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Market Day at Bakewell - a ‘foodie haven’ and the perfect day out

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 April 2017 | UPDATED: 08:52 25 April 2017

Janet and Roger Monk of Derbyshire Mushrooms

Janet and Roger Monk of Derbyshire Mushrooms

Ashley Franklin Photography

Ashley Franklin finds the ‘Capital of the Peak’ not just a perfect ‘foodie haven’ but also a great place to spend a day

Thank you, Bakewell: my wife Francine and I chose to spend our last wedding anniversary with you. We usually celebrate with an evening meal out but I had a… er, camera club meeting that night and, as Francine had the day off, I suggested that we spend a leisurely lunch together. And it was a Monday. ‘Market day at Bakewell!’ I exclaimed.

We love markets, and there are few finer in the country than Bakewell’s. It’s also a pleasant drive from our mid-Derbyshire home, taking in Wirksworth and Winster before joining the A6 near Haddon Hall. Chatsworth House is just down the road, too. As Derbyshire Dales’ Tourism Officer Gill Chapman reminded me: ‘How many towns in this country can claim to have two historic houses on its doorstep?’

Bakewell is historic itself, of course. Blackpool has its rock, Kendal its mint cake. Just say ‘Bakewell’ and the word ‘pudding’ follows. However, the irony about Bakewell is that the town’s name has nothing to do with baking, never mind baking anything well: its Domesday name Badequella means Bath-well. The further irony is that in spite of a settlement growing up around mineral water springs, Bakewell failed to develop as a spa town.

However, it has developed well enough to be known as the ‘Capital of the Peak’ and our day in the town proved there was more to Bakewell than an egg custard with almonds and jam. Take the Monday market: even though we arrived in the town on a mizzly, blustery mid-morning, we encountered a Car Park Full sign.

The River Wye with the Five Arches in the distanceThe River Wye with the Five Arches in the distance

‘That’s what I love about this market,’ said ‘Wicker Man’ Robert Lockett, ‘it’s busy even in wind, rain, hail and snow.’ On average three to four coaches stop off in the town daily but on Market Day there can be over 25, especially in the summer. Across the 160-plus stalls, there’s a pleasingly wide mix of food, flowers, fabrics, gifts, cards, tools, accessories, bedding and books. I’m told that traders with unusual or quirky produce are also encouraged to set up a stall, which accounts for the appearance of Gail Hartley selling her quaint self-build Fairy Folk Homes – ‘a magical gift for your garden and imagination’ – and Cook Spanish, run by Belper trader Pat Benjamin, providing a vivid splash of colour with his bright, bold cooking bowls. Pat has been a stallholder for two years and loves being here: ‘This is a friendly, vibrant market, run very professionally.’

‘Bakewell is a friendly town,’ adds Lee Rees, whose shop M J Smyllie is bursting with fruit and vegetables. It’s almost like a farmers’ market shop as it houses a bakery, and also sells teas, coffees, biscuits, fine foods, a hundred different spices and wicker baskets. ‘The Monday market is good for trade,’ says Lee; ‘custom increases by at least a third.’

The same goes for the last Saturday of the month when it’s the Farmers’ Market. I made a second visit to Bakewell to take in this market and, although it was another damp, windswept day, it didn’t matter as much: this market is held inside the Agricultural Centre. Opening in 2000 with only 28 producers, today there are 75 to 80 with a ‘healthy’ waiting list and visitors averaging two to three thousand a month, making it the second biggest farmers’ market in the UK.

As soon as I stepped inside, I was greeted by a smile and a shock of pink hair, belonging to Janet Monk. She and husband Roger have run Derbyshire Mushrooms for 43 years and have been at the market from the start. ‘There’s a warm atmosphere here,’ says Janet, ‘and it’s nice to be warm indoors, too!’

Gail Hartley with her Fairy Folk HomesGail Hartley with her Fairy Folk Homes

Heage Windmill has been here since 2002 when the windmill was restored and started milling its own flour. As the Windmill Society’s Chair Piers Bostock points out: ‘Bakewell Farmers’ Market is very important for us, not only because of the opportunity to sell our stoneground flour and discuss the fine art of bread-making with customers, but also for the chance to promote the windmill as a visitor attraction.’

Piers also loves the market as a customer: ‘There’s a great variety of goods available and the overall lack of duplication across the stalls enables customers to buy a wide mix of different but very special products.’

There are other attractive aspects to the market, as the Agricultural Business Centre Manager Richard Taylor points out: ‘It’s special because customers know that they are buying good quality produce, most of which is produced locally. Also, because most of the stallholders have been here for many years, they have built up a strong customer base which means a lot of people attend each month without fail. So, we have producers taking time to talk to customers which makes for a friendly, sociable market.’

Most stalls are dedicated to food and drink – everything from Hope Valley Ice Cream to Peak Ales and Peak Buffalo through to Lambarelli’s Pasta Sauces, a winner at the Chesterfield Food & Drink Awards in both 2013 and 2016 – though there are also arts, crafts and plant stalls.

Pat Benjamin of Cook Spanish, based in BelperPat Benjamin of Cook Spanish, based in Belper

A regular since 2002 is The Honey Pot run by Long Eaton-based bee farmer Tony Maggs who, as well as honey, sells by-products like beeswax, soap and even bees and birds seed mix. As Tony has observed: ‘Farmers’ markets were in vogue ten years ago and many peaked. This one, however, still thrives.’

Newcomer Max Price from Matlock has added a novel, idiosyncratic touch to the market with Peak Zero Proof, a drink in which Max has infused all the botanicals that go into gin but made it alcohol-free – the result, as Max candidly revealed, of over-imbibing due to the stress of a divorce from his wife of 29 years. He has now turned a corner with a healthy lifestyle – and a business.

It was a new lease of life in 2010 for stallholder Keith Daily when he decided, after many years of making home-made wine, to give up his job as plumber/electrician and produce wine commercially, using imported grapes from around the world. His family business Derbyshire Winery now produces 10,000 bottles a year. This micro-winery sells red, white and rosé wines – all with local names like Ashford White, Glossop Rouge and Five Arch Red (a nod to Bakewell’s five-arched bridge) – along with very popular fruit wines. I can recommend the lively Monsal Red if you like rich blackberry flavours with a hint of chocolate.

Keith has had a stall at the Farmers’ Market for three years. ‘I love it here,’ he says. ‘I meet friendly, wine-buying clientele and it’s good for them to meet the very person who makes the wine and you can try before you buy.’

Tegan's AtticTegan's Attic

Keith’s winery is based at the Riverside Business Park where there is another drink producer: Thornbridge Brewery.

From a start-up brewery in converted outbuildings at Thornbridge Hall in 2005, Thornbridge has become the UK’s most award-winning brewery. Their now legendary Jaipur Ale has won Gold at the World Beer Awards and, more recently, two of their beers – fascinatingly named Days of Creation and Love Among the Ruins – have won both the Gold and Silver Medals at the World Beer Cup.

For Thornbridge, ‘quality is paramount’ and three key principles are imprinted on their bottle labels: Innovation, Passion and Knowledge. An example of their innovation, according to marketing executive James Buchanan, is a beer called Serpent: ‘It’s a Belgian Golden Ale aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels with cider lees, then bottled with Champagne yeast. It’s truly unique.’

Thornbridge sends its craft beers to pubs across Derbyshire and the UK and also exports to over 35 countries. However, every last Wednesday and Saturday of the month whilst you’re in Bakewell you can drop in, as I did, on a brewery ‘Social’, where along with the beers there are street food vendors and an opportunity to tour the brewery.

The Old Original Bakewell Pudding ShopThe Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop

Maybe you ought to do that on another day in Bakewell because a tour of the town can take a whole day, especially if you take in the award-winning Old House Museum where under its ten beamed rooms you can discover the past life of the town. On show is a historical toy collection, handmade lace, fine china, a Victorian kitchen – and a Tudor toilet! Children can also dress up in period costume.

The museum – Bakewell’s oldest house – is tucked away behind the imposing All Saints’ Church overlooking the town. A walk around Bakewell is a pleasure, though perhaps not as great in the drizzle that we encountered; pick a bright day and the warm, honey-coloured stone will make you believe you are in the Cotswolds. One particularly delightful sight is the 13th century stone bridge over the River Wye with its five arches and diamond-shaped breakwaters. It’s worth noting that there is a guided walking tour of Bakewell from the Wye up to the Old House Museum.

Our walk from the main car park took us across the modern bridge near to the Agricultural Centre. It’s a plain footbridge but, appropriately on our anniversary day, it summoned up memories of our Paris honeymoon as it is festooned – like the Pont des Arts – with ‘love locks’, padlocks inscribed with lovers’ names attached to the railings with the key thrown away to symbolise unbreakable love.

I symbolised mine by paying for our anniversary lunch, just beside the Wye in the Pointing Dog & Duck, a chic, rustic restaurant on the site of an early 19th century sawmill. The original water-wheel pit survives and can be seen beneath a glass floor, though my eyes were drawn upwards to the striking timber roof trusses. Amidst the congenial atmosphere – stirred up by a blazing log burner in the corner – manager Christopher Ward served Francine a ‘lovely’ bruschetta with mushrooms while my curried parsnip soup was delectable. We then dined on delicious fire-grilled Harissa Chicken.

Richard Nealon of Bloomers with a Bakewell PuddingRichard Nealon of Bloomers with a Bakewell Pudding

Our afternoon stroll took us back over the old bridge past Brocklehursts, home of ‘the best country clothing in the country’, a gentlemen’s outfitters that still measures inside legs – and in inches. Close by is the Visitor Centre which as well as being a hive of information, has a first floor where I gazed in admiration – and envy – at the striking Peak landscapes of photographers Ian Daisley, Karen Frenkel, Graham Dunn and Alex Hyde.

Being a librarian and bibliophile, Francine was delighted to see the Bakewell Book & Gift Shop still running – celebrating 40 years – with a recently installed café. Bakewell has many other niche, independent shops, but you need to go exploring as some are tucked away up an alleyway, around a corner or in a courtyard. Step inside King’s Court and you’ll be charmed by Tegan’s Attic, a plant and garden shop which, with its pink façade and lopsided appearance, has been likened to a gingerbread cottage. Also here is Baked Well, where you – and especially your young children – can create hand-painted ceramics.

Inside Hebden Court – described previously in these pages as a ‘picturesque little Dickensian enclave’ – is a chocolate shop, fly fishing store, tea rooms, gift shops and Beau, a ladies’ fashion emporium alongside Mini Chic, with clothing, gifts and accessories for children and babies.

Close by is ID Interiors, a veritable Tardis of two showrooms brimful of classy fabrics, upholstery, carpets, rugs, wallpapers, paints, lighting and all manner of gifts big and small. Furthermore, owner Sarah Cooper, celebrating 35 years of ID, runs a bespoke interior design service offering ‘cutting edge design styles.’

Stephanie Ramsden of BeauStephanie Ramsden of Beau

Other delights in the town include: Rural Threads for ‘style conscious men’; The Jewellery Studio, a bespoke jewellery design service; record shop Music in the Green; Wee Dram, ‘purveyors of specialist whiskies’ – over 550 from virtually every distillery in the world – run with great enthusiasm and expertise by Adrian and Alison Murray; Rutland Arms Antiques Centre, once a stable block and now home to over 40 dealers; Wye Wool, with its extensive range of patterns, wools and knitting needles; and the Bakewell Cook Shop, packed with high-end kitchen gifts, gadgets and goodies.

This is a good time to mention Bakewell’s thriving cookery school Hartingtons, which offers cookery and artisan food and drink courses in a converted mill. Here you can learn how to brew beer, make bread, cheese, chocolate and pork pies and even set up your own tea rooms or coffee shop.

It’s no surprise to hear that Bakewell has a great food festival: its sixth, on 29th and 30th April, will feature over 50 food and drink stalls with the cookery school welcoming Bake Off ‘star baker’ Howard Middleton.

As we can see, food figures widely in Bakewell and it always will as long as it keeps baking its fêted pudding. Does it date back to medieval times or was it mistakenly created in the mid-19th century when a Rutland Arms cook spread the egg mixture on top of a jam tart instead of mixing it in the pastry?

Meghan Waites, Events Manager and Kelly Knight, Accountant, of Thornbridge BreweryMeghan Waites, Events Manager and Kelly Knight, Accountant, of Thornbridge Brewery

As there are three shops – The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, Bakewell Pudding Parlour and Bloomers – who all claim to have the original recipe, it’s probably best for the town’s tourist trade that the mystique is maintained.

Bloomers’ owners Richard Nealon and Esplin Chapman told me that the final act when they took over the company in 2014 was the passing over of the old envelope containing the secret recipe, dated 1889. ‘It had been sealed with Sellotape that the solicitor had signed to prove that no one had opened it while it had been kept in a safe. It’s written on A4 size paper and is actually in eight pieces, so we’re having it restored.’

Taking over Bloomers, says Richard, ‘felt like taking guardianship of a great institution.’ It’s an institution that has now found fame in the Far East, with Bloomers receiving an order last summer of just under 15,000 Bakewell Puddings for a Japanese food festival.

I believe the whole world needs to taste Bakewell Pudding. Relishing a slice of Bloomers’ pudding for the first time in years, I believe I have discovered the reason the word ‘scrumptious’ was invented. Also, although you can only buy this dish in Bakewell, I am delighted to see you can order it online.

Mind you, Francine and I will be buying from the shop again soon as we will shortly be going back to Bakewell and, as before, it’s because of food. We were delighted with our Pointing Dog lunch but Francine, who’s half-French, is intent on dining at the town’s French restaurant Piedaniels, noted for its ‘refined French-accented cooking in a classy and intimate dining room.’ Frustratingly, we discovered that it’s closed on a Monday. It means that when we do return, we’ll have to forego the Monday market. Mind you, as I hope I’ve shown, there is plenty to enjoy in Bakewell.

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