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If you're searching for a family-friendly day out, look no further than Poole's Cavern © Poole's Cavern
High-level spa town with the Buxton Opera House and Pavillions as well as a buzzing arts scene.
Buxton and the surrounding area are outside the national park, largely because of their industrial value – a long finger of grey on the map surrounded by a swathe of green denoting the park. Today, many of the lucrative limestone quarries are still active, with chunks of hillsides removed in the quest to satisfy man’s insatiable demand for aggregates and cement. The working quarries have left unsightly holes in the White Peak, and the exposed rock faces stand as raw scars on the landscape. But between and beyond the quarries is an area of real beauty made up of deep dales, hillsides of thick vegetation, open moorland and the softer, greener rolling landscape of farmlands. In all of this sits the handsome part-Georgian, part-Victorian spa town of Buxton, the Bath of the Midlands.
What to see and do
Buxton Opera House
An ideal place to start an exploration of the town is at Buxton Opera House beside the Pavilion Gardens. Inside and out, it has the feel of an opulent Victorian theatre. The opera house is actually Edwardian, built in 1903 to the design of renowned theatre architect, Frank Matcham (who also designed the London Coliseum and Palladium). The highest opera house in Britain, it makes an impression from the start with its handsome stone exterior and twin leaded domes. The interior, from the white marble foyer to the detailed Baroque plasterwork by De Jong and exquisitely painted panels, was meticulously restored to its original glory in 1979, with further restoration across the new millennium. You can join one of the 45-minute Saturday tours of the opera house with a costumed ‘Matcham’ to guide you through this magnificent building. Check the Buxton Opera House website for times and to book tickets. Alternatively, attend one of the shows and soak up the atmosphere. From comedy and music to ballet and theatre, there’s something for everyone.
The opulent Buxton Opera House is well worth a visit © Steve Cordory, Shutterstock
From Water Street below the Opera House, an electric vehicle in the style of an open-top Victorian tram named the Wonder of the Peak does hourly tours of the town between March and October, including Higher Buxton and Poole’s Tavern. The converted milk float is the optimal ‘Slow’ experience with a top speed of 12 miles per hour. The same company, Buxton Tours, offer history-themed walking tours with costumed guides from Mary Queen of Scots to Vera Brittain. Other walks take in geology, wildlife and food and drink.
The Pavilion Gardens
Bath Road will take you to the Pavilion Gardens, a Victorian landscaped park created in 1871 at the bequest of the seventh Duke of Devonshire. The riverside setting across 23 acres, along with its miniature train, playgrounds, bandstand, waterways, including boating on the southwest lake, bridges and rockeries, draws families, couples and everyone else in between.
The Bandstand is the centrepiece of the Pavilion Gardens © Buxton Tourism
Next to the gardens is The Pavilion with its elegant domed Octagon Hall, its eight sides encased in glass and wood. The Octagon is in constant use for craft fairs, food festivals, fêtes and concerts, while the rest of The Pavilion houses two cafés, a coffee bar, tourist information centre, gift boutique, art gallery and Arts Centre (Buxton’s second theatre), alongside a swimming pool and fitness centre.
Linking the Pavilion and Opera House is the long narrow Winter Gardens conservatory, another slice of Victoriana filled with palms and exotic plants. On the corner of St John’s Road and Manchester Road is St John’s, an unusual church built in a Neoclassical Tuscan style.
Terrace Road leads to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, built in 1880 and opened as the Peak Hydropathic Hotel. Little remains of the old interior, but look out for the original Art Nouveau stained glass, designed by George Wragge. The Boyd Dawkins study encapsulates the Victorian passion for collecting, researching and cataloguing, packed to the gunnels with busts, paintings, books, scientific manuscripts, stuffed animals and other curios. Upstairs, a warren of rooms and passageways takes you through the natural and industrial history of the Peak, from prehistoric animal remains to Roman, Bronze and Iron Age tools and ornaments.