I seem to have arrived in Buxton in the middle of a great big festival. On Wednesday, in an attempt to stay awake, having arrived in the UK at 5:30 in the morning, I went for a walk through the town with my aunt. There's a huge fun fair with rides and junk food and a midway set up in Market Square. There's the Buxton Festival, a 19-day festival of the arts, happening around the Buxton Opera House, with opera, music and literature events. And there's the Buxton Festival Fringe, which is the UK's second-largest fringe festival after Edinburgh.
For a town of just over 20,000 people, that's a quite a lot going on at once.
I wasn't up for much on Wednesday, but Thursday I headed back down into the town to check it out. It seems this whole event has grown up around something called the Wells Dressing Festival, a custom local to Derbyshire where people decorate the local wells. Believed to have its roots back in pagan traditions of leaving offerings for water gods, the festival took on its current shape back in 1840, and has continued fairly consistently since then.
The Buxton fringe began in 1980 and is now a major part of the festival. It permeates the whole town, with venues in local shops and artists' studios, in the parks, on the streets, as well as in dedicated theatre spaces. There are more than 150 events, including comedy, dance, film, music, spoken word, visual arts, street theatre and regular theatre. I had a really nice afternoon checking some of it out.
I stopped by The Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, set up in the Pavillion Gardens, and toured some of the visual arts in a local framer's shop. I visited the local museum, which had a couple of galleries displaying works by local artists as part of the fringe. It also had a sequence of rooms charting the history of the Peak District in general, and Buxton in particular, from the formation of the Earth through to the present day. It's just a small museum, but I found it fascinating and well laid out.
I bought a ticket for one of the fringe events - called The World's Greatest Walking Tour of Buxton. I would have been happy with a real walking tour. And it began something like that, albeit with tongue wedged firmly in cheek. As we went on, though, it devolved more and more into a piece of street theatre. Funny, if a little awkward.
One of the nicest parts of my day was sitting in the bar, waiting for the tour to begin and listening to all these local men and women talk about the shows they'd seen. Most had been to something that afternoon and were heading to something else in the evening. Others were saying they'd been to something every night. It was good to see that the festival really does belong to Buxton and isn't just something that sits on the town bringing tourists in.
Today, Saturday, is carnival day. The fun fair is packed and running full swing. And everyone headed down to the centre of town to watch the parade. The Queen and the Rosebud of the Wells Dressing Festival were out front, and there were floats from a number of the smaller surrounding towns. There were pipe bands and fancy dress costumes. My cousin's daughter was up on one of the floats dressed as a cave girl. The parade lasted about an hour from where we were standing, but the route is long and they were probably on the move for a good few hours.
We stopped into the Old Hall Hotel for tea and a snack. The current Old Hall Hotel hotel was built in 1670 and is one of the oldest buildings in Buxton. The earlier hotel building standing on the same site was host to Mary Queen of Scots when she came to take the waters in the 16th century.
The festivities will continue for another week, but I leave tomorrow for Edinburgh and my next festival experience.