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Buxton: A Lovely Base for Exploring the Park

277km (172 miles) NW of London; 61km (38 miles) NW of Derby; 40km (25 miles) SE of Manchester

One of the loveliest towns in Britain, Buxton rivaled the spa at Bath in the 18th century. Its waters were known to the Romans, whose settlement here was called Aquae Arnemetiae. The thermal waters were pretty much forgotten from Roman times until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when the baths were reactivated. Mary, Queen of Scots, took the waters here, brought by her caretaker, the earl of Shrewsbury.

Buxton today is mostly the result of 18th-century development directed by the duke of Devonshire. His lordship's grandiose plan to create another Bath or Cheltenham never came to be, but his legacy lives on in many elegant 1700s buildings. The thermal baths closed in 1972, and the town went into decay. But it's slowly being revived, many of its aging properties restored.

Seek out, in particular, the Crescent, incorporating the former St. Ann's Hotel. The duke's plan to make this a model of the Royal Crescent in Bath was never realized but it's worth a look anyway. At the eastern end of the Crescent rises the cast-iron and glass canopy sheltering the Cavendish Arcade Shopping Centre in the original 18th-century bathhouses of the spa.

In front of the Crescent is a beautiful park, the Slopes, dating from 1818. It leads up to the center of town, the Market Place, which is sleepy all winter but filled with heavy traffic in summer. Buxton's spa days have come and gone, but it's still the best center for exploring the peak district. The climate is amazingly mild, considering that at 300m (1,000 ft.) altitude, Buxton is the second-highest town in England.

Getting There -- Trains depart from Manchester at least every hour during the day. It's a 50-minute trip.

About half a dozen buses also run between Manchester and Sheffield, stopping in Buxton en route, after a 70-minute ride.

By car, take the A6 from Manchester, heading southeast into Buxton.

Visitor Information -- The Tourist Office is at the Crescent (tel. 01298/25106; www.visitbuxton.co.uk) and is open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm; off-season hours are daily from 10am to 4pm. It provides a free pamphlet, entitled "Buxton Town Trail," that offers a map and detailed instructions for a walking tour, lasting between 75 and 90 minutes, from the town center.

Special Events -- The town hosts the Buxton Festival (tel. 01298/70395; www.buxtonfestival.co.uk), a well-known opera festival, during a 2 1/2-week period in July.

Bakewell

258km (160 miles) NW of London; 42km (26 miles) N of Derby; 60km (37 miles) SE of Manchester; 53km (33 miles) NW of Nottingham

Lying 19km (12 miles) southeast of Buxton, Bakewell is yet another possible base for exploring the southern Peak District, especially the beautiful valleys of Ashwood Dale, Monsal Dale, and Wyedale. Since very few visitors have time to explore this vast territory, we'll let you in on a secret: You can see the park district in a nutshell by taking the Monsal Trail. First, pick up a map at the Bakewell Information Centre . This trail stretches for 4.9km (3 miles) to the north, cutting through some of the county's finest limestone valleys to the bucolic village of Wyedale, which itself lies 1.8km (1 mile) east of Buxton should you decide to hit the trail from Buxton instead of Bakewell. On the River Wey, Bakewell is just a market town, but its old houses constructed from gray-brown stone and its narrow streets give it a picture-postcard look. Its most spectacular feature is a medieval bridge across the river with five graceful arches.

Still served in local tearooms is the famous Bakewell Pudding, which was supposedly created by accident. One day, a chef didn't put the proper proportions of ingredients into her almond sponge cake batter, and it remained gelatinous and runny. Served apologetically, as a mistake, the pudding was called wonderful, and the tradition has remained ever since. The pudding, made as it is with a rich puff pastry that lies at the bottom of the pudding, and covered with a layer first of jam and then the gelatinous version of the almond sponge cake, is richer than the tarts and relatively difficult to find outside of Bakewell.

The best time to be here is on Monday, market day, when local farmers come in to sell their produce. Entrepreneurs from throughout the Midlands also set up flea market stands in the town's main square, the Market Place. Sales are conducted from 8:30am until 5:30pm in winter and until 7:30pm in summer.

Getting There -- To reach Bakewell from Derby, take the A6 north to Matlock, passing by the town and continuing on the A6 north toward Rowsley. Just past Rowsley, you'll come to a bridge. Follow the signpost across the bridge into Bakewell.

From London, take the M1 motorway north to Junction 28. Then follow the A38 for 5km (3 miles), connecting with the A615 signposted to Matlock. Once you're at Matlock, follow the A6 into Bakewell.

Visitor Information -- The Bakewell Information Centre, Old Market Hall, Bridge Street (tel. 01629/813227; http://bakewellonline.co.uk and www.peakdistrict.gov.uk), is open from Easter to October daily 9:30am to 5:30pm; November to February 28, it's open daily 10am to 5pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.