BUXTON, twelve miles north of Hartington, is a stylish, good-looking place. Its string of excellent B&Bs make it a perfect base for exploring much of the Peaks, while its handful of splendid festivals has added a real zip to the town. Buxton also has a long history as a spa, beginning with the Romans, who happened upon a spring from which 1500 gallons of pure water gushed every hour at a constant 28°C. Impressed by the recuperative qualities of the water, the Romans came here by the chariot load, setting a trend that was to last hundreds of years. The spa’s hay day came at the end of the eighteenth century with the fifth Duke of Devonshire’s grand design to create a northern answer to Bath or Cheltenham, a plan ultimately thwarted by the climate, but not before some distinguished buildings had been erected. Victorian Buxton may not have had quite the élan of its more southerly rivals but it still flourished, creating the raft of handsome stone houses that edge the town centre today. The town’s thermal baths were closed for lack of custom in 1972, but Buxton hung on to emerge as the most appealing town in the Peaks.
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Buxton boasts the outstanding Buxton Festival, which runs for two and a half weeks in July and features a full programme of classical music, opera and literary readings. This has spawned the first-rate Buxton Festival Fringe, also in July, which focuses on contemporary music, theatre and film, but the biggest fiesta is the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, a three-week affair in August mainly featuring amateur troupes and attracting enthusiastic audiences.