Friday, 18 May 2018

New Mills (a journey to the end of the line)

Karen and her first Victorian post box

Much to Buddy’s delight we caught a train to Buxton on Thursday morning.  On our way to the station at New Mills we realised that the moorland plateau above it, that we see every time we leave the boat, is Kinder Scout that we walked up last weekend.

Kinder Scout above New Mills

Buxton is 1,000 feet above sea level and shares the title of highest market town in England with Alston in Cumbria.  It made for an impressively scenic 20-minute train journey through the western Derbyshire Dales to the end of the line.

Within two minutes of arriving at Buxton Karen suddenly crossed the road and I realised she was heading for a post box.  It turned out to be Victorian and the first she has spotted before me 😊.  It is one of the rather ornate hexagonal variety known, at its launch, as the 'New standard letter box'.  This one was made in 1866 by Cochrane of Birmingham and designed by J.W. Penfold.

The letter box was opposite the rather stunning (to us) opera house:

Buxton opera house
We took a circular walk that went through a couple of parks, a few of the old parts of town and the main hill overlooking the town.  As it’s a spa town it felt to us very much like Leamington and Bath, especially with so many stone buildings.  

The original part of town is called Higher Buxton, but we started in Lower Buxton which grew up around the spas and greatly expanded after the railway reached town.  I don’t want to mislead you as the spas were first discovered by the Romans, but it was really the Victorians that brought it to prominence.  I always wonder at the phrase, ‘Discovered by the Romans’, as no doubt there were natives living in the area before them as they would have settled there for the thermal waters too. 

The Crescent was built in 1784 to rival Bath’s Crescent; it is currently being refurbished as an 80-bedroom 5-star hotel complete with its own thermal natural mineral water spa.

Not much to see at the moment as it's behind hoardings but I suspect it will be stunning when restored

Around the corner is the Cavendish arcade which used to house one of the thermal spas, this one imaginatively called Buxton Baths.

Buxton Baths

Ornate veranda on one side of Buxton Baths

Opposite Buxton Baths was a coffee and coaching house built in 1626.  With the coming of tourists to the spas it soon converted to a hotel.  Sadly, it is now derelict but fortunately has been bought for restoration by Robinsons, a local brewery.

The saddish looking Grove hotel but, again, with a decent ornate veranda

We both thought Buxton was lovely with lots of open spaces and places to walk.  It certainly caters for today’s tourists judging by the number of attractions on the signposts:

Like most towns, the older buildings are in the centre and private housing becomes more modern as you get further out of town.  As can be imagined there are many grand Victorian and Edwardian mansions, but the odd older street of cottages can still be found.

A former pub with Toby jug gargoyles

Grin Low, the hill above Buxton, was quarried for limestone for centuries, but once it became fashionable to visit the town for the spas, a local businessman planted 100 acres of trees to hide the scarred hillside from the visitors.  We were soon walking through these woods and climbed steeply to the top of Grin Low.

Dressed in woodland disguise

On the way up, we could see the Cat & Fiddle, the road that runs between Macclesfield and Buxton and is often mentioned on radio traffic programs in the winter when the snow closes it.  It is named after the pub at its summit.

The Cat & Fiddle road with the original packhorse road to its right which is still a stone track

After coming out of the woodland the quarrying landscape became obvious with many remains of kilns and quarried pits.

Out in the open again with Solomon’s Temple in the distance
A guy called Solomon Mycock paid for a landmark tower to be built at the top of Grin Low; he was the owner of the Cheshire Cheese hotel in Buxton.  When we visited the Cheshire Cheese later in the day we were reminded of its namesake at Wheelock at the bottom of the flight of locks known as The Cheshire Flight or Heartbreak Hill.  

The tower was destroyed over the years and the current one was built in 1894 from subscriptions by local business people.  It does have a staircase to the top which we climbed but it really is best described as a folly.

Solomon’s Temple or Grinlow Tower as it is also now known (the black scarred hill on the right shows the impact of quarrying)
Looking over Buxton from the top of the tower

In the centre of the picture above is the Devonshire Dome, built in 1779 for one of the Dukes of Devonshire.  It is still the largest unsupported dome in Europe; amazing when you think about when it was built.  It is larger than the dome of St Paul’s cathedral in London.

The massive building to the right of the dome is the Palace hotel, built in 1863 and still a hotel to this day.

We walked back through Higher Buxton with its narrow lanes and coaching houses which are now mainly pubs or hotels.  The visit wouldn’t have been complete without seeing the public toilets behind the cross in front of the town hall in the market square.

The cross has been moved to different spots around the square several times in its lifetime apparently
Walking back down from Higher Buxton with the Devonshire Dome and Old Hall hotel in front of us

They say the Old Hall Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in England; the current building having stood since 1573.  Apparently it was a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots but I find the hotel’s website may be a bit over the top when it claims to be the oldest hotel in England dating back many thousands of years!  I suspect they are referring to the fact that the remains of a Roman a bath house were found beneath the cellars. 

As far as butterflies were concerned, it was just a bit too cold for most of them and we just saw the odd white flying in sheltered spots.

Finally, especially for my sister who loves herons, here’s the heron that was fishing opposite us at Bugsworth basin and wouldn’t appear whilst she stayed with us.

The heron reappeared after Judith and Nigel left

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