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16 May 2022

230 years in the making, a new hotel is putting spa town Buxton on the wellness map

230 years in the making, a new hotel is putting spa town Buxton on the wellness map

Ahead of me, the road ripples up and down like a wave has washed through the landscape, the white line in the middle of the asphalt pointing precariously at the sky before it literally falls off a cliff.

This surreal sight, which could have come straight out of a disaster movie, is the starting point of my introduction to the timeless beauty of the Peak District.

I am walking around the slopes of 517metre-high Mam Tor in the High Peak area of Derbyshire with grey, troublesome clouds gathering at its top, threatening to give me a good dousing.

I leave the crumpled road behind and step into a scene of classical countryside complete with wild hills, grazing sheep and toy-like farms nestled at the bottom of the valley.

My guide, Paul Smith, from MyGuidedWalks, explains the name Mam Tor means “mother hill” because, as well as destroying the old main road, the regular landslides on its slopes have created a number of “baby bumps” on the eastern side.

The former engineer who switched career to follow his passion by setting up his own walking tour company, points out how the Castleton side of the ridge is in the White Peak made up of limestone cliffs, before we cross over into the Dark Peak.

And I soon learn that this is not just about the change in the colours of the landscape, as I am no longer at risk of sliding on the perilous chalky paths as we descend on the grippy gritstone of the Edale Valley.

However, the mud is all too ready to undermine this false sense of security and sends one of our group landing bottom first.

The mud is a reminder of the drizzle which is progressing to a downpour and doing its best to penetrate my waterproofs and my resolve. But, as Paul points out, without the rain, we would not have the vivid greens that spread to the horizon in all directions over the rolling hills.

And if it was not for the region’s rain, the majestic Buxton Crescent hotel would never have started business 230 years ago. It was originally built on St Ann’s Well, a source of thermal mineral spring water which has been drawing people to the town for hundreds of years, including Mary Queen of Scots who stayed at the neighbouring Old Hall Hotel while a prisoner of Elizabeth the First.

It is also the same spring used for the town’s eponymous bottled water found in supermarkets across the UK.

It was William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire, who commissioned the Crescent hotel in 1780, reportedly out of suspicion that his wife was playing away while visiting Bath’s own famous crescent.

However, by the time the two hotels and lodgings opened, the peak of the fad for spa towns had passed and although it remained popular, Buxton Crescent’s glory slowly faded over the years until 1989 when it finally shut its doors.

But a determined effort by the local councils to resurrect the site resulted in a £24 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the £70 million refurbishment by the Ensana hotel group, to create the five-star health spa which finally opened in October 2020, only to shut 33 days later because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Six months later, the doors were open again allowing Buxton to claim its place on the list of the country’s exclusive spa towns.

Having swapped my drenched waterproofs for a bath robe and flip flops, I head directly to the spa, where mud is on the menu again – this time a Therapeutic Thermal Mud Pack.

Traditionally, spa-goers in Buxton would have peat slapped on their bodies to absorb the goodness, but nowadays the local muck is legally protected, so Buxton Crescent has sourced its mud from the Hungarian town of Heviz, which is renowned for its minerals.

As I lie in the treatment room, therapist Hannah assures me the mud has been heated to 40 degrees as she applies it to my back and my joints. The gentle application alone makes my muscles relax after our hike.

While the mud cools and the minerals apparently seep in, Hannah gives me a head massage which, with the ripples of relaxation flowing through my skull, almost tips me over the edge into an afternoon nap.

After softly asking if I’m awake – which I promise I am – she helps me shower off the mud. As she leads me to my next treatment, my legs feel surprisingly light, ready even to do another walk.

Next stop is a CO2 Infusion Mineral Bath using Buxton’s famous thermal mineral water enhanced with carbon dioxide to make it ever so slightly bubbly. The aim is to enhance micro circulation within the body and help to lower blood pressure.

Well, I can’t tell you how my micro circulation is after a 25-minute soak, but my relaxation levels are certainly peaking as I semi-slumber away.

Reluctantly leaving my tin bath, I explore the extensive spa, which is spread over three floors. I start with a dip in the fully-refurbished Victorian Thermal Pool, which has chemically untreated Buxton mineral water flowing into it.

I follow with a burst of heat in one of the saunas, before completing my relaxation in the luxurious indoor-outdoor heated rooftop pool.

Walking down the steps into the water, I’m pleasantly surprised that the water feels just as warm as the mineral bath and, as I swim through the flap into the outdoor section, a smile breaks out on my face as I realise it’s raining but I’m delightfully warm, despite the cold drizzle falling on my hair and shoulders.

I lean back against the warm underwater jets and stare over the balcony as I realise the last of my lingering aches from the walk have been fully washed away.

How to plan your trip

The Achieve Peak Health in The Peak District programme is priced from £650 per person based on a three-night stay in an Attic Room for two people on a D,B&B basis. It includes two privately guided hikes and three bespoke spa treatments. Visit ensanahotels.com/buxton/en

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