The real Happy Valley: Hebden Bridge is basking in the TV drama’s success – and has its own story to tell
- Thomas W Hodgkinson spots fellow Happy Valley pilgrims as he stays in the town
- ‘My visit is nothing like an episode of Happy Valley, I’m glad to say,’ he reveals
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When Happy Valley ended, members of our household looked at each other and said: ‘What now?’
Like millions of others, we had been gripped by the BBC’s brilliant, if shockingly violent, Yorkshire-set cop drama, in which police officers are run down in cold blood, the best-looking people are psychotic murderers and just about everyone is a recovering alcoholic. Withdrawal symptoms ensued.
So, to get a fix, I make for the beautiful market town of Hebden Bridge, where much of the show was filmed. My visit is nothing like an episode of Happy Valley, I’m glad to say.
No one offers me drugs from an ice-cream van. I am not stabbed in the neck by a prison escapee. When I glance from the bridge at the barges sitting on the Rochdale Canal, which runs through the town, I do not spot anyone dousing themself in petrol and threatening to set themself on fire.
When I raise this with local man David Pearce, he laughs and says: ‘It’s a cop show, isn’t it, so it has to pack in the drama.’
Thomas W Hodgkinson visits the beautiful market town of Hebden Bridge (above), where much of the BBC Yorkshire-set cop drama Happy Valley was filmed
Above is actress Sarah Lancashire playing brave police officer Catherine Cawood in the show
I spot a couple of Happy Valley pilgrims, like myself, outside the terraced home of Catherine Cawood, the brave police officer played by Sarah Lancashire in the show.
There have been reports of hordes descending on Hebden Bridge. When I speak to local councillor Sarah Courtney, she’s worried that locals might lose their parking spaces. ‘We welcome all visitors but please come by public transport.’
Wealthy visitors are said to have pushed up prices so that beer now costs £7 a pint. But my pint of Hindmarsh in the Old Gate pub costs just £3.90. Mr Pearce, who runs a beautiful B&B with his partner Manya, drives me up to the little village of Heptonstall, overlooking Hebden Bridge.
In the cemetery of St Thomas the Apostle Church is the spot where, in the show, Catherine visits the grave of her daughter Becky.
But instead of any Happy Valley devotees, we meet a fan of the poet Sylvia Plath, who is buried here. Her supporters are angry that her husband Ted Hughes, who treated her brutally, arranged for her gravestone to bear his surname, too. It says ‘Sylvia Plath Hughes’. The word ‘Hughes’ is darker than the others, as Plath-ites keep scratching it out, so it has to be redone.
‘My visit is nothing like an episode of Happy Valley, I’m glad to say,’ Thomas says of his time in Hebden Bridge
The cemetery of St Thomas the Apostle Church (pictured) – which lies in the nearby village of Heptonstall – is the spot where, in the show, Catherine visits the grave of her daughter Becky
Above is a scene from the BBC crime drama in which Catherine visits her daughter’s grave
Heptonstall is a great place from which to view the majestic sight that is Hebden Bridge, with its handsome terraced houses and former cotton factories, all built in grey-brown millstone grit. The chimneys rise up beside the river like exclamation marks.
After the cotton industry collapsed in the 1970s, hippies moved into the factories and saved them from demolition. Those same hippies and their children later opened small independent shops with names such as The Book Case, Mooch Cafe Bar and Broug’s Homeware And Gifts.
In summer, the Handmade Parade fills the streets with lanterns and floats made from bamboo and tissue paper.
Twenty minutes from Hebden Bridge lies Haworth (pictured), where the Bronte sisters lived
Double rooms at David Pearce’s B&B, Hebble End View, start at £60; call 07990 616181. Rooms at the Hebden Townhouse, where Thomas stayed, start at £95 (hebdentownhouse.co.uk). For more information, visit hebdenbridge.co.uk.
Happy Valley Pride week is also a big deal. Hebden Bridge is such a popular destination for lesbians that an expression has sprung up. ‘Taking the bus to Hebden Bridge’ means coming out as gay. Yet as comedian Mark Steel has pointed out, what if you just want to take the bus to Hebden Bridge?
Twenty minutes away, you can visit Haworth, where the Bronte sisters lived. It’s easy to see how the wild scenery surrounding the village inspired Wuthering Heights. One local tells me that what drew him back to the area after a few years in London was the ever-changing landscape. ‘One moment it’s overwhelming, the next it’s so light and uplifting.’
It reminds me of the moment in Happy Valley when the murderous Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) escapes custody and takes to the hills. After cycling for miles, he stops at a vantage point to gaze out over the countryside. You can feel the sheer joy of his freedom.
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