized crime and cold-blooded murder it portrays doesn’t exactly scream vacation. But join the millions of viewers who flock to watch it on Sunday nights (more people have watched the second episode of the latest series than Prince Harry’s ITV interview) and you’ll find that you can’t help but be swept away by the windswept moors or honey-stone houses in West Yorkshire.

Sarah Lancashire’s stunning starring role as a police sergeant who has endured too much may rightfully steal the spotlight, but the backdrop of Calderdale (also known as Calder Valley) seems essential to the story. Its bleak and barren beauty reflects not only the struggles of the characters, but also their perseverance. At times, windswept country walks seem to be the heroes’ only respite from the grizzly.

And there is love for the location behind the lens. Creator and screenwriter Sally Wainwright grew up in Sowerby Bridge, a market town three miles from Halifax where many of the series’ scenes were filmed. Other key locations include the artistic Hebden Bridge and the villages of Heptonstall and Mytholmroyd, also known for their Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath connections.

Fans started 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 everything Happy Valley is reaching its peak. But long before Calder Valley became the setting for must-see TV shows, it inspired some of Britain’s greatest writers, namely Emily Brontë. And it’s hard to wander far before coming across a landmark referenced in a Hughes or Plath poem.

From long moorland walks to vegan brunches, here’s how to get the most out of Happy Valley country.

Canals, craft beer and independent cinema in Hebden Bridge

Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) may not be into artisan coffee and local crafts, but she lives in Hebden Bridge, a market town that has become a hippie hub, more like Totnes than an old textile town. After the closure of the cotton mill in the 1960s and 1970s, low rents made creative people settle here and a decidedly independent attitude was cemented (it is also known as Britain’s lesbian capital).

Packhorse Bridge, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire - Alamy

Packhorse Bridge, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire – Alamy

Much of the series is shot in and around the town, with fans heading to Hangingroyd Lane for a glimpse of Catherine’s home. Outside Happy Valley, the Hebden Bridge Open Air Market (9am to 4pm, Thursday to Sunday) is a good place to start exploring the city’s creative spirit. On Saturdays, the emphasis is on local artisanal products such as homemade incense sticks and jewelry, while Sundays are dedicated to foodies, with all sorts of cakes and pastries. Not surprisingly, given its hippie credentials, Hebden has a great line of vegetarian and vegan brunch options. Try Leila’s Kitchen for a full Persian breakfast (with herb feta, walnuts, fried eggs and tomatoes) or a simple Yorkshire teacake.

After lunch, a walk along the urban section of the Rochdale Canal, where villain Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) holed up on a barge at the end of the first series, seems essential.

In the evening, head to the Hebden Bridge Picture House, a stunning 1920s independent cinema with 500 seats showing the latest productions and a collaboration with local LGBTQ+ collective Happy Valley Pride (supported by Sally Wainwright). A few doors down is Vocation & Co, a brewery and bar serving affogato stouts and Swaledale beef burgers by Slap&Pickle. The Trades Club, a long-established independent music venue and bar, is the place to end the evening – previous performers here were Richard Hawley and IDLES.

Further afield, Yakumama in Todmorden (a six-minute train ride from Hebden Bridge) is a self-proclaimed canteen with a Latin American menu of oyster mushroom quesadillas and dark chocolate empanadas.

Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire - Alamy

Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire – Alamy

Walk the winding paths of the South Pennines

A visit to the Calder Valley inevitably means long, atmospheric walks. From Hebden, take the well-trodden path to Heptonstall a mile away, where Catherine is often photographed visiting her daughter’s grave. In real life, the cemetery is also the resting place of American literary icon Sylvia Plath, and already in the first episode, Ryan Cawood (Rhys Connah) notes the number of pens left on her grave. In addition to leaving gifts, pilgrims there had previously vandalized the Hughes inscription on the tombstone due to reports that Ted Hughes, from whom she was estranged, had abused her.

For a longer hike, head to Hardcastle Crags, a National Trust-protected woodland valley with over 15 miles of footpaths. Points of interest include numerous waterfalls, streams and an old mill in its center, which now houses a café.

Of course, you’re firmly in Brontë land here, and plenty of people flock to Top Withens for their Wuthering Heights moment – Emily Brontë was thought to have been inspired by a dilapidated farmhouse. Haworth, the home village of the literary sisters, is also half an hour from Hebden by the aptly named Brontë bus.

Enjoy a piece of European grandeur in Halifax

Although its delights are not really explored, Halifax appears almost as much as these three chilling words: “Tommy Lee Royce”. As for the filming locations, her old swimming pool was converted into the police station used in the third series, and the trendy Neapolitan pizzeria Knead was the scene of a meeting between Catherine and ex-husband Richard (Derek Ridell).

Missing but must-visit is Piece Hall, a prominent Georgian landmark originally built as a grand arena for merchants to trade pieces of cloth. A central square that wouldn’t look out of place in Venice doubles as a music venue and will host The War on Drugs and James this year. Meanwhile, the surrounding building is filled with independent shops and restaurants and a permanent exhibition on its history.

Corn Market in Halifax - Alamy

Corn Market in Halifax – Alamy

Fans of Sally Wainwright’s other hit, Gentleman Jack, will also want to visit Shibden Hall (now closed for the winter and reopening in March), a 20-minute walk from downtown Halifax. The historic half-timbered building was the real home of character Anne Lister and featured prominently in the TV series.

Next…

The Calder Valley Railway makes getting around this area surprisingly easy. Bridges such as Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mythomroyd, Sowerby Bridge and Halifax can be reached directly from Leeds and Bradford (both of which connect to London via the East Coast Main Line).

If you come to Bradford, be sure to stop by the Industrial Museum, which explores the role of the West Riding in the Industrial Revolution. Leeds, meanwhile, has plenty of events to celebrate its 2023 City of Culture title. When it comes to accommodation, Dakota Leeds is the most luxurious option, and there are plenty of cozy Airbnb options in Hebden Bridge.

Between the two towns (and also accessible via the Calder Valley Line) is Farsley’s Sunny Bank Mills, an old textile mill converted into a community, arts and culture center that highlights why West Yorkshire, and the heroes of Happy Valley, remain so addictive. Despite their struggles, the resilience to rebuild can be second to none.

The fourth episode of the third series of Happy Valley will air tonight at 9pm on BBC One.

Have you visited any Happy Valley film locations in Yorkshire? Share your experiences in the comments below

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