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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.

, 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.Christmas festivalWe had arrived for the start of the

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.

Brighouse Christmas market
A parade of camels in Brighouse

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.The Lamplighter festivalAs joyous at it is,

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

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

Todmorden Lamplighter Festival

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.Built in Halifax in the 18

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 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.

The Hygge Tipi Bar in Halifax
The Piece Hall reopened this autumn

time it had performed the concert – although, we were informed, with only some of its original members.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 199

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

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

www.grandcentralrail.com: 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 How to get there

: 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 eat

. 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.The Victorian Craft Beer Café, at the Piece Hall in Halifax until December 31. If you’re looking for a pint with personality, you can't go wrong with Hygge Tipi Bar: Enjoy a warming hot chocolate or mulled wine around the open fire at Where to drink

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