Spending a day in Bakewell
- Credit: Ashley Franklin
Ashley Franklin discovers a day just isn’t long enough when you’re planning to visit the Ancient Capital of the Peak
As we spring into summer, many visitors will embrace the charms of the Peak District. However, how many of us who are resident in Derbyshire take in more than a day trip or long weekend? Do we fully recognise the riches that lie just beyond our doorstep?
In assembling this feature under the working title of Visit, Eat and Stay in Bakewell and Beyond, I’ve discovered that while a day trip to these parts is pleasurable and a weekend break very satisfying, a whole week hereabouts would be life-enhancing.
Jane Austen herself would concur. While revising Pride & Prejudice – staying, it’s believed, at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell – she wrote: ‘There is not a finer county in England than Derbyshire’. So, it is probable that being a keen walker like her heroine Elizabeth Bennet, she would have penned her view of our county after soaking in the sights of Bakewell and beyond, including possibly Lathkill Dale, Monsal Dale, Youlgrave and Ashford in the Water, and even more likely that she would have visited both Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall.
However, Haddon Hall doesn’t need to make claims on Jane Austen to enchant its many visitors. As Haddon Hall administrator Isabelle Stuart explains: ‘As the Hall was empty from the mid-17th century until the early 20th century, that 200-year sleep spared Haddon Hall all the usual makeovers which took place in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods, saving its authenticity.’
Thus, you can behold the glorious Banqueting Hall with its minstrels’ gallery looking exactly as it did 600 years ago along with the magnificent tapestries, the chapel frescos and, of course, the spectacular Long Gallery. Isabelle recommends you visit the Hall just after opening time to experience the Long Gallery devoid of people with the morning sun shining through the diamond panes and ‘enjoy the peace, quiet and solitude of the room.’ On days of bright light, there can also be few better-looking terraced gardens where a riot of flowers blend with the towers, turrets and battlemented walls. What further makes Haddon Hall unique is that ‘guests are unrushed, free to wander around the Hall, staying as long as they wish.’
You can also spend as long as you wish exploring Ashford in the Water. If you base yourself in Bakewell, it’s only two miles north, or you could base yourself in Ashford itself: there are many self-catering cottages, along with the palatial Riverside House Hotel, just a stone’s throw from the village’s stubby, triple-arched packhorse bridge – reckoned to be the best Pooh Sticks bridge in Britain. Wander through Ashford, taking in its mellow stone cottages, pubs, tearooms, beautiful church and ancient tithe barn and you’ll believe this is where the phrase ‘picture-postcard village’ was coined. The line ‘where time stands still’ is particularly relevant to the Riverside House Hotel, with its four dining rooms adorned with rich upholstery and antiques and 14 exquisite bedrooms, many with exposed beams, four poster beds and fine leather seating.
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Two miles from Bakewell to the south, the village of Rowsley offers another full day out at least. You can stroll around the village admiring the warm gritstone houses, visit Caudwell’s Mill to behold the historic flour mill’s eye-boggling array of pulleys, belts and sifters and browse the various arts, crafts and gifts outlets, or view two prestigious artistic spaces: gallerytop, brimful of contemporary original art including paintings, limited edition prints, sculpture, ceramics, glass and jewellery; and Derwent-Wye Fine Art which has developed a national reputation for selling 20th century British art.
Rowsley is also a magnet for ramblers and a catch for fly-fishers. According to The Field: ‘If you haven’t fished the Derbyshire Wye, you haven’t fished.’ The Peacock Hotel has been selling fishing tickets on the Wye for over 200 years. Built as a manor house in 1652, this stately yet intimate hotel is still, as described by a 19th century traveller, ‘the beau ideal of an English country hotel.’ There are few places I’ve dined that are as elegant and the restaurant, which offers everything from bar snacks to a tasting menu, has been awarded three AA Rosettes, with a recent AA inspection praising the ‘exceptional cuisine and exciting, contemporary dishes’. If you decide to book a room, you’re in good company: Princess Anne, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley have stayed in one of the Peacock’s 15 individually-styled bedrooms, all with antique furnishings and luxury fabrics.
Elegance also abounds in another historic country house in Rowsley: East Lodge Hotel, originally the hunting lodge to Haddon Hall. You can also dine at the popular Grouse & Claret or at Massarella’s restaurant within the Peak Shopping Village, so named because although this is a retail centre, there is a tangible village feel to the spacious layout, making shopping a leisurely, laid-back experience, with plentiful free parking. The range of outlets offers everything from furniture, fashion, shoes and bags to homeware and gifts. Recent arrivals include: Regatta Outdoors, an ideally placed outlet for ‘high performance’ outdoor wear; The Woolroom, selling luxury wool bedding; and Ashgate Hospicecare Shop which occupies the charming Grade II listed Old Station Building. Peak Shopping Village’s appeal to families widened last November with the opening of the soft play centre Peak Indoor Adventure which is already gaining five star ratings from customers. Other new retailers are coming, including independent florist Arbitus & Ivy. The Village also makes good use of its sizeable forecourt to host a range of free family events including a Monthly Makers Market every second Sunday and the Peak Magic Festival.
After a leisurely walk round here, some serious rambling will reveal the beauty of this area. I have explored the Derwent Valley Heritage Way on both sides of Rowsley, taking in Lindop Wood in a valley perfect for soaring birds, as well as Stanton Moor with its riot of rhododendrons and the spiritual calm of Nine Ladies stone circle.
The walks around Youlgrave are another delight, with Bradford Dale to the south west and Over Haddon and Lathkill Dale to the north, a particular pleasure in late spring with hawthorn blossom and buttercups abounding.
A visit to Over Haddon was a special delight as it recalled fond memories of an anniversary stay at the Lathkil Hotel. Although that was over 35 years ago, the hotel has retained its traditional charm, albeit with updated bedrooms and a handsomely refurbished dining room. The Lathkil has been a family business for 37 years: licensee Alice Grigor-Taylor was born here and, after working alongside her parents, took over from them in 2011. ‘We’re even more of a family here,’ believes Alice, ‘most of the staff are local and have grown up working here and we like to think that both our staff and our regular customers are like one large extended family. It makes for a really warm, friendly atmosphere.’
The other special aspect of the Lathkil is its location. ‘I don’t think you’ll find another pub in such a fine place and the view changes constantly, too,’ says Alice. The hotel is a perfect base for exploring Lathkill Dale. ‘It’s Derbyshire’s forgotten dale, tourists flock to Monsal Dale and Dove Dale and they are missing out on a dale of great contrasts. The bottom end is serene and picturesque, while at the other end it’s rugged and spectacular. There’s history, too, with the remains of lead mining.’ There are also 12 delightful weirs along the River Lathkill, which was described by Charles Cotton as ‘the purest and most transparent stream I ever yet saw, either home or abroad.’ Look out for dippers, moorhens and coots.
The last time I visited Bakewell itself was for an anniversary lunch and as it was also a Monday, I was able to browse the 160-plus stalls at Bakewell Market, always abuzz with atmosphere and friendly characters. Don’t forget the Farmers’ Market, too, the second biggest in the UK, every last Saturday of the month, which teems with local produce.
Bakewell’s title of Capital of the Peak is certainly well-earned. It’s enough to wander around admiring the honey-coloured stone buildings and taking in the prominent hill-top church of All Saints and the award-winning Bath Gardens, but there’s special delight in exploring the traffic-free labyrinth of narrow streets, alleyways, courtyards and arcades, not least for the multifarious niche shops and eateries, including Wee Dram with its catalogue of over 600 whiskies from virtually every distillery in the world.
One of those alleyways – off Water Street – leads you to Because I Like It, also known as The Vine Café, set in a secluded courtyard with a grapevine overhead. Nigel and Val Hufton specialise in gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan ranges, winning two Great Taste Gold Star awards last year for their gluten-free Bakewell Tart and Lemon Drizzle Cake. They cater for lovers of arts and crafts, too. Above the ground floor café and craft shop is an art gallery that showcases little-known artists, many from South East Asia. The café has a connection with Spain, too: tapas are on the menu and there are occasional Spanish bistro evenings.
You can also dine on French cuisine in Bakewell, thanks to Piedaniels, run by Eric Piedaniels and his wife Christina. While Eric and Christina have been in Bakewell for two decades, Holly Allcock and David Wilkinson have been at Arthur’s, the former Steak & Burger Merchant, for only two months, and have already made an impact with their contemporary British food – including sharing boards – and a wide range of cocktails, including one entitled Bakewell Tart, made up of Disaronno (an amaretto-tasting liqueur with an almond taste), Chambord, cranberry, hazelnut and egg white. Early customer reviews are excellent: ‘delicious food, amazing cocktails and brilliant service’… ‘classy surroundings’… ‘I can’t remember the last time I had such a good steak.’
‘Bakewell defines the Peak with its quirky shops, superb market and lovely people,’ says Holly, ‘so we’re really excited to be here and to have created something young and fresh.’ Future plans include an acoustic music night and wine and gin tastings.
Obviously, if you have to choose one thing to eat in Bakewell, it has to be the famous pudding – I’m sure it’s why the word ‘scrumptious’ was coined. One of the town’s Bakewell Pudding producers, Bloomers, won the 2017 Independent Retailer of the Year prize in the Derbyshire Life Food & Drink Awards. According to the judges: ‘This lovely little market town shop is packed with homemade produce. Amongst its many charms, it has a lovely atmosphere and knowledgeable staff who are always pleased to help.’
There is, however, more to Bakewell’s history than its egg custard with almonds and jam. At the town’s Old House Museum, tucked away behind All Saints’ Church, you can discover 500 years of life in rural and industrial Bakewell under its 11 beamed rooms. On show is an historical toy collection, handmade lace, fine china, a Victorian kitchen, Tudor parlour and even a Tudor toilet.
With fresh cobblestones replacing the muddy gravel forecourt, the Museum is looking forward to re-opening on 25th March. One new exhibition is the Mysterious Peak District, a season-long installation of artworks, photography, maps, artefacts and information about stone circles, burial mounds and ley lines. Another exhibition showcases costumes and accessories from the 1920s/30s. Special events are also planned for youngsters at Easter.
Beyond Easter – 14th April – Bakewell will be hosting its regular Book Fair with over 20 dealers displaying secondhand and antiquarian books plus maps, prints and ephemera; and its annual Food Festival – 28th-29th April – with over 70 stalls snaking through the town.
There is even more to Bakewell and beyond… One road, for instance, heads up to Hassop where there’s a superb restaurant at Hassop Hall Hotel and a popular bookshop on the old railway station. Another road takes you to Baslow. If you’re ready to ramble, there’s a book called Six Walks around Bakewell, one taking in Ashford and the Monsal Trail, another to Magpie Mine, a reminder of the heyday of lead mining. If you walk the Wye towards Rowsley, you’ll enjoy a beautiful wooded valley called The Garden of the Peak.
This all makes me wonder: will even a week in the Peak here be long enough?