Nestled above the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales, the exquisite spa town of Buxton balances elegant Georgian terraces with Victorian architectural ingenuity. Its natural hot springs have long attracted visitors who believe the water has unique healing properties; from the Romans all the way to the present day pilgrims.
With an elevation of 1,030 feet above sea level, Buxton has the esteemed distinction of being the highest market town in England. However, due to its high altitude, the town is occasionally subject to inclement weather. Residents of the town often experience a combination of rain, wind, sleet and snow. Meanwhile, a few miles away in the temperate valleys of the Peak District, all is mild and clear.
There is no better example of this extreme weather difference than in 1975, when a cricket match between Derbyshire and Lancashire in June was cancelled because of snow, in defiance of all meteorological laws. At such high altitudes, the increased likelihood of a snowstorm can be beneficial – the potential to produce enviable Instagram photos. Buxton is picturesque in the winter, with snow softening the plain edges of the Victorian arched roofs.
Stumble through the cobbled streets of the town centre and you’ll see the twin domes of the Buxton Opera House (Water Street), which look beautiful when covered in a fine layer of snow. First opened in 1903, this theatre is a fine example of Edwardian architecture. The Buxton Opera House hosts hundreds of performances each year, ranging from cabaret to classical music, and with an interior designed by Frank Matcham, it is one of the town’s most prized assets.
The Devonshire Dome (1 Devonshire Road), which sounds like the name of a delicious confection, is another precious opal that, like the Opera House, looks even more stunning after a slight snowfall. The Devonshire Dome is wider in diameter than St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is reputed to be the largest unsupported dome in Britain. The impressive Grade II listed building, built in 1779 by the 5th Duke of Devon, is now used as a private event space.
Located beneath this domed structure is the Devonshire Spa, a luxury commercial day spa and wellness centre offering clients a range of wellness amenities including a hydrotherapy pool, essence-filled sauna and candlelit relaxation lounge. Seasonal therapies are designed to target the body’s ever-changing cycles, while the Caudalie Divine Massage is a popular year-round option.
Another source of healing and rejuvenation is St. Anne’s Well (Crescent Well), Buxton’s main geothermal spring, which provides permanent free water to its residents. Formerly a sacred Roman site, bearing the title “Aquae Arnemetiae” or “The Waters of The Goddess of the Grove”, enterprising Romans built around the spa, now located under Crescent Street.
appropriate the market
Of course, Buxton wouldn’t be a market town without its own weekly market. Buxton Market (Market Square) takes place every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the year, rain or shine, with stalls selling everything from household goods and furniture to fresh fruit and vegetables. A monthly flea market also sells antique goods.
To add to the town’s market value, Pavilion Gardens (St. Johns Road) hosts a farmers’ market on the first Thursday of every month. The farmer’s market is free to enter and the main stalls display freshly picked vegetables and homemade jams as well as handmade crafts, and those with an exotic taste can also buy meat delicacies such as buffalo steaks.
Directly overlooking Pavilion Gardens, #6. The Square is helpfully named after its address, so no excuses if you have trouble finding the place on Google Maps. Four double en-suite bedrooms are located upstairs, while a separate flat is located on the ground floor and also serves as a tea room with traditional English afternoon tea and a hearty breakfast.
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.