A Tour of Literary Calderdale
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Fancy spending a night in a poet’s pad? Or how about
combining a stay there with a trip to the homes of some of the UK’s literary
Calderdale 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.
In 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-owners’s 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
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.
The 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.
Halifax 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.
Family 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
Minster and see where she was baptised, buried and spied suitable
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
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?
Visit Calderdale: visitcalderdale.com
Grand Central trains from London Kings Cross to
Halifax take three hours.
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