A Tour of Literary Calderdale

Fancy spending a night in a poets pad? Or how about combining a stay there with a trip to the homes of some of the UK’s literary greats.

Piece Hall, HalifaxCalderdale has inspired so many great writers – poet Ted Hughes, the Bronte sisters and diarist Anne Lister. And the opening of the impressive Piece Hall in Halifax last year has given visitors even more reasons to visit.

I started my tour of this picture-postcard pocket of West Yorkshire at Ted Hughes’ modest terraced family home in the village of Mytholmroyd, where he was born. Tastefully refurbished in the 1930s style, the holiday home, run by the Elmet Trust, was occupied by a French poet when I visited, but he kindly allowed me to take a peek.

Black-and white-photographs of ‘Teddy’ as a child, his father Bill, and brother Gerald reflect Hughes’ early life. Poetry extracts hang on the walls. A collection of his works donated by his widow, Carol Hughes, pay homage to his famous works.

In Hughes’ attic bedroom, which he shared with his brother, I stood on tip-toe to peer through the skylight window at the beautiful hills that influenced his later works – he was often described as a nature poet.

Ted Hughes HouseIn Remains of Elmet, Hughes suggests that the Calder Valley was originally the kingdom of Elmet.

His early days here are celebrated in the Ted Hughes festival which will be held in October this year, the 20th anniversary of his death.

Although Ted moved away to Cambridge University and then Devon, he returned to Calderdale and bought picturesque Lumb Bank – an 18th-century mill-ownerss house with stunning views, a few miles from Mytholmroyd. He lived there with his second wife, Carol, and two children from his marriage to poet Sylvia Plath. It is now a residential writing school run by the Arvon Foundation.

Plath’s grave is a few miles away in St Thomas’ churchyard at Heptonstall. You’ll recognise it by the colourful pens left by visitors. Children’s poet, Asa Benveniste is also buried here.

From here, walk to the 14th-century White Lion, frequented by the Crag Vale Coiners (a band of counterfeiters) in the 18th century for a pie and a pint and see the coins on display.

Afterwards, on your way to the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth, stop in Hebden Bridge and explore its alternative cafes, bookshops and market (Thurs-Sun). The Brontë bus (B3) also goes from Hebden Bridge to Haworth.

Bronte Parsonage MuseumThe Brontë Parsonage is a treasure trove of the family’s original furniture, possessions, handwritten manuscripts and everyday household objects. It’s laid out as if the family has just popped out.

Off the dove-coloured hallway you’ll find Reverend Patrick Brontë’s study, complete with top hat, spectacles and piano mostly played by Emily. The dining room opposite is where Charlotte, Emily and Anne did most of their writing. Jayne Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were written here. Charlotte’s shawl and the sofa where Emily died are poignant memorabilia.

Wind your way via the kitchen, Charlotte’s room, the children’s study and Branwell’s messy studio to the exhibition room, where the novelists’ manuscripts in neat, tiny script are on display.

Afterwards, Haworth’s traditional tea and sweet shops beckon in the winding cobbled high street nearby.

Shibden HallHalifax featured in TV’s Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax – and it’s to appear again. Gentleman Jack, based on the life of lesbian diarist Anne Lister, will star Suranne Jones and be filmed exclusively at Shibden Hall, Lister’s family estate. The eight-part BBC/HBO series, written by Sally Wainwright, will appear in early 2019.

Lister wrote her four million-word diaries about ‘shabby Shibden’ here from 1791 to 1840. The most explicit sections of her affairs with women were written in code and deciphered by biographer Helena Whitbread. They are stored in Halifax’s central library.

Shibden HallFamily portraits and the Lister lion adorn the timber-framed grand hall plus there’s her writing desk, music book, and dressing case to see, staircases creaking as you tour. The tower library is impressive but only open for Anne Lister tours (second Sunday of the month).

Afterwards, take an Anne Lister tour at the 900-year-old Halifax Minster and see where she was baptised, buried and spied suitable lovers.

Then pop into the stunning colonnaded Piece Hall. The UK’s only surviving cloth trading hall reopened last year after a £19.5 million refurbishment. Enjoy an ice-cream in the open-air piazza and browse the 25 independent shops, bars and cafes. Think vinyl records (Loafers), gin bar, Escaporium and modern British tapas-style dishes (Elder).

Take a free tour (three times daily from the welcome centre) and learn all about the region’s cloth trade – it’s fascinating.

As Mark Richardson, who runs Loafers record shop told me: “When I walk through the gates every morning, I get to see how beautiful this place is.”

I agree. Why not visit and see for yourself?

More information

Visit Calderdale: visitcalderdale.com

Grand Central trains from London Kings Cross to Halifax take three hours.

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Kathryn Liston

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