Take 12 friends, who all have different jobs, different leave entitlements, who all live in different parts of England (and one currently in France), and try to organise a weekend together. It’s a little bit of a challenge. However, with a bit of discussion it was decided that autumn would be the best time to go. A weekend in October was selected, and then the next challenge was picking a location. It needed to be somewhere that wasn’t too far to drive from Cumbria, the North East, Bristol or London. It needed to have access to a train station, and possibly be near an airport. However we also wanted somewhere reasonably rural so that we could go out for walks in the countryside. Eventually it seemed like the Peak District was the place to go, and Bakewell offered us the opportunity to stay in the beautiful Haddon Villa.
Getting to know Bakewell
Bakewell is a small market town in Derbyshire, not too far from Sheffield or Derby. It’s best known for the Bakewell Pudding, a dessert which is made of flaky pastry, jam and topped with an egg and almond based paste. It is tasty, but very sweet and not to be confused with the Bakewell Tart! Although the two desserts are quite similar, and their names suggest otherwise, there is apparently no evidence to suggest that the Bakewell Tart originated in Bakewell (whereas the pudding definitely did!). Certainly don’t expect to see Cherry Bakewells, as you’ll be disappointed. For a town with such sweet associations, it is unsurprising that Bakewell has a large number of bakeries and cafes, including the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. If you don’t take advantage of them then you’ll definitely be missing out!
We spent much of the first morning in Bakewell just wandering around the town. In addition to the numerous bakeries, pubs and some high street chains, there are a number of independent shops and antique centres. It’s a pretty town, although it does get very busy with tourists – we were pleased that there was parking available at our accommodation. The other thing I noticed were the number of dogs that were around. It seemed to be largely dog-friendly, and there were plenty of places in the surrounding area where you could go for long walks so it wasn’t too surprising.
We were very lucky with the weather for October as it was sunny and surprisingly warm. This meant we could spend a relaxing couple of hours sitting outside in the sunshine and just watching the world (and their dogs) go by. It felt like I was a complete world away from work, which was exactly what I needed. There’s a busy outdoor market every Monday so if you are staying for a long weekend then I’d recommend visiting this before you start your journey home. You might find a bargain or , like me, you might just see the largest onion bhajis that you’ve ever seen!
The Monsal Trail
Although Bakewell can easily act as a gateway to the rest of the beautiful Peak District with its dramatic ridges, caves and beautiful landscapes, we found that once we arrived we didn’t need to drive anywhere and were happy to just explore the local area.
The first afternoon we headed along The Monsal Trail, a stretch of railway line that used to form part of the Midland Railway’s route between Manchester and London. The route runs for over 8 miles and is particularly popular with cyclists. It goes through tunnels, limestone dales and over viaducts above the River Wye. We didn’t complete the trail in its entirety and missed out on a lot of what it had to offer. Instead we completed a small section before looping back through the fields towards Bakewell, which gave some lovely views over the town.
Chatsworth House is one of the main attractions in The Peak District and with it being so close to Bakewell, it seemed a shame not to visit whilst we were there. Chatsworth House is a stately home which is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. There’s plenty to do at Chatsworth and you could easily spend the entire day here without getting bored. In addition to the house itself, which is huge and filled with artwork, there are extensive grounds to walk around, the gardens to see, a farmyard and adventure playground. Just the shop I could have easily been lost in for hours as there were some lovely products and it had just been stocked with Christmas decorations. We ended up bringing home a light-up reindeer as a souvenir!
Although there are regular buses, we decided to take the Puddings and Palaces walk to Chatsworth which rewarded us with beautiful views of the estate before we arrived. Most of the walk is fine, but there is a steep incline towards the beginning of the walk which makes it less accessible. You also have to remember that if you’ve walked there and then walked around the estate all day, you still have to walk back afterwards! I would recommend doing the walk, but if I was to do it again I would have set off earlier so that I had more time at Chatsworth. As it was, by the time we’d reached Chatsworth and had some lunch, we only really had time to walk around the garden in order to get the most value from our ticket.
The garden is quite extensive and has multiple features, from the famous Cascade and Emperor Fountain, to the Rock Garden, Grotto House and Maze. There is plenty to see and I’d recommend picking up a map so you can make sure you fit in everything you want to. The benefit of being there during the autumn meant that the tress were beginning to turn in colour, so whilst there weren’t many flowers out to admire, the garden was still very colourful. Whilst we were there, the Chatsworth Outdoors sculpture trail was also in the grounds, so there was even more to see.
I’d usually pick other seasons over autumn as a time to go away, but I think I’d now be tempted to go for a long weekend somewhere in the UK in October again. I really fell in love with Bakewell and found myself scouring the estate agents windows as we passed, imagining myself living in one of the many stone cottages. I’d been to the Peak District a couple of times previously with my family, and have always enjoyed it, but for some reason I always forget about it as a potential place to go and stay. I definitely want to explore more of it and do some hiking in the area so I’m sure I will be back!
Have you been to the Peak District? What would you recommend?