If you haven’t seen Happy Valley, your first thought upon reading its synopsis might not be “I need to plan a weekend break there.” The organized crime and cold-blooded murder it depicts doesn’t exactly scream holiday. But join the millions of viewers to watch it on Sunday nights (more people watched episode two of the latest series than Prince Harry’s ITV interview) and you’ll find you can’t help but be taken with the wind or honey moors. stone houses in West Yorkshire.
Sarah Lancashire’s blistering central performance as the beleaguered police sergeant may steal the spotlight, but the backdrop of Calderdale (also known as the Calder Valley) feels essential to the story. Her bleak and bleak beauty not only reflects the characters’ struggles, but also their perseverance. At points, it seems that windy country walks are not the only respite the characters have from the grizzly lines.
And love the location behind the lens. Creator and writer Sally Wainwright grew up in Sowerby Bridge, the market town three miles outside Halifax where many of the series’ scenes were filmed. Other important sites include arty Hebden Bridge and the villages of Heptonstall and Mytholmroyd, also known for their association with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
Fans started flocking to the area after the first series hit screens back in 2014, and with the third and final season in full swing, interest in all things Happy Valley is reaching fever park. But long before the Calder Valley became a must-see TV location, it inspired some of Britain’s most famous writers, namely Emily Brontë. And it is difficult to wander far before coming across a landmark referred to in a poem by Hughes or Plath.
From long walks on the heather to vegan brunches, here’s the best way to experience Happy Valley country.
Canals, craft beer and an independent cinema in Hebden Bridge
Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) may not be one for artisan cafes and locally made crafts, but she lives in Hebden Bridge, the hip market town center that’s more Totnes than the old textile town. After the cotton mills closed back in the 1960s and 70s, cheap rents meant that creative types made their home here and a solid indie attitude was cemented (it’s also known as the UK’s lesbian capital).
Much of the series is shot in and around the town, and fans have been known to head to Hangingroyd Lane for glimpses 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 to get a taste of the town’s creative spirit. On Saturdays there is an emphasis on local artisan products, such as incense and home-made jewellery, and on Sundays there is food, with all kinds of pies and pastries. Not surprisingly, given its hippie credentials, Hebden does a great line in vegetarian and vegan brunch options. Try Leila’s Kitchen for a full Persian breakfast (with herby feta, walnuts, fried eggs and tomatoes) or a simple Yorkshire teacake.
An after-lunch walk along the town’s stretch of the Rochdale Canal is to be expected, where the villain Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) is up on a barge near the end of the first series.
In the evening, visit the Hebden Bridge Picture House, a stunning independent 1920s cinema with 500 seats, showing the latest releases in collaboration with local LGBTQ+ local Happy Valley Pride (supported by Sally Wainwright). A few doors down is Vocation & Co, a brewery and bar serving the likes of affogato-flavored stouts, alongside Swaledale beef burgers from Slap&Pickle. The Trades Club, a longstanding independent music venue and bar, is the place to end the night – Richard Hawley and IDLES have been among the previous acts here.
A little further afield, Yakumama in Todmorden (a six-minute train ride from Hebden Bridge) is a self-styled cantina with a Latin American-influenced menu of oyster mushroom quesadillas and dark chocolate empanadas.
Walk the winding paths of the South Pennines
A visit to the Calder Valley inevitably involves long and courageous walks. From Hebden, take the well-worn path up to Heptonstall a mile away, where Catherine is often seen visiting her daughter’s grave. In real life, the cemetery is also the resting place of American literary icon Sylvia Plath and in the first episode Ryan Cawood (Rhys Connah) notices the number of pens left at her grave. As well as leaving gifts, the pilgrims then vandalized Hughes’ inscription on the tombstone because of the accounts that her estranged husband Ted Hughes was abusive towards her.
For a longer walk, head to Hardcastle Crags, a woodland valley protected by the National Trust, with more than 15 miles of footpaths. Among the attractions are many waterfalls, streams and an old mill in the middle, which currently houses a cafe.
Of course you’re firmly in Brontë country here, with plenty flocking up to Top Withens to have their Wuthering Heights moment – Emily Brontë was thought to have been inspired by the ruined farm. The home village of the literary sisters Haworth is also accessible in half an hour from Hebden, via the aptly named Brontë Bus.
Enjoy a slice of European grandeur in Halifax
Although its attractions are not really explored, Halifax comes up almost as much as those three chilling words: “Tommy Lee Royce”. In terms of filming locations, her old swimming pool was changed to the police station used in the third series and the trendy Neapolitan pizza joint Knead was the meeting place between Catherine and ex-husband Richard (Derek Ridell).
It’s not meant to be, but it’s a must-visit Piece Hall, the superb Georgian landmark that was originally built as a large venue for merchants to trade pieces of cloth. The central square, which wouldn’t look 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.
Another Sally Wainwright fan, Gentleman Jack, will also want to visit Shibden Hall (currently closed for the winter and reopening in March), a 20-minute walk from downtown Halifax. The timber-clad listed building was the real-life home of main character Anne Lister and featured prominently in the TV series.
The Calder Valley train line is very easy to get through this area. The likes of Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mythomroyd, Sowerby Bridge and Halifax can be reached directly from Leeds and Bradford (both of which connect to London on the main East Coast 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 plenty of events to celebrate its City of Culture 2023 title. For places to stay, the Dakota Leeds is the best choice, or there are many cozy Airbnb options in Hebden Bridge.
Between the two cities (and also accessible via the Calder Valley Line) is Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, an old textile mill transformed into a hub of community, art and culture that highlights why West Yorkshire, and indeed the characters of Happy Valley, still there. so attractive. Despite their efforts, the resilience to rebuild may be unparalleled.
Episode four of series three of Happy Valley airs tonight at 9pm on BBC One.