Hot Spot: Buxton, Derbyshire

Beautiful homes and countryside are luring city-dwellers to this spa town in the Peak District, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

If anything got up the noses of the Romans, it was not being able to have a hot bath. When they reached Buxton and found a spring spouting 28F water, they stopped, stayed and bathed a lot. In the 19th century, the Derbyshire town prospered on the strength of its thermal waters until the last bath closed in 1972. In its wake, Buxton inherited an infrastructure well suited for this millennium.

If anything got up the noses of the Romans, it was not being able to have a hot bath. When they reached Buxton and found a spring spouting 28F water, they stopped, stayed and bathed a lot. In the 19th century, the Derbyshire town prospered on the strength of its thermal waters until the last bath closed in 1972. In its wake, Buxton inherited an infrastructure well suited for this millennium.

The Crescent was developed by the fifth Duke of Devonshire, who instructed architect John Carr to flatter, by imitation, the Royal Crescent in Bath. The seventh Duke of Devonshire donated the land for the 23-acre Pavilion Gardens, with its majestic conservatory, lake, miniature railway and other features. He also built stables that were subsequently converted into the Devonshire Royal Hospital, with a notable 138-foot unsupported dome. The building is now owned by the University of Derby.

Back in Buxton, the Natural Baths and Pump Room are still going strong, the former housing the tourist information office, and the latter used by local artists. The baby of the architectural family, the Edwardian Opera House, was built in 1903, restored in 1979, and offers strong year-round programmes. The Devonshire family pile, Chatsworth House, is itself a major amenity 12 miles east in Bakewell.

Nature also lends a hand. "Many people move here for the natural beauty," says Jonathan Mellor of Rowcliffes estate agents. "The Peak District is one of the most heavily visited national parks in the world." Mellor notes that homeowners moving into flats in the area do not necessarily downsize: "Many large Victorian homes have been converted into luxury apartments. The rooms are large and have high ceilings that can accommodate great, big wardrobes. The new owners don't have to sell their furniture."

He reports that prices are levelling off, but the trend seems to be for people to move from cities to the country. "We are close to Macclesfield, Manchester, Derby and Sheffield. We even have many buyers from the London area."

Disc jockey Dave Lee Travis and Tim Brooke-Taylor of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue were born in Buxton. Former American President John F Kennedy visited his sister Kathleen's grave in the nearby village of Edensor. But it's the town's water that keeps its name alive, with shops throughout the UK selling Buxton water. In the town itself, St Ann's Well provides it gratis.

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

There are frequent trains to Manchester, and the town is equidistant between the M6 and the M1. Manchester Airport has half-hourly bus services to Buxton.

Shop till you drop

Spring Gardens is the main shopping centre, and the Market Place has open-air stalls every Tuesday and Saturday, farmers' markets and an annual continental market. Cavendish Arcade is on the site of the 1854 thermal baths and has Minton tiling, an enormous stained-glass barrel-vaulted roof and an original plunge bath.

Get active

The Spa Water Swimming Pool is in the pavilion, and the Palace and other hotels have health clubs or gym equipment. Mountaineering, caving and walking are popular in this area, which has two golf courses and reservoirs for angling.

Show time

The 1,000-seat Opera House, which is celebrating its centenary, stages opera, comedy, drama, dance and pantos. Annual events include the Buxton Festival and Fringe (England's largest festival fringe), and the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival.

Attractions

Stalactites and stalagmites extend 900 feet into the hillside at Poole's Cavern, one mile outside town. Chatsworth House, current home of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, is open to the paying public from March to December. It contains works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Lucien Freud and sculptress Elisabeth Frink, and the estate includes a 1,000-acre park and farm shop selling produce. The medieval Haddon Hall is nearby.

Prices

Rowcliffes is selling several terraces with parking and garden, starting at £84,950 for a three-bed terrace with off-road parking. A recently modernised two-bed terrace is £87,500, and another with three beds and sunroom is £89,950. Also through Rowcliffes is a four-bedroom, four-reception Grade II-listed cottage at £450,000. Frank R Marshall has a handsome modernised white-fronted two-bed brick end terrace for £86,500, and a two-bed detached house with two receptions and four bedrooms in Peak Forest; £270,000.

Flats

A four-bedroom duplex flat with period features is available in The Square, whose arched houses were built in 1806 by the Duke of Devonshire and designed by London architect John White. The flat was restored and modernised in 1993; £289,950 at Cheshire. Two two-bed flats in the final phase of the Normanton House development are available for £220,000 through Rowcliffes. The three-storey building has a lift.

For the ramblers

Rowcliffes has a complex of holiday cottages - a three-bed farmhouse and three cottages - at £695,000, and Templeton Guest House, a five-bed semi-detached near the centre at £225,000. Montpelier Farm has planning permission for conversion into three two-bed and two three-bed cottage-style properties; £375,000.

Bakewell

A two-bed ground-floor flat with garage overlooking the River Wye in walking distance of amenities; £215,000. In Stoney Middleton, a Grade II-listed malthouse has been converted into three flats (two two-beds and one with three to four bedrooms) with secure parking; £185,000 to £285,000, via Halifax.

Estate agents

Cheshire, 01298 71053; Frank R Marshall, 01298 23038; Halifax, 01629 815002; Rowcliffes, 01298 70556.

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