One of the glories of moving away from the all-consuming monetary monster of the South East is that other places are so much closer. There’s a reason it’s called the Midlands – it’s in the middle, making so many places so much more accessible. I never really noticed at first: it’s easy to get caught up in a London bubble, but try and get out and it’s hard work. Negotiate the clogged arterial roads and you meet the more-clogged M25. Find your way out of that and you’ll likely be on a roadwork-heavy M1 or a thronging M4. Travel for half an hour in London and you’ll be half a mile from your starting place. Travel for half an hour in the Midlands, even at rush hour, and you’re halfway to your weekend holiday destination.
Hence a pleasant weekend away in the Peak District, just over an hour away. Typically for an October weekend, this was not the best time for sightseeing – the fog rolled in on Friday night and little could be seen. We pressed on boldly though: while the Peaks are undoubtedly prime hiking territory (on clearer days), we weren’t sure where to begin, so this little time away afforded an opportunity to scope out the area and make some plans for next time. Staying (on a Travelodge cheapie deal) at Alfreton, Bakewell was on our journey into the peaks, and was a worthy stop.
There’s a general rule of thumb when you’re visiting a town: if it’s a bit scenic; if it’s set in beautiful countryside, ripe for walking; if it’s raining: try somewhere else. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bakewell, but on a foggy, damp early October weekend, it was heaving. Nestled into the White Peaks, Bakewell is very much the quaint English country town. Now replete with Edinburgh Woolen Mill and copious walking shops, it caters to the sensible trouser-clad hiker and the epicurious as well – it’s not every town that can lay claim to its own pudding.
Let’s get the pudding out of the way. A Bakewell pudding is not a Bakewell tart. The tart so familiar through Mr Kipling‘s marketing endeavours is a shortcrust pastry filled with jam and a ground almond-based sponge. The pudding, which will take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it, is a hot thing served with custard or cream, a puff pastry base containing a little jam and a pile of almondy egg custard. The variants are served up by the main competitors in town: the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop and the Bakewell Tart Shop and Coffee House. We ventured into the former and eagerly awaited our hot snack, but confess disappointment – slimy and odd. I’ll be sticking with the wife’s homemade version, which is a pile better. (To be fair to the Pudding Shop, it was a gorgeous building with a lovely deli downstairs which sent us away with a locally-brewed South Pacific Pale Ale.)
If you don’t fancy that strange confection, there’s plenty of tea-room/coffee-house based choice, whether you want modern funky cafe, or Austrian-themed coffee rooms with chaffinches in the rafters. These fit comfortably into the gaps between chunky jumper shops and stout walking shoe shops and, of course, charity shops. The first you’ll see is Mind which featured, if nothing else notable, Rupert Bear Christmas cards. After this, tucked away in the back are an Ashgate Hospice shop, Derbyshire Air Ambulance and AgeUK. These shops were packed out (and poorly laid out…), but still we got a nice velvety jacket (we both, apparently, are suckers for a brown velvety jacket).
Bakewell is pretty lovely really, if you’re not of the violently misanthropic variety: be warned, it’s a tourist town but it’s very pretty, very tasty, and in unbeatably lovely surroundings.
Find: Bakewell @ Google Maps
Get there: no train link, thanks Dr Beeching – it’ll have to be bus.
Consume with: while the many coffee shops were lovely, I was sorely tempted by the excellently-named Pizzakebabwell.
Visit: You’re right in the heart of the white peak district here, so take your pick. Monsal Dale is a regularly-recommended walk.
Overall rating: three chunky jumpers