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Friday, December 9, 2016

Buxton & Bakewell: An Anniversary Getaway to the Peak District

What to do in Buxton and Bakewell in England's Peak District

In the beginning of October, my boyfriend and me travelled to England’s Peak District to celebrate our fifth anniversary. During the four days that we spent among the rolling hills of the Peaks, we went on walks through the countryside, started every morning with a hearty English breakfast, had tea and scones on multiple occasions and toured grand stately homes that I had dreamt of visiting for years. It was the perfect kind of trip for many reasons, the kind of trip that truly makes my heart sing, and yet I have been extraordinarily reluctant to start writing about it on the blog.

In our social media obsessed world, it can sometimes seem as if our experiences only gain value once they have received validation on Instagram or Facebook, as if things have not happened unless they have been shared online. I reserve judgement since I’m just as prone to living my life on the ’gram as most other twenty-somethings, but every once in a while there are events that I just want to keep closer to myself for a bit, experiences that I want to selfishly savor before opening them up to the world – and this getaway was definitely one of those special moments.

When we started discussing trip ideas for our anniversary, there was only one place I really wanted to go and that was Great Britain. I know that I have said it a million times already, but there truly is no other place in the world that I love quite as much as the British countryside and everytime I visit, it feels as if my soul returns home after a long journey. It’s a feeling I almost can’t explain, a feeling of belonging that I have never quite experienced in the place I have grown up in and so I could not think of a more appropriate place to celebrate all the years I have already been blessed to spend with the one person that means the most to me.

After our trip to Wales, we had our eyes on the Peak District as our next travel destination in the UK and when we found affordable plane tickets to Manchester and realized that it was the perfect gateway to this area of England, we quickly jumped at the opportunity. For the first two days of our visit, we stayed in Buxton, a small and picturesque spa town just outside of the national park and we were smitten with this handsome little place from the moment we first laid eyes upon it when we got off the bus from the airport.

We arrived in the early afternoon and after dropping off our bags at a wonderful B & B called Grosvenor House that had some of the nicest guest house owners I have ever met – no mean feat in a country full of fantastically friendly B & B hosts! – set off for a late lunch at No.6 The Square. Taking advantage of the sunshine, we opted to sit outside underneath the arcades and enjoyed our Derbyshire Oatcakes and Jacket Potato with Baked Beans with a view of Buxton’s little opera house and what has to be the most adorable little sightseeing bus I have ever come across. The café also had a very appealing afternoon tea menu that I would have loved to sample had we stayed in Buxton for a longer period of time, but the day was beckoning and so we decided to go on a walk through the town’s large public park, the Pavilion Gardens, once our appetite was sated.

After strolling through the gardens, we decided to head to one of the big local attractions, Poole’s Cavern, located about twenty minutes away from the town centre at the edge of a quiet residential area. The entrance of the cavern was hidden behind a building that looked rather unassuming from the outside, but since it had been a few years since we had last visited a cave together, we signed up for the next tour anyway and figured that it would be interesting enough. And I’m really happy that we did, because this visit was one of the highlights of our trip!

Poole’s Cavern isn’t the most awe-inspiring flowstone cave I have ever visited, but it’s an impressive natural formation nonetheless and there are plenty of interesting stories and myths surrounding the cave that the guides are all too happy to share with visitors. We have all been forced to endure tours before that are lead by guides who seem to neither feel any sort of passion for their subject nor to possess the social skills necessary to keep a group entertained and so our guide, whose name I have sadly forgotten, was an absolute breath of fresh air. It’s not easy to make tours both informative and entertaining, but he did an absolute splendid job with his contagious enthusiasm and I couldn't recommend a visit any higher!

Once we returned to the outside world, we followed a path through a forest area to see Solomon’s Temple, the second big attraction in Buxton. Placed on the peak of a lonesome hill high above the town, Solomon’s Temple is a desolate little tower set amidst solitary pastures and while the name is misleading considering that this place has no religious meaning – though it does seem to be the site of an ancient burial mount – it does feel like a place where one can connect to the spirit of an age long, long since gone. I’m not sure if the tower ever had any practical reason for existing, but since its construction at the end of the 19th century, it has become one of the town’s iconic landmarks and since it’s easily accessible from town, yet delightfully secluded, it makes for a perfect little excursion into nature.

Buxton is located at a higher elevation than most of the Peak District and so the wind started blowing very harshly while we were making our way up to the tower. I quickly cursed the fact that I had decided to wear my hair open that day – never a good idea on a countryside walk! – and spent almost half an hour untangling my locks in the evening, but the views from the top of the hill more than made up for that hassle. I loved seeing all the different shades of green that we could spot no matter in which direction we looked and I felt the kind of sense of freedom – my cheeks rosy, my hair wild, my breath taken away – that I find impossible to encounter in the city.

Our guide at Poole’s Cavern had told us that this area had been occupied by a limestone quarry up until two hundred years, but my untrained eye could barely imagine that this place had ever been anything, but a natural refuge. It was a powerful reminder of our own insignificance in the grand scheme of things and I found the thought that the earth can forget mankind’s influence and existence so quickly deeply humbling, but in any case we felt sure the lack of modern industry much improved the beauty of this place.

I loved Buxton because it really did seem to combine the best of both worlds. With its proximity to both striking nature and comfortable city life, Buxton was exactly the kind of place I would have enjoyed lingering in, but our next destination was calling already and so we were soon off to the other side of the Peak District.

After a detour to Chatsworth House – I will tell you more about this visit in the future! – we arrived in Bakewell, a charming little market town in the east of the Peak District. On paper, Bakewell is exactly the kind of place one imagines when thinking of rural England: Set amidst picturesque hills, Bakewell is a town where well-kempt and often elegant buildings line the streets and a large inn, in which Jane Austen herself once stayed in 1811, marks the centre while a little river that is home to the local duck population winds its way along sublime green spaces before before finding its way into the countryside again. Since Bakewell is far from a hidden secret and brimming with visitors eager to catch a break on a sunny weekend day, the reality obviously isn’t quite as quaint, though it’s still a pretty town that is worth a stop and wander.

Next to its literary immortalization as the town of Lambton in Pride and Prejudice, Bakewell’s biggest claim to fame is arguably the invention of the Bakewell Pudding. The Bakewell Pudding contains a filling of cherry jam and frangipane encased in puff pastry and is served with custard and has become a national favorite in the form of the Bakewell Tarte in other parts of Great Britain. Nobody really knows how the Bakewell Pudding came to be – Was it an accident? A clever business idea by an enterprising local? – but everyone can agree that Britain’s dessert landscape would be lacking without its existence.

There are two bakery shops in town that seem to have the best claim on the invention, though, and in the name of fairness and because I never say no to cake, we decided to try both to determine for ourselves which one we liked best. We started our quest at The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop for no other reason than the fact that it had a big sit-down café and we were in serious need of a cup of tea and some realization after returning from a rather long walk. I ordered the classic Pudding, while my boyfriend opted for a slice of the Tarte and we were both very happy with our late afternoon snacks. We stopped by the other Bakewell Pudding contender Bloomer’s the next day just before we had to leave for the airport and picked up a few goodies in the tiny little shop to keep us busy on our journey. I liked the Tarte more than the one at The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop because it also came without icing, but preferred the Pudding of the day before to the one at Bloomer’s. Funnily enough, my boyfriend felt exactly the opposite way and so we emerged with no clear winner and can confidently say that you’re not making a mistake with either.

If crowds aren’t really your thing, I recommend visiting Bakewell first thing in the morning. We stayed in a little B & B in town and snuck out early on our first day to wander the deserted streets for some time. We found our way to the local parish church and admired the centuries-old faded tombstones surrounding it, before we ambled along the quietly gurgling river for some time. With the hills hiding behind the mist of early fall and smoke escaping from the chimneys of the houses, Bakewell really did feel like the place Jane Austen may have found two hundred years ago and we definitely cherished the peace before the chaos of the day.

I am already itching to visit the UK again, but for now reminiscing by writing will have to do. I have plans to publish a few more posts on our trip in the next few months, so I hope you can forgive me if I continue to gush a little bit too much about Great Britain in the future. I am sure it won’t take long until I return to this favorite island of mine – but until then, I luckily have Jane Austen novels to keep me entertained!

Have you been to the Peak District before?

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