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Buxton is an elegant Georgian spa town established in the eighteenth century by the Dukes of Devonshire on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Intended as a genteel health resort to provide an antidote to the grime and disease of the mill towns and industry of the larger conurbations of the region, Buxton is imbued with a rich sense of history, some fine architecture and is enjoying an increasingly fashionable reputation. This is thanks in no small part to the renaissance of the town’s Opera House, built at the turn of the twentieth century and revived in every last sumptuous detail to its former glory following a recent refurbishment programme. Displaying exquisite gold leaf detail, the auditorium now once again plays host to a wide variety of musical and performance arts events, and together with the art gallery and museum, the Opera House has succeeded in establishing itself as one of the country’s leading festival venues. The Buxton Festival and the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festivals are opera festivals held that are held in the town each year, while the Buxton Festival Fringe is a thriving spin-off arts festival held each summer.
The town has much to offer the visitor, and a good place to start is by following the Heritage Tour that showcases the town’s spectacular architecture and provides a history of how it became to be the ‘cultural capital’ of the Peak District. The Romans recognised the importance of the town’s mineral waters, and the Spa enjoyed a heyday in the Edwardian era, when wealthy visitors flocked to take the waters. It is also ideally placed for the visitor to take to the hills and dales either on foot or two wheels. Many of the disused railway lines that criss-cross the region have been converted into marked trails, such as the Tissington Trail, which follows low-level former tracks through the Peak District countryside making them particularly good for cyclists who can tackle as much or as little as they please.
Pool’s Cavern and Grin Low Country Park lie just a mile or so from the centre of Buxton and are a must for visitors to the area. The stalactite and stalagmite-filled caves are two million year old caverns that have attracted visitors since Neolithic tribes first used the chambers for shelter; indeed legend has it that Mary of Queen of Scots visited during a trip to take Buxton’s waters whilst imprisoned in nearby Chatsworth House. Today children will love discovering the illuminated caves, working their way through the ‘Wonderground’ tour in the new exhibition centre and visiting the gift shop, restaurant and café. The country park surrounding the caves extends a trip, with the opportunity to play, picnic, orienteer and walk in the mature woodland which was once a sprawling limestone quarry. A ramble to the top of Grin Low will reveal Solomon’s Temple, a gritstone folly built in the eighteenth century which now provides a splendid vantage point above Buxton.
Close to Buxton, just outside the National Park boundary, is Lyme Hall and Park. The Hall has become a place of pilgrimage for Jane Austen fans the world over, since it was used as the setting for Pemberley in the successful BBC adaptation of Austen’s famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. They flock to see the very spot where a dashing Mr Darcy threw himself into the lake to cool his ardour. The Hall, which legend has it is haunted by a ghost that roams its long gallery, is open for guided tours, whilst the seventeen acre Victorian gardens feature an orangery, a sunken garden, superb blooms and a spectacular avenue of lime trees which are over 300 years old. The surrounding parkland features an eighteenth century hunting tower and offers some lovely walks in both woodland and open moor land, with beautiful views over the Peak district and the Cheshire plain.
Also near Buxton, at Chapel-en-le-Frith, the Chestnut Centre is highly recommended for those with young children staying in a holiday cottage in the Peak District. A fascinating wildlife and conservation park set in a fifty acre estate on the slopes beneath the Kinder Scout plateau, children will love taking the nature trails and spotting various species of otter, a huge number of breeds of owl at the owl sanctuary together with deer, Scottish wild cats, foxes and birds. An enjoyable and educational day out, children can learn about habitats and the environment through a variety of interactive displays and activities. The Visitor Centre has a tearoom, picnic area and a souvenir shop.