Resting atop the rolling patchwork hills of the Derbyshire Dales, the refined Spa town of Buxton balances elegant Georgian Terraces with flourishes of Victorian architectural ingenuity. Its natural thermal springs have long been a draw for visitors believing the water to have unique healing properties; dating from the Romans right through to present day pilgrims.
At 1030 feet above sea level, Buxton holds the esteemed honour of being the highest market town in England. However, being at a higher altitude does leave the town vulnerable to occasional spells of inclement weather. It is not uncommon for townsfolk to experience combinations of rain, wind, sleet and snow. Meanwhile in the temperate valleys of the Peak District, a few miles away, all is mild and clear.
There can be no better example of such extreme weather discrepancies than the events of 1975, when in defiance of all meteorological laws a cricket match between Derbyshire and Lancashire in June was called off due to snow. There are arguable upsides to the increased likelihood of blizzards that come with being in such an elevated position – the potential for producing enviable Instagram pics. Buxton in the winter is picturesque, with the snow working to soften the austere edges of its Victorian gabled roofs.
Trudging over the cobbled streets of the town-centre you’ll come across the twinned domes of Buxton Opera House (Water Street), which when blanketed with a fine layer of snow looks quite the picture. First opened in 1903, the theatre is an exquisite example of Edwardian architecture. Playing host to hundreds of performances a year across a whole gamut of the arts from cabaret acts to classical musicians, and with a grandiose interior designed by Frank Matcham, Buxton Opera House is one of the town’s most prized assets.
Sounding like a name for a delectable sweet, the Devonshire Dome (1 Devonshire Road) is another cherished opal which like the Opera House, looks all the more stunning after a light dusting of snow. With a diameter wider than Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica, the Devonshire Dome holds the accolade of being Britain’s largest unsupported dome. Built in 1779 by the 5th Duke of Devonshire, this impressive Grade Two listed structure is now used as a private events space.
Located beneath this dome structure is Devonshire Spa, a luxury commercial day spa and wellness centre that offers its customers a healthy range of facilities, including a hydrotherapy pool, essence-filled sauna and candle-lit relaxation lounge. Seasonal therapies are available that are designed to tend to the body’s ever changing cycles, whilst the Caudalie Divine massage proves a popular choice all year round.
Another such source of healing and revitalisation, St Anne’s Well (The Crescent), Buxton’s main geothermal spring gushes forth a permanent flow of free water to its residents. Formerly a sacred Roman site bearing the title of “Aquae Arnemetiae,” or “The Waters of The Goddess of the Grove”, the enterprising Romans built around the thermal spring which now lies under The Crescent.
Of course Buxton wouldn’t be much of a market town without its own thriving weekly market. Held on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the year come rain or shine, Buxton Market (Market Place) features stalls selling items varying from household goods and furniture through to fresh fruit and vegetables. A flea-market selling vintage wares also rolls into town once a month.
Adding to the town’s market value, on the first Thursday of every month The Pavilion Gardens (St. Johns Road) plays host to a Farmers’ Market. Free to enter and mainly featuring stalls displaying a spread of handmade crafts in addition to freshly picked vegetables and home-made jams, those with a taste for the exotic can also pick up such carnivorous delicacies as Buffalo Steak.
Directly overlooking the Pavilion Gardens, Number 6. The Square is helpfully named after its address, so no excuses if you’re having trouble locating the place on Google Maps. Also functioning as a tearooms, serving traditional English afternoon tea and generously portioned breakfasts, four double en-suites are located upstairs whilst a self-contained flat is situated on the ground floor.
Considered to be among the oldest hotels in England and the place where Mary, Queen of Scots was put under house arrest, The Old Hall Hotel (The Square) certainly scores highly on the historical interest charts. Expect the royal treatment along with attendant royal prices when opting for the Four Poster Room, or alternatively choose the standard double and live the life of a nobleman for around two-thirds of the price.
Towards the lower budgeted end of the scale and ever so slightly away from the town centre, The Alison Park Hotel (3 Temple Road) is a small, family-run establishment dating back to Edwardian times. For visitors who value a quiet stay in a hotel that is close to nature this hotel presents an appealing option, especially considering its proximity to the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District National Park.
Bars & Restaurants
Perched at the crest of a steep incline on Hall Bank road, the interior décor of 53 Degrees North (8 Hall Bank) somewhat aptly resembles an alpine ski lodge. After having hiked one of Buxton’s mini mountains to get there, why not tend to one’s hunger by ordering a Sunday roast available between noon and 9pm. Alternatively, tuck in to their locally sourced sausage & mash.
Right across the road, Barbarella’s Wine Bar (7 The Quadrant) is a chic wine bar and restaurant complete with low hanging chandeliers laid out across two floors of a stately, Grade II-listed building. With an ample selection of wines, cocktails and ales and an ever-changing specials board, Barbarella’s presents the customer with plenty of options. A favourite with the locals, the level of service and quality of the food have been praised, with the Eton Mess and Thai Fish Cakes rating particularly highly.
Down a side street off the main road, the Buxton Brewery Tap House (George St) is housed within the Old Court House and dates back to the mid-1800s. Considering that Buxton is a sleepy provincial market town, this pub is the hub of the town’s nightlife, staying open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. With over 18 beers on draft to choose from including home-brewed pale ale, Buxton SPA, there’s plenty to satisfy the taste buds of any would-be cask connoisseur.
It’s a real-life case of upstairs, downstairs at Charlotte’s Café (1 & 11 Cavendish Arcade, The Crescent). Spread across two floors, the ground floor is home to Charlotte’s Chocolatier, whilst Upstairs at Charlotte’s sits, predictably enough, on the upper floor. The café serves home-cooked food using locally sourced ingredients and – as with several other of the town’s cafés and restaurants – it offers Olympic-sized breakfasts until 11:30am. At Charlotte’s Chocolatier one is immediately surrounded by Belgian chocolate truffles. Also selling home-made fudge, teacakes and lemon flavoured scones, both café and chocolatier are especially popular during the bitter cold of winter.
With its name relating to the supply of water provided by the town’s thermal springs, The Source (7 Terrace Road) uses ethically sourced, Fairtrade products and is operated by Buxton Church in the Peak, with all profits going directly towards raising money for grassroots projects both within the UK and in Africa. The café has also become something of a safe-haven for the most vulnerable in society. Imprinted above one of the café’s interior archways is a line from the Bible: ‘come to me all who are weary … and I will give you rest’.
A little way out from the centre, at the junction with London Road, the Five Ways Cafe (1West Rd) is an unusual yet amusing combination of both a café and laundrette. Customers can choose to while away the spin cycle with a warm brew, or alternatively those granted the luxury of a slow soak can sample the full English breakfast or fresh sandwiches, with the option to eat in or take away. If you’re trying to sync your afternoon coffee with the weekly wash, be aware that on weekends the café closes at 3pm.