Neighbourhood watch: How Buxton is broadening its appeal

Lured by the opera house, period homes and breathtaking countryside, a new generation is putting the fizz back into Buxton. Ciara Leeming reports

To many, the name Buxton conjures up images of grand buildings, ornamental gardens, quaint tearooms and its eponymous bottled water. But the little spa town, a natural gateway to the beautiful Peak District national park, has been quietly broadening its appeal over recent years.

The chocolate-box beauty remains, but an influx of Northern commuters and Londoners leaving the rat race has coincided with a boom in quirky shops and trendy cafés and bars.

For many years, Buxton was the region's answer to Bath, the sweeping Crescent and stables even modelled on those of Bath when built in the late 18th century. Holidaymakers arrived in droves, attracted by the healing properties of its warm springs, which emerge from the ground at a constant temperature of 28C. The baths were closed in the 1960s, but Buxton remained popular with day-trippers during the tourist season. Now, it's being discovered by those who want to escape the city without living in the sticks, and who are attracted by its relatively low property prices, great schools, low crime rates and proximity to the cities of Manchester and Sheffield (less than an hour's drive from each).

It's not hard to see why. For a start, there's little of the edginess that you get in many towns, plus the facilities are great and the views stunning. And genteel Buxton's easy-going vibe ensures that there's room for everyone - from teenage rockers to antique-hunters to the boho denizens of the town's second-hand book and record shops.

Quality new housing developments are springing up all over to accommodate the influx, but there's also a good range of older properties on the market. The average price paid for a semi-detached property in January, according to www.home.co.uk, was £120,800. A bargain compared with the neighbouring towns of Macclesfield and Marple, less than 15 miles away, where the averages were £229,000 and £204,000 respectively (a semi-detached house in Bath was around £376,000).

Victoria Martin, of local estate agent Chandlers, expects the pattern to continue. "I've noticed a lot of people moving up here from London to get away from the city," she says. "Buxton's booming, and it looks like it's going to carry on. Houses are going up everywhere and are selling well, and we're getting a lot of new shops, cafés and bars."

YOUR KIND OF PEOPLE?

Buxton is a historic market town and resort, and its population reflects this. There's a strong arts tradition, thanks to the Buxton Opera House theatre and the Buxton Festival - two weeks in July of music and literature. The town's two nightclubs are also packed every weekend, and there's a good selection of traditional pubs.

CAN YOU SHOP TILL YOU DROP?

The centre is fairly small but there are two main shopping areas. Cavendish Arcade, in the former thermal baths, is the place for designer boutiques, and the usual high-street chains can be found at Spring Gardens. There are regular book, record and antique fairs at the Octagon, and Buxton market takes place every Tuesday and Saturday, and there's a farmers' market once a month.

GREEN AND PLEASANT?

The town's historic Pavilion Gardens are around 23 acres of fine Victorian landscaping on the banks of the river Wye, and comprise the Octagon, Conservatory and spa-water swimming pool. Buxton is surrounded by national park, with lovely walks and attractions within easy reach. It's a clean town, and naturally filtered spa water is freely available from the St Anne's Well, opposite the Crescent.

DO THE SCHOOLS MAKE THE GRADE?

Schools in this area generally get outstanding inspection results. The latest league tables, for example, reveal that pupils from Buxton Community School got some of the best GCSE and A-level results in the area. There are concerns among some locals, however, about pressure on school places. There are also a number of good private day schools within easy reach of the town.

WHAT'S NEARBY?

Buxton is less than an hour's drive from Manchester and Sheffield, and is not much further from Leeds and Nottingham, although the country roads can complicate matters. The train to Manchester is direct and takes 55 minutes, at a cost of £12.40 return during peak periods. The easiest way to get to Sheffield is to drive seven miles to nearby Chinley and catch the train from there. The journey takes 45 minutes.

For longer journeys north or south, both the M1 and the M6 are within about 25 miles of Buxton.

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