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Christmas in the Calder Valley: Halifax, Todmorden and Brighouse

By Claire McWethy

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Check. Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Oh yes. Yuletide carols being sung by the choir? There's really no better way to spend Christmas than the traditional way. And Calderdale has that old-fashioned charm in sleigh-loads.

Situated at the southernmost tip of the Yorkshire Dales, the Calder valley is a mix of rolling hills and mill towns, where towering chimneys dominate the landscape. While my family know it well, my grandmother having grown up here, it was my first time to Brighouse.

I knew to expect the yellow-brick houses, the quaint streets and rugged beauty. What I wasn't expecting to see as I got off the train, was a parade of wise men (well, women), on camels.

We had arrived for the start of the Christmas festival, where the town was buzzing with market stalls, the smells of sizzling street food and crowds waiting for the light switch-on, courtesy of Santa himself.

A parade of camels in Brighouse

A parade of camels in Brighouse

Brighouse Christmas market

Brighouse Christmas market

From the orthodox to the offbeat, our first excursion was to the nearby town of Todmorden which had a different idea about how to illuminate the streets – think Tim Burton does Mardi Gras. There the streets were cleared for a wonderfully weird parade featuring fire eaters and hundreds of handmade puppets and lanterns. A glow-in-the-dark dragon lunged at the crowds, exotic fish glided by and even the Samba Band musicians were dressed as skeletons.

As joyous at it is, The Lamplighter festival was born out of disaster. It came out of the towns of the Calder Valley coming together to mark their recovery, following devastating floods there in 2012.

It is just one example of how effective the area is at reviving itself.

Todmorden Lamplighter Festival

Todmorden Lamplighter Festival

The jewel in Calderdale's crown when it comes to regeneration, however, is undoubtedly the Piece Hall

Built in Halifax in the 18th century, the secret behind it's youthful looks is a £19 million restoration project, which finished in the autumn after three years of work. It is the centrepiece of a raft of investment which has created a real buzz around the borough.

The Piece Hall's vast courtyard has been levelled to create a piazza that would not look out of place in an old-world Italian city, while its 315 rooms - once used for buying and selling cloth - now contain a variety of boutiques. Instead of fabric, the 18th century trading hall now sells everything from exquisitely crafted soaps and handmade chocolates, to vinyl records and works by local artists.

Ambling around its precincts was the perfect remedy for those who have grown weary of trudging along crowded high streets to do their Christmas shopping.

The Piece Hall reopened this autumn

The Piece Hall reopened this autumn

The Hygge Tipi Bar in Halifax

The Hygge Tipi Bar in Halifax

The sound of a rock choir putting their spin on traditional carols provided the backdrop for exploring the goodies on offer, while our tired feet could rest snugly in the Scandi-style tipi tent, over a mug of Bailey's hot chocolate. All that was missing in this winter wonderland was some snow.

And if Christmas songs and spirits weren't enough to get us feeling festive, the day ended with a rousing performance of Handel's Messiah at the Victoria Theatre, complete with a brass band. Having been set up 200 years ago, Halifax's claims to be the world's oldest choral society, and this is the 199th time it had performed the concert – although, we were informed, with only some of its original members.

After an evening of Georgian music, and having a nightcap at the nearby Victorian Craft Beer Café, it was time to leave Calderdale and its old-fashioned charms. Most people will only know the area as the gritty, industrial backdrop of BBC1's ironically entitled crime series Happy Valley. But on the contrary, we found ourselves sad to be leaving it behind.

The Piece Hall at night

The Piece Hall at night

Claire was a guest at The Waterfront Hotel and Venue, Brighouse. Rooms start at £55 including an award-winning breakfast. To book, visit www.waterfronthotelandvenue.co.uk or call 01484 715566.

How to get there: Virgin Trains run direct services from London Kings Cross to the Calder Valley, with journey taking as little as 2 hours 20 minutes. Plan your route at www.grandcentralrail.com

Where to eat: For perfectly cooked seafood and hearty pizza and pasta dishes go to Prego Italian Cafe Bar & Restaurant, at The Waterfront Hotel in Brighouse.

Where to drink: Enjoy a warming hot chocolate or mulled wine around the open fire at Hygge Tipi Bar, at the Piece Hall in Halifax until December 31. If you’re looking for a pint with personality, you can't go wrong with The Victorian Craft Beer Café. Sink into a leather wingback chair at a candlelit table and choose from the 100 or so ales and ciders on offer from around the world.

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