An idyllic yet little-known corner of Northern England, Calderdale enchants with its verdant landscapes, tranquil canals and memorable historic sites.
Lovely Calderdale is a picturesque rural valley in the far west of Yorkshire, in Northern England. The ‘Happy Valley’ combines exciting historic attractions with diverse outdoor adventures, dramatic landscapes, charming little villages and a cultural depth that surprises many newcomers. A favourite with cyclists and canal boat enthusiasts, the lush valley forms part of the beautiful South Pennine hills.
A rich heritage
Once a wild, barely inhabited stretch of land, Calderdale emerged from obscurity to become a driving force in the Industrial Revolution. As you follow the meandering River Calder, you’ll pass incredible feats of Victorian engineering – great textile mills, canals, railways and long tunnels.
Built around 1800, Gibson Mill was one of the first mills of the Industrial Revolution. It churned out cotton cloth for nearly a century, and two water turbines still help to power the site without any outside electricity or gas.
Then there is magnificent Shibden Hall, which justifies a trip to Calderdale all by itself. One of England’s oldest timber-framed medieval houses, built in 1420, it’s now most famous as the home of colourful gay icon Anne Lister, a 19th-century diarist, mountaineer, adventurer and one of the first openly gay women in English history. Don’t leave without rowing across the boating lake, riding the miniature railway, and taking a peek at the carriage collection, blacksmiths, saddlers and brewhouse.
Another unique attraction will reopen in summer 2016: Piece Hall, built during the first flush of the Industrial Revolution in 1779, is a vast and handsome cloth hall and the oldest still standing in Britain.
Landscapes to inspire
Calderdale’s steep hills, lonely moors and canal paths cry out to be explored. Cyclists can choose between gentle canal-side jaunts, mountain-bike trails and tough road challenges, including the route taken by the 2014 Tour de France. Walkers can take part in a guided heritage walking tour, strike out solo or tackle the wildly beautiful Calderdale Way, a 50-mile (80km) romp through high moors and steep-sided valleys.
There are plenty more outdoor adventures, from grass sledging, zip wires and horse-riding to climbing and golf. However, a slightly less energetic but equally adventurous way to explore the countryside is to hire a boat and navigate one of the country’s loveliest stretches of canal, stopping off for lingering afternoon teas and pub lunches on the way.
Unsurprisingly, the valley’s landscapes have inspired their fair share of writers, including 20th-century Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and his ill-fated wife Sylvia Plath, who is buried here. It’s only a short hop from here to Haworth where the Brontë sisters wrote their classic novels. Calderdale is also the inspiration behind and location of the award-winning British TV series Happy Valley.
The valley’s villages are home to vibrant, creative communities with artisan workshops, galleries and a busy calendar of live music and festivals. The area is celebrated for its live music, from choral concerts in ancient Halifax Minster to intimate gigs in local pubs.