Another sunny day and no work that needs urgently doing for either of us, so we get in the car and set off to our mystery destination.
Oh, given it away with the title of the piece already.
In 1972 and ’73 I’d passed through here on my way to the Buxton Pop Festival. Hitching to a farm in the hills nearby. I can’t now imagine why I came back for the second year. Though they took place in the summer time, both ‘festivals’ were on cold and rainy days out in open moorland. And with none of the all-weather and thermal gear I know about today, believing a greatcoat and loon pants would do for anywhere then. I’ve found this archive about the ’73 event, a chilling reminder that my memories are not lying.
Anyway, today we’re going for comfort and I hope you’ve noticed the splendid new hat in the top photo?
Telling Stewart about my 1973 experiences, he reassures me that Buxton’s not changed much since then. I’m hoping fervently that it has, but admit that my experience of Buxton back then was a fairly lop-sided one. We’ve now been in town half an hour and not been threatened by a single drunken hells angel, or seen any Edgar Broughton tribute buskers howling ‘Out Demons Out!’
Under the cooling shade up here, it occurs to both of us that it would be a good idea for all towns to have a little hill in their middle like this one. As we eat happily, gazing at Buxton getting on with its business below us.
This has lots of funding and site signs on the front, and is apparently due to be reopened as a spa and hotel by 2016.
Beautiful though, and we’ll be back for a closer look later on. And at that dome poking up behind it.
We don’t though. We prefer walking and the serendipity of random discoveries.
Properly old it is too.She wasn’t on her holidays, mind. But did spend several summers of her imprisonment here in Buxton.
This is the only building I remember from passing through in rainy 1973.
In fact, walking round the outer streets of the town as we like to do, it’s a thoroughly pleasant place.
Obviously, out along these streets Sarah’s looking for monkey puzzle trees for her national data base. But we don’t find any and Sarah reckons that might be because Buxton is so high up in the hills and too cold in winter for the trees. (Later in the day we’ll start to find some monkeys as we descend through Macclesfield, supporting Sarah’s theory.)
Turning a corner at the end of Bath Road we find Buxton’s oldest building.
Securely closed on the day. And it hasn’t got a website so’s I can tell you any better.
Expecting it to taste all minerally Sarah finds it’s absolutely fine. And of course for a long time it was considered to have many health giving properties.
Well maybe if it’s ever finished it will be a spa again. Sarah has often been to the Spa in Bath in recent years and really loves it. Not because she believes in healing waters in any physical sense, but for the peace of floating in silent contemplation. A different kind of healing.
Until the beginning of this century this operated as one of the last NHS Hydrotherapy Hospitals in Britain. These days it’s passed to the University of Derby and Buxton and Leek College. There’s also a spa and beauty business operating in part of it and its big space gets used for weddings and events.
As we go in it’s very quiet now term-time’s over.
While I’m wandering around it amazed and cursing, you’ll see why in a minute, Sarah reads out some information about it and what it used to be:
“At 145 feet the Devonshire Dome is the largest unsupported dome in Europe; bigger than The Pantheon in Rome (141ft), St Peter’s in Rome (138ft), The Duomo in Florence (137f.) and St Paul’s in London (112ft). It was built in the 18th century to house the 5th Duke of Devonshire’s horses and servants.”
Yes, it’s a stable block. And could house up to 110 horses and their attendant grooms. Before I start fulminating against the aristocracy and their ways I’m immediately reminded of ‘Blue Peter’ on BBC Childrens TV. Remembering Valerie Singleton visiting a place very much like this in Vienna back in the 1960s.
Funny the things your memory holds sometimes.
Anyway, this particular horse cathedral turns out to be the product of none other than the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire. Last encountered in one of their lesser country piles up near Grange the other week. Well it turns out this whole town used to be part of their nearby main Chatsworth estate, and we’re here in their stable block.
“I’ve applied to be the new Echo” I mutter, from several feet away.
She can hear me perfectly.
And what are we saying across this mighty space I hear you wondering? Well, gazing around in wonder and complete mystification we are chorusing, from side to side:
There are some staff around but no one tries to take issue with us. Maybe this sort of thing is always happening?
Well, if you call ‘peace’ me muttering about the natural woodlands and their human inhabitants all across Britain being ‘cleared’ in the middle-ages by, yes, the usual suspects to make way for their sheep farming. (For much much more on this see George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ where he also talks about the flooding being caused these days by all the water draining off these hills, and the ridiculous politics that forbids their reforestation with trees to drink up the excess.)
Out and about in the history and the possible futures of England.
See also Sarah’s parallel post on Monkey Puzzle Meanderings.