Happy Valley: What’s life really like living on Sgt Cawood’s beat?

Nestled at the bottom of rolling hills on the edge of West Yorkshire, the fictional TV location known as Happy Valley has had a real impact on the people and places where it was filmed. Ahead of an explosive final episode, we walked Sgt Catherine Cawood’s beat, speaking to the people who call it home.

“People are talking about Happy Valley all the time. It’s brought more people to the town,” says estate agent Sandra Horsfield in Hebden Bridge.

The town is just one of the locations which stretch along the bottom of the Calder Valley which serve as the real-life backdrop for the TV series which first started in 2014.

Sandra says the area could not have paid for better exposure or advertising: “So many people want to live here, the place is buzzing.”

As we chat, a small crowd of waterproof-clad walkers gather at the window of Peter David Properties, peering in at what’s for sale.

Sandra’s taken on the role of an unofficial tour guide and she says many fans of the show pop in to ask where scenes from the third and final series were filmed.

Sandra Horsfield
Image caption,

Sandra Horsfield has become an unofficial tour guide helping point visitors in the direction of some filming locations

Sandra says that during filming, the stars would regularly be seen popping down the narrow high street for a coffee, especially Sarah Lancashire, who plays main character and stern-faced copper Catherine Cawood.

“We saw ‘Catherine’ quite a lot. When she’s out and about, she’s a quiet person,” Sandra adds.

Even on a wet February afternoon, the high street is busy. Hebden Bridge and the rest of the Calder Valley has always been a hotspot for tourists, with the stone buildings and looming hills a big pull.

Lisa Morgan, from nearby Mytholmroyd, says she cannot wait for Sunday night, when she can watch the finale which brings the story, by Sally Wainwright, to a close.

As she huddles under the bus shelter waiting for the 590 service towards Halifax, she tells me she’s “loved” the series, and it’s been even more special because it was filmed on her doorstep.

“It’s exciting, seeing places you know and you say, oh I know that, I’ve been there. It’s great.”

Production companies picking the area for filming is no surprise and millions of people seeing the stunning scenery of the Calder Valley is good for the town, Lisa says.

“It’s different, a quirky area.”

The canal through Hebden Bridge
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The Calder Valley has been a hotspot for filming in recent years

A walk down the high street in Hebden Bridge makes that clear. The distinctive shop frontages and the high hills surrounding the town give it a cosy, closed-in feel.

“I suppose you’ve got two different styles of the Happy Valley,” butcher and fan of the show Daniel Gibbon tells me. He knows the area well. After all, the meat he sells has come directly from the hills above the Calder Valley.

“In the summer, it can be fantastic, beautiful weather,” he says. “Then in the winter, it’s a bit wet, damp, miserable and windy on the hills, but it’s still a good place to live.

“It’s so great to see films coming out this way and showing our town on the little screen.”

Daniel says the success of Happy Valley has had a huge positive effect, not just on shops and businesses in general in the Calder Valley, but specifically on the butchers who supply food to local pubs which he says are definitely busier as a result of the area being thrust into the limelight.

James Norton playing Tommy Lee Royce
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Tommy Lee Royce, played by James Norton, looks across the Calder Valley and cries after escaping court in the TV series

Next door to Daniel’s premises is the Nisa store, where Happy Valley character Neil Ackroyd, played by Con O’Neill, works in the TV series.

A sign on the window is advertising for a new assistant manager to work in what is surely the most-photographed shop in the town.

Store manager Martin Turner say he has spent much of his time recently batting away national attention, with newspapers and TV crews descending on him to see the shop.

“To be honest, I’ve not even watched it,” he laughs, admitting he’s avoiding any spoilers. “I’m just waiting to binge watch it when it’s finished.”

He says the shop was closed for hours while a couple of scenes were filmed involving Neil and Catherine.

“Filming took five or 10 minutes at the most, the rest was putting up and taking the lights down,” Martin explains.

The Nisa Local on the high street
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The Nisa Local store in the real life Hebden Bridge, where Neil Ackroyd, played by Con O’Neill, works in series three

On my way out of the town, following the River Calder, I head to Elland, which is referenced throughout the Happy Valley series, and I see PCSOs walk the streets in what, unlike what the TV series might suggest, is a generally safe area.

On Albert Street is Sally Robinson’s real life home, which was transformed for TV from a normal looking end terrace into a pharmacy where Faisal Bhatti, played by Amit Shah, illegally dished out prescription drugs to the area’s criminals.

The area was picked because Happy Valley writer Sally Wainwright’s grandfather used to live nearby.

“It’s had quite a lot of recognition. Everyone at work has been talking about it,” Sally Robinson tells me.

The chance to temporarily transform her family’s home into a star of the small screen came after a letter from the production company behind Happy Valley landed on Sally’s doormat.

She tells me: “I had a letter through the post box with a plan of what they wanted to do and to get in touch with them. It’s been quite exciting to see it.”

The surreal encounter was short-lived, with her being at work while external filming took place, but her neighbours still walk past and comment on their street’s stardom.

Elland composite
Image caption,

Sarah Robinson’s home was transformed into a fake pharmacy, including green shutters and a new front door

Tim Swift, leader of Calderdale Council, says he’s pleased that the Calder Valley has joined a growing list of places in the district which have featured on the box.

He says he hopes for a busy summer for the whole area as a result.

“If we look back to Gentleman Jack, that’s what we saw there. There was a big marked increase in tourism and that still continues,” he says.

He adds that people from as far afield as America make the trip to see places like Shibden Hall in nearby Halifax, where much of Gentleman Jack was filmed.

As a council, he says, they’ve welcomed the cameras in to the district to “showcase the best of Calderdale” and he says he hopes it will continue to be a prime destination for film crews.

Hebden Bridge high street
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Hebden Bridge has been thrown into the spotlight by the hit BBC police drama

However, Roger Benn, co-chair of Hebden Royd Business Forum, says there’s a fine balance to be sought so as not to overcrowd the now-famous valley.

“There’s also a downside effect from the number of tourists that come because it causes problem such as parking for local residents,” he says.

He adds that his slogan is “you can’t buy a hammer in Hebden Bridge”, as many of the shops are restaurants or cafes which pretty much rely on the tourist trade.

But businesses benefiting from visitors is, of course, always a good thing, he says.

A shot from Happy Valley
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Happy Valley has been on BBC TV since 2014 and has since been shown around the world

Back in Hebden Bridge, Sandra at the estate agents, says she’s now gearing up to watching the finale of Happy Valley surrounded by friends.

She says she hopes a local business might screen the show so people in the town can watch it together for one last time.

But she’s not giving up hope of catching a glimpse of her favourite star, James Norton, who plays on-the-run triple murderer Tommy Lee Royce.

“He has a lot of fans here. When they saw him last week on his bike and all his gear and crying when he looked at that view, everyone was like, ‘oh my god’, she laughs.

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