10 reasons to visit Bakewell, Derbyshire

A visit to the White Peak is made perfect by either a quick stop-off or a longer stay in this vibrant and characterful town. Mike Smith explores

Bakewell is a magnet for visitors to the Peak District National Park. As well as being the largest town in the park, it is located within easy reach of some of the most magnificent stately homes and finest scenery in the country. Its intrinsic attractions include a superb setting, great shops, lifestock and stall markets, a famous agricultural show, a unique culinary treat, two interesting museums, a magnificent parish church and lots of fine buildings, all fashioned in a distinctive warm-brown stone that differs from the brilliant-white limestone of the White Park and the dark-grey gritstone of the Dark Peak.


Bakewell’s riverside is a destination in itself. After flowing under the five gothic arches of a fourteenth-century road bridge, the River Wye tumbles over a weir before passing under a pedestrian bridge that links a large out-of-town car park with the town centre. Few people can resist the temptation to pause on the bridge in order to take in the sublime view. The riverside promenade is perfect for a leisurely stroll, while its benches provide visitors with a chance to simply sit and soak in the scene or to enjoy an ice cream, a picnic or a hearty portion from one of Bakewell’s fish and chip shops. Whatever the choice, the ducks and swans are always on the lookout for a few crumbs of comfort.


Jointly run by the Peak District National Park Authority and Derbyshire Dales District Council, Bakewell’s visitor centre is housed in a seventeenth-century market hall. This picturesque building can be likened to a young body dressed in old-fashioned clothes, because the exterior has been carefully restored, while the interior has been imaginatively re-vamped in order to house visual and written information about events, visitor attractions and accommodation in the area. On the upper floor there is a large diorama, which enables visitors to play at being ‘landscape detectives’ by picking up clues about the industrial and agricultural history of the Peak District.


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Bakewell is famed for its unique pudding, which is now delivered to many parts of the world in response to mail orders. The story goes that Bakewell pudding originated by accident almost 150 years ago. The cook at the Rutland Arms was asked to make a pudding by spreading jam over an egg mixture stirred into pastry, but she poured the egg mixture on top of the jam by mistake, inadvertently creating a dessert that was well received by diners. Bakewell pudding is on sale in various outlets, all claiming to possess the original secret recipe. To avoid embarrassment, visitors should be aware that Bakewell tart, a jam and sponge shortcrust pastry with almonds, is not the same as Bakewell pudding!


The town’s fine shopping area is characterised by a large number of excellent independent shops, many of which are to be found in a picturesque traffic-free labyrinth of narrow streets, alleyways, courtyards, small squares and arcades. Superb window displays vie for attention, with their offerings of craftwork, jewellery, antiques, books, original paintings, picture frames, ornaments, clothes, furnishings, fabrics, outdoor equipment, delicious food, including that famous pudding, and all manner of other goods. Near the riverside, there is a supermarket that looks like no other supermarket you are likely to see. It features Doric columns and a tall gabled tower, presumably designed by an architect who was attempting to acknowledge the building’s historic setting.


Monday is the most colourful and noisiest day of the week in Bakewell. Two of the town’s squares are given over to a thriving stall market that attracts shoppers from miles around. While the stall market is in full swing in the town centre, a livestock market is taking place across the river in a modern purpose-built lifestock market hall, which is topped by roof pods that look like Arabian tents but are actually acoustic devices to reduce noise emanating from the animals below. Adjacent to the livestock market, there is an agricultural business centre and a caf� serving big breakfasts for farmers or for anyone else who enjoys a hearty meal. On the last Saturday of every month, there is a farmers’ market.


The famous Bakewell Show, known as the ‘Little Royal’, was founded in 1819 by a farmer with the splendid name of Wootten Burkinshaw Thomas. Always reluctant to cancel the event, whatever the circumstances, the organisers even managed to put on the show during the most recent foot-and-mouth outbreak, albeit without animals. As well as possessing all the features expected from a large agricultural show, it has fun attractions for all the family, such as a beach, mounted games, a 15-minute theatre and a Chariots of Fire display.


As is to be expected in one of England’s finest country towns, there are lots of old inns offering drink, food and conviviality, as well as numerous tea and coffee shops. Aside from these traditional English offerings, Bakewell now embraces European cuisine, with an Italian restaurant and a Tyrolean coffee shop whose menu features a range of sausage snacks along with the inevitable Bakewell pudding. The Rutland Arms, a 34-bedroom hotel, which looks out across the town’s main traffic intersection to the well-tended Bath Gardens, is not only the birthplace of the famous pudding, but also quite possibly the place where Jane Austen stayed while writing Pride and Prejudice.


The tall octagonal spire of Bakewell’s hill-top parish church is the town’s crowning glory. Visitors making the steep climb up from the town to the lofty site are immediately rewarded with an entrance porch that is so crammed with Norman carvings, early gravestones, gargoyles and fragments of Saxon crosses that it looks like an architectural antique shop. The Vernon Chapel, in the south transept, has a collection of memorials to the Vernon and Manners families, which merged in romantic fashion when Dorothy Vernon eloped with John Manners from nearby Haddon Hall. The view across the old town from the churchyard is stunning, notwithstanding a distant glimpse of the roof pods on the modern building designed to house the livestock market. 


Bakewell’s swimming pool is conveniently situated in the very centre of the shopping area, right next to the town’s library. Public swimming sessions are available on every day of the week. A less energetic leisure option is a visit to the Old House Museum, which won the Renaissance Heritage Museum of the Year award in 2009 and is accommodated in ten rooms of a sixteenth–century yeoman’s house, located immediately beyond the church’s lych gate. Motor cycle enthusiasts will not want to miss the M & C Collection of historic motor cycles in a former Bakewell pudding bakery on Matlock Street – there’s no escaping that pudding!


As well as being a first-class visitor attraction in itself, Bakewell is located  within a few miles of some of the Peak District’s most famous attractions. These include: the magnificent Chatsworth House; Haddon Hall, which ranks as one of the country’s best preserved medieval manor houses; the village of Ashford-in-the-Water, with a pretty appearance to match its pretty name; the picturesque estate villages of Edensor, Pilsley and Beeley; and the superb viewpoint at Monsal Head, located above the point where the River Wye takes a right-angle bend through a deep valley on its journey towards Bakewell.

Main Car Parks: (DE45 1BU) Bridge car park (155 spaces) if you enter from the direction of Baslow turn left before the old bridge and it’s on your right. Smiths Island Car Park (120 short stay, 450 long stay) carry on past the turning to Bridge car park and take the next right; closes at 6pm. Granby Road Car Park (124) off Matlock Street. Agricultural Business Centre Car Park (420) if you’re approaching from Matlock, turn right before you reach the town; parking is just a short walk from the town centre.

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