A cosy market town and tourist escape, Bakewell is in the White Peak in the southeast of the Peak District National Park.
The town is a springboard for two of the England’s most celebrated stately homes.
Chatsworth House is the magnificent seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, replete with art and often voted the country’s favourite country house.
Less famous but equally exquisite is Haddon Hall, shining for its Medieval and Tudor architecture.
You can discover the best of the White Peak along the Monsal and High Peak Trail, two traffic-free walking and cycling paths on converted railway lines using old tunnels and viaducts.
Back in the town there’s a 16th-century Yeoman’s house converted into a museum, a Medieval bridge and a church with wonderful monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bakewell:
1. Chatsworth House
In 2018 this world-famous stately home completed its largest restoration for two centuries.
Sixteen generations of the powerful Cavendish family (the Dukes of Devonshire), have lived at Chatsworth since 1549. Facing the hills from the east bank of the Derwent, this house is stuffed full of precious art, furniture, ceramics and Ancient Egyptian artefacts.
The building itself has been altered down the years to suit its residents, and while its exterior is mostly Neoclassical from the 19th century, you can see older 17th-century Baroque elements on the eastern facade.
Also from this time are the Painted Hall and the Chapel, two of the least altered rooms in the house.
The Devonshire Collection has paintings by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent, as well as drawings by Old Masters, invaluable metalwork, ceramics, Enlightenment scientific instruments and 18th-century furniture.
2. Peak District
In Bakewell you’ll be under the spell of the UK’s first ever National Park (1951). This southern portion of the Peak District is the White Peak, which comes from the white limestone geology of the region.
This stone has been quarried for centuries, and if you travel the Monsal Trail, which we’ll talk about below, you’ll be able to see the underlying strata.
The countryside around Bakewell is all drystone walls, heather moorland and dales awash with wildflowers in summer and speckled with grazing cows and sheep.
At the Bakewell visitor centre in the handsome 17th-century market hall you can check out exhibitions about the Peak District and get hold of information on walking trails and sights in the White Peak.
3. Haddon Hall
Built in stages between the 13th and 17th centuries, Haddon Hall is a splendid country house on the Wye a couple of miles from the centre of Bakewell.
This was a residence for the Dukes of Rutland, and is held as arguably the finest surviving Medieval manor house in the UK. One reason so little has changed is that Haddon Hall was abandoned for 200 years until it was made habitable again in the 1920s.
You’ll tour the interior, stepping into the atmospheric old kitchen and the banquet hall, which has a massive table that has never been moved from this location.
There’s a wonderful parterre and walled topiary garden outside, with breathtaking views of the Peak District.
With so much genuine period character, Haddon Hall has been chosen shooting location for movies like The Princess Bride (1987), Elizabeth (1998) and Jane Eyre (2011)
4. Bakewell Old House Museum
Open March to November, this museum is in a 16th-century Yeoman’s house, a tithe (tax-collector’s home). The building was constructed in 1536 and enlarged later, in Queen Elizabeth’s reign as a gentleman’s residence.
In the 18th century this building housed workers for Sir Richard Arkwright’s mills.
The Old House has decoration and architecture from Tudor to Victorian times, furnished with grand fireplaces, wooden beams and walls of wattle and daub.
You can see a display of period textiles, as well as tableaux showing Christopher Plant, the Tudor tithe collector at his ledger, and learn the story of the Bakewell Pudding in the kitchen.
5. Thornbridge Hall Gardens
On Wednesdays and Thursdays in summer you can discover this astonishing garden in the grounds of a large country house.
Thornbridge Hall Gardens has recently become a Royal Horticultural Society “partner garden”, and was designed in a formal style in the 19th century.
The man behind the garden, George Marples, wanted to be able to see “1,000 shades of green” from his bedroom window.
In these 12 acres there’s a koi lake, rock garden, woodland, 30-metre herbaceous border, Italian garden and terraced lawns with a beautiful prospect of the Peak District countryside.
Some of the statues here come from Chatsworth, while others were gifts from the Greek government,
6. Monsal Trail
Bakewell is at the end of a fantastic 8.5-mile walking and cycling trail on the route of the old Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway.
The line was founded in 1863 to create a rail link between Manchester and London, and was shut down in 1968. The route ends, or starts, just east of Bakewell at Coombs Road, and what makes it such a treat is the amount of railway architecture to be found on the route.
You’ll ride or walk past former stations, over viaducts and through six tunnels, four of which are so long they have to be lit during the daylight hours.
The Headstone Viaduct is a real highlight, spanning one of the most beautiful dales in the Peak District.
7. All Saints’ Church
Bakewell’s fine parish church has Anglo-Saxon origins and was founded in 920. The Normans reconstructed the church in the 12th century, and this building was heavily reworked in the 1230s.
Most of the architecture is Gothic, although the west front and parts of the facade are Norman Romanesque.
Some of the oldest fixtures at All Saints’ Church relate to the local Manners and Vernon families who lived at Haddon Hall.
The Vernon Chapel is a joy, and has tombs for figures like Sir Thomas Wendesley, who died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. The 14th-century Foljambe monument is carved from alabaster and shows Godfrey de Foljambe and his wife Avena looking out of a balcony.
In the choir are three misericords from the 1400s (the remaining 18 are 19th-century), and the church also has a 14th-century baptismal font.
8. Bakewell Bridge
Not much of Medieval Bakewell has made it to the 21st century, which only makes this solemn five-arched bridge over the Wye more valuable.
Built from ashlar sandstone, this Grade I-listed monument dates from around the beginning of the 14th century and has Gothic pointed arches and has triangular cutwaters that extend up the side of the bridge to form retreats for pedestrians.
The last major intervention took place in the 1800s when it was broadened for road traffic.
Set off here for a wander south next to the Wye, which has some of the prettiest scenery in Bakewell.
9. Arbor Low
A six-mile drive, Arbor Low is an enthralling Neolithic henge often called the “Stonehenge of the North”. In truth Arbor Low has more in common with the stone circle in Avebury and has some 50 large rocks, quarried locally from the limestone of the White Peak.
The stones are arranged in a rough egg pattern, and are on an elevated oval bank (henge), encircled by a ditch and bank.
Some 3,500 years after Arbor Low was abandoned its earthworks still climb to more than two metres, while there’s a barrow (burial mound) on one side of the ditch, and about 300 metres away is Gib Hill, an enormous Neolithic barrow around 4,500 years old.
10. Bath Gardens
Beside Rutland Square in the centre of Bakewell is a tranquil garden maintained by the local council.
This little park has paths between colourful borders and expertly manicured lawns.
There are walls clad with ivy, young fruit trees, a pergola and ornaments like a sundial and birdbath.
The fountain here is fed by water from Bakewell’s warm chalybeate spring while the park is the former site of a bath house, built in 1697, and later part of an attempt to establish Bakwell as a spa resort to rival Buxton and Matlock.
11. Magpie Mine
On the limestone uplands west of Bakewell you’ll come to this disused lead mine, within walking distance of the village of Sheldon.
The ruins go back to the 17th century and rest in attractive grassland bright with cowslips and wild orchids in early summer.
The Magpie Mine is famed locally for the often violent disputes between workers here and at the Maypitts and Red Soil Mines.
One act of sabotage by the Magpie Miners lead to the death of three Red Soil miners in 1833. The widows supposedly put a curse on this mine, and the facility was eventually abandoned in 1958. Lots of interesting features like a chimney stack and winding gear remain, all labelled by information boards, while volunteers are on hand on weekends to answer questions.
12. High Peak Trail
This walking and cycling route crosses the Peak District for 17 miles, passing just south of Bakewell.
Part of the National Cycle Network, the High Peak Trail is on the trackbed of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway, established in 1831 to carry stone and minerals between the Cromford and Whaley Canals.
After the line closed, Derbyshire County Council purchased the a big chunk of the line and turned it into a trail, laying the path with crushed limestone, which makes it suitable for walkers of all ages.
Around Ladmanlow the trail reaches its highest point, at 386 metres above sea level, and although the views are phenomenal the going can be tricky in bad weather.
About five miles from Bakewell, at Parsely Hay, the High Peak Trail intersects with the Tissington Trail, on another repurposed railway line.
13. Thornbridge Brewery
Established in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in 2005, this brewery moved to a new, modern facility on Bakewell’s outskirts in 2009. Thornbridge has been described as the UK’s first craft brewery and has garnered scores of awards over the last 15 years.
You can get to this riverside brewery on foot in ten minutes from the centre of Bakewell, for a 90-minute tour, to hear the history of the brand, find out about how Thornbridge selects its ingredients.
In the brewhouse you can check out the large stainless steel vats and discover the intricacies of boiling, fermentation and maturation.
At the end you can try three from a big range of cask, keg and bottled beers.
14. Bakewell Market
A market has traded in Bakewell since 1330, and the tradition is kept alive at the Stall Market on Mondays at the Marketplace and Granby Road.
Between 09:00 and 16:00 you’ll find more than 100 traders selling flowers, fruit and vegetables, freshly baked bread, toys, jewellery, fabrics, yarn, clothes and shoes, as well as food made on the spot.
It’s the largest market in the Derbyshire Dales, and on the last Saturday of the month you can browse the wares of local producers at the UK’s second largest farmers’ market.
15. Bakewell Pudding
You’ll see this well-known sweet delicacy across the town.
The Bakewell pudding, with a pastry base, a layer of jam and a sweet egg and almond paste filling, has been around since the first decades of the 19th century and according to tradition was invented by accident at the White Horse Inn.
Supposedly, the landlady ordered her cook to bake a jam tart, but rather than add the egg and almond to the pastry, it was poured on top and set like a custard in the oven.
Four different establishments claim to own the original recipe, and the most frequented is the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop on The Square.