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Six reasons to visit Buxton

PUBLISHED: 16:19 28 July 2014 | UPDATED: 20:46 23 October 2015

The Octagon in the Pavilion Gardens

The Octagon in the Pavilion Gardens

mike smith as submitted

Mike Smith gives a tourist’s-eye-view of Buxton

Nestling in a wooded valley in the hills of the High Peak, Buxton is the perfect venue for a summertime arts festival. Aside from its wonderful setting, the town is blessed with superb buildings from its heyday as a spa.

Many of these are used as venues, with the Edwardian Opera House as a focal point. Set alongside the Victorian Pavilion Gardens and overlooking an arcaded Georgian square, the façade of this delightful theatre looks like the centrepiece of a stage-set for an operetta.

As well as having access to a crowded cultural programme, festivalgoers will have the added bonus of visiting a town crammed with very special attractions of its own. Here is a short guide to six of the best.

 

Poole's CavernPoole's Cavern

Underground, overground

Poole’s Cavern, on the southern outskirts of Buxton, is one of most the spectacular show caves in the country. Its stalactites include numerous examples of delicate crystal-like formations and one enormous isolated stalactite, which would have been even bigger but for damage caused by Victorian vandals. Many of the cave’s stalagmites look uncannily like poached eggs.

After taking a guided tour through this amazing underground world, visitors emerge at the foot of Grinlow Woods, criss-crossed by steep paths leading to a folly known as Solomon’s Temple, from where there is a superb panoramic view of Buxton, nestling in the deep valley below like a toy town.

At the Go Ape Adventure Park at the foot of the woods, energetic and daring visitors can tackle a climbing wall or test their nerve on high-ropes, with speedy zips and mid-air jumps. The Buxton Country Park truly is the place to ‘go underground, overground, wombling free’.

Driver and tour guide Nick Christie with the Victorian TramDriver and tour guide Nick Christie with the Victorian Tram

A journey back in time

Readers who take holidays in France will be familiar with the ‘petit train’, an articulated road-going ‘train’, versions of which are to be found in almost every tourist town in the country. Other than in a few coastal resorts, this great way of discovering the tourist highlights of a place has been slow to catch on in the UK.

Now, thanks to the enterprise of Anetta Christie, Buxton has a uniquely British version of the ‘Petit Train’. Fashioned from a former milk float, Anetta’s ‘vintage tram’ takes visitors on a trip around the town’s most historic buildings. Tours depart hourly from the Pavilion Gardens.

Heartened by the success of this new venture, Anetta is planning to supplement her regular tours with some themed trips. ‘Geology Tours’ will focus on Poole’s Cavern and be guided by an expert on the geology of the Peak, and ‘Mary Queen of Scots Tours’ will feature an actress playing the part of the captive queen, who was allowed to make several visits to Buxton for the good of her health.

The Gallery in the GardensThe Gallery in the Gardens

Something to take home

Many local artists and craftspeople have been inspired by the gorgeous countryside that surrounds Buxton. Their work is on display in several galleries in the town, two of which are contained in the Pavilion Gardens complex. The Gallery in the Gardens is a permanent showplace for 43 members of the High Peak Artists Group. High-quality work on display includes paintings, ceramics, jewellery, photography, textiles, turned wood, glass, embroidery, calligraphy, linocuts and etchings. The Art Café, on the upper floor of the pavilion, is a venue for changing exhibitions by local artists.

Higher Buxton’s Green Man Gallery has exhibitions of contemporary arts and crafts by gallery members and guest artists and artisans.

What better way could there be of remembering your visit to Buxton at festival time than to take home a work by an artist or artisan who has been inspired by the landscape of this beautiful region?

Charlotte's ChocolatesCharlotte's Chocolates

Chocolate heaven

Like Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, Beverley Jones was born in the Yorkshire town of Barnsley. Along with thousands of other readers, Beverley was seduced by the novel’s mouth-watering descriptions of a chocolate shop in a fictional French town. As she was equally impressed by the atmosphere of the famous Betty’s Café, a teashop that was on her list of clients when she worked in advertising, she longed to own a chocolate shop-cum-café of her own one day.

Four years ago, Beverley’s wish came true when she acquired Charlotte’s Chocolates, a shop founded in Buxton’s Cavendish Arcade by Steve Lee, a former miner. Thanks to receiving generous instruction from Steve and additional training from Slattery’s, Beverley has become an accomplished maker of delicious hand-made chocolates, containing fillings of genuine spirits, often with added touches of honey or lemon.

The café of Charlotte’s Chocolates extends onto a terrace with a great view of the town, and it is now supplemented by another café called ‘Charlotte’s Upstairs’, sited elsewhere in the arcade. Every hot drink that is served is accompanied by a complementary handmade chocolate, which is an irresistible temptation to prompt customers into purchasing further scrumptious flavours from a charming shop that has turned Joanne Harris’ fictional creation into a reality.

Scrivener’s BookshopScrivener’s Bookshop

 

A Bibliophile’s heaven

As well as listening to readings and talks by some of the country’s top authors at the festival’s Literary Series, bibliophiles will have the opportunity to browse to their heart’s content among over 40,000 second-hand, rare and collectable books at Alistair Scrivener’s bookshop in Higher Buxton. The volumes occupy five floors of a former Victorian shop, where there are several cosy alcoves for reading and self-service facilities for hot drinks. A bookbinding and restoration service is available and there is even a small museum in the cellar, which contains the original kitchen range and sink.

In addition to the huge book collection, which includes pulp, antiquarian, children’s books and collectables, there is a collection of maps, sheet music and ephemera, documents, prints and photographs. Not surprisingly, Scrivener’s has earned a nomination from the Guardian as ‘one of the ten-best second-hand bookshops in the country.’ Another piece of paradise for book-lovers is The Country Bookstore, three miles south of the town, where there is one of the country’s largest collections of bargain books, as well as a large selection of books about Derbyshire and the Peak.

Domes of the Opera HouseDomes of the Opera House

 

Dreaming domes

If Oxford is the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’, Buxton is the ‘Town of Dreaming Domes’. For the finest view of one of the best townscapes in England, visitors should walk to the summit of The Slopes, the steep gardens linking the market town with the spa. Although it is not possible to obtain a single wide-angled-view of the town when the trees are in full leaf, it is easy enough for the imagination to stitch together a series of glimpses through the trees of various parts of the stunning townscape.

Reading from left to right, the skyline is pierced by the octagonal dome of the concert hall of the Victorian Pavilion Gardens, the twin domes of the Edwardian Opera House, the cupola of the classical St John’s Church and the huge dome of the Buxton Campus of Derby University. At the time of its construction, in 1878, this dome was the largest in the world, even out-sizing St Peter’s in Rome. Its architect, Robert Rippon Duke, rushed to check every rivet and bolt in the dome after hearing the alarming news of the collapse of the Tay Bridge, another structure that had taken iron construction to its limit.

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