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A Roam Over To Buxton....

A first-time blogging trip to a lovely spa town set high in the Peak District hills. And whether you visit the town to take the mineral waters, attend the Opera House, or use it as a base to explore the beautiful countryside nearby, there are plenty of pubs and bars with some excellent beers to enjoy while you are there. Welcome to Buxton....

Buxton had been on my to do list for several months, but it hadn't really cropped up in my thoughts for a while. However, I had picked up a copy of Opening Times, the excellent magazine produced by Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA branch on a recent trip to Manchester, and in it there was an interesting tour around a number of places in the town which looked pretty good and it set me off looking at the train timetable. With a football-free Saturday coming up, I decided I would make the trip over there sooner rather than later. And the visit seemed even more apposite when I realised that this particular weekend marked the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Trespass, when scores of ramblers from Manchester set off from Hayfield to climb up Derbyshire's highest point, Kinder Scout, to campaign for the right to roam the land freely. The land was part of the Duke of Devonshire's estate and used for grouse-shooting, and back in those days access to so much of the countryside was not permitted. The walkers' confrontation with gamekeepers that day, and subsequent arrests and jail sentences led to a public outcry which eventually paved the way for the creation of the country's first National Park here in the Peak District. Whilst Buxton lies just outside its boundary, many of the town's visitors use it as a base to explore the Park.

It was the train over to Manchester Piccadilly, then a short wait - which I passed with a pint of Marble Pint at the Piccadilly Tap - before catching the train to Buxton, which takes around an hour to get there. Once you get past Stockport, the countryside starts to get better as you approach the Peak District. The train was probably about half full, and included a few walkers, the odd family group, and assorted others, maybe even a blogger or two. Who knows (and who cares!). Buxton grew in importance in the 18th century, but it began to take off as a spa resort during the 19th century when well-heeled Victorians would come to take the waters for their reputedly therapeutic properties. Whilst the spa subsequently declined in popularity, tourists still come in large numbers to the town for its many other attractions such as events at the Opera House (the highest in the country), the nearby countryside, and the many pubs and restaurants. 

I walked out of the station, and a few minutes later I was attempting to cross a busy main road to visit the first of the day's pubs. I could see it, it was tantalisingly close at the bottom of a slope below me. I walked around the corner and came to the Buxton Brewery tap, 53@Buxton Tap House. I walked in, and as my eyes were adjusting from the bright sunshine to the dimmer light inside my good mood was punctured by a rather rude lady. "Can I help? "Yes, I just want a pint". "Well, we're very busy, these people have just come in", gesturing vaguely to a group being served at the bar. "I'm in no rush". "Well, we have no spare seats". "I'm OK, I'll stand". "Well, can I get past then?" "Of course", moving and spotting some empty stools in an area beyond the bar as she sniffily walked past. Almost immediately, a guy behind the bar came over and politely asked me what I would like to drink. Spotting a beer called Right to Roam on cask, I thought it relevant to  today's trip, so I ordered a pint, and retreated to one of the vacant stools I had spotted. The beer, a 3.8% bitter brewed in honour of those who took part in the Kinder Trespass, was excellent (NBSS 4). Plenty of people were eating here, and maybe the focus here is on food, but I was still a bit miffed by that rude greeting when I left.

It was a mere few yards to the next bar, and indeed it shares the cellar with the Tap House. This was also a Buxton Brewery outlet, Buxton Brewery Cellar. There was no repeat of the previous welcome here, indeed it was very friendly. The guy behind the bar apologised for a large group of lads who were in town on a stag do, but they were absolutely fine, especially the lad who appeared to be asleep at a neighbouring table for the duration of my visit.... The bar was a simple affair beneath a vaulted brick ceiling with two small rooms with the bar in the right-hand one. Once again I went for one of the four beers on hand pump, Mystic Blonde, a 4.6% hazy pale ale. Another excellent beer (NBSS 4). There were several beers on tap behind the bar, and Buxton produce some excellent ones, but I had decided to stick to cask as I was doing a bit of a tour today and didn't want to risk falling asleep on the train back and ending up back in Buxton!

I decided I would go to the farthest flung places now, and it meant a trip up the slope of Hall Bank to the large market square around which were several pubs. It was beyond the far side though where the next two places, near neighbours, were based. First up was the Old Sun Inn, an attractive white-walled old coaching inn with low beamed ceilings and a number of cosy small rooms leading off from the bar. The beers all came from the Marstons stable, and I ordered a half of Pedigree. I found a table in one of the rooms, which was pretty warm due to an open fire, which with the town being a thousand feet above sea level, will be needed on plenty of days during the year. This is the town after all where a County Championship cricket game between Derbyshire and Lancashire was interrupted one snow! By the way, the Pedigree was most enjoyable, and I rated it 3.5 on the National Beer Scoring System scale, and I received a very warm welcome from the friendly team behind the bar.

It was a short distance around the corner to the next pub, the Cheshire Cheese. This was the first time I had visited a pub run by Titanic Brewery, and its flagship beer, Plum Porter, was on one of the hand pumps. However, I opted for White Star, one of their pale beers, which I hadn't seen for ages, and this 4.5% premium bitter was another on-form beer, another NBSS 3.5. The pub was quite sprawling, and several people were dotted around. Service here was friendly once again, and having spotted Everards Tiger on the bar, which I always enjoyed when it used to be a regular beer at the Dusty Miller at Hove Edge near me in Brighouse, I decided to have a half before I left. Once again it was worthy of a NBSS 3.5. A bit of a pattern was emerging, with more good beer in another good pub.

It had become blustery whilst I was in the Cheshire Cheese, and the hanging sign outside was swinging vigorously in the wind as I took a picture. From there it was back to the market square, and just off it, opposite the eponymous chapel on Chapel Street, was a micro pub called Ale Stop. Based in a solid stone building, it is fairly unassuming, with no signage other than a couple of etched window signs, one with the name of the bar in a front window, and the word bar in one above the door. Inside, there was a warm atmosphere, with customers situated throughout the two areas of this double-fronted pub. There was an eclectic mix of beers on the bar, from small breweries across the country. So I decided to go for a half of Arrow Amber Ale, from a small brewery a few miles away in Matlock called Aldwark. It was a very pleasant bitter ale which I rated as an NBSS 3.5. The atmosphere here was very friendly, from both the guy behind the bar and a healthy gaggle of customers. A couple at the next table appeared with a pint and a half of a dark beer which they seemed to be enjoying, so I went to the bar to investigate. I came back with a half of Buddha The Stout from the White Rose brewery in Mexborough. It was absolutely delicious, in tip top condition, and I rated this a NBSS 4. And the Ale Stop? A micropub that is a shining example of what they can be when they are at their best! Highly recommended.

Ale Stop, Buxton: friendly place with great beer

So, I moved on. The article in Opening Times had referred in glowing terms to a bar/restaurant called Lubens. As it happened, it was on my way back towards the station, situated on Hall Bank which I had walked up earlier. An attractive building with a lovely exterior, I walked in, it was a restaurant in the front room, but beyond was a lovely little bar area with a number of cask beers on hand pump. Opposite the bar was another attractive room with white painted walls and a glass roof. A pleasant lass behind the bar served me a pint of Sir Philip, a 4.2% premium bitter from Wincle Brewery who are based a few miles away just over the county line in Cheshire. The Sir in question is Sir Philip Brocklehurst who travelled to Antarctica with fellow explorer Ernest Shackleton. He was also the squire of Swythamley Hall, near Leek. Or so it said on the pump clip. He/it was quite malty, and another excellent beer (NBSS 3.5). I asked where the bar got its name, and it turns out it is simply an abbreviated amalgamation of Lucy and Ben, the couple who opened the bar a few months ago.

Attractive bar: Lubens, Hall Bank, Buxton

It was a short walk to my final pub of the afternoon, and my route took me back down the hill from Lubens, passing an attractive park area called The Slopes. With this and other green areas in the town, and maybe down to the fact it is a spa town, Buxton reminded me a little of Harrogate, albeit smaller and hillier. I walked past the attractive Crescent and the shrine of St Ann's Well, where people were filling bottles of the spa waters which are piped there from the geothermal spring, which maintain a constant temperature of 28 degrees centigrade.

A few minutes later I was walking into Redwillow Buxton, based in a former bank opposite the offices of Brooke-Taylor solicitors, the family business of the late Tim Brooke-Taylor, ex-Goodie, comedian, and quiz show panellist who was born in the town. It has a most attractive interior, with a room off to the right as you go in which was apparently the old bank manager's office. There is much mahogany and many attractive features throughout. A mezzanine floor at the far end as you go in providing additional seating. There is a long bar, worked by friendly staff, with 4 hand pumps and 18 keg lines offering mainly beers from Redwillow themselves, based over the hills in Macclesfield. I remember meeting Toby the owner at a Meet the Brewer event many years ago at The Grove in Huddersfield, and it is good to see how they have progressed since then. Here I ordered a pint of Weightless, their 4.2% Session IPA which features Mosaic hops, and was yet another beer in cracking form (NBSS 3.5). 

The interior at Redwillow, Macclesfield

From there it was a short walk back to the station. On today's showing, Buxton is well worth a trip, and it is a long time since I visited anywhere were the beer was as consistently as good. As the train headed back towards Manchester, the attractive Derbyshire countryside basked in the evening sun, and it was easy to appreciate the anger felt by those ramblers from 1932 who had no access to the countryside that we take for granted today....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic

And here is a song written by and featuring Ewan McColl which tells the story of the Kinder Trespass....


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