Buxton a little piece of Italy in the hills?

Its festival time in Buxton, and the sun is shining and joy of joy there is a Waterstones, albeit in a temporary shed. Will I be able to resist the temptation to buy more books? Well I have failed already and bought two, two more to add to the already over loaded and groaning shelves, with books spilling out onto the floors and piled haphazardly up in corners.

As I write this I can hear the carnival starting up. The awkward strains of Scottish bagpipes drift audibly on the wind and every so often a fire tender blows its horn. The street on which I live is even more crowded with parked cars as folks leave them parked on the pavement to avoid paying the charges in the car parks in town. With the kids grown up and living away from home, the carnival no longer holds many attractions for me and anyway it is too warm for Lilly the Collie, and she needs some attention after being dragged around the Pavilion Gardens Food Festival and then the Tap house last night. She was of course very well-behaved and allowed herself to be stroked and patted, her ears played with and even stayed with strangers while I had to go for a pee. But the carnival with all the noise and the people, that would be too much for her.

The food festival seems to be the way that the festival organizers seek to entice local people to get involved, though my suspicion is that the festival proper, the opera and music, is still the preserve of visitors and the ‘Johnny come lately’ people like me, who have come to live in Buxton later in life and see it not as a quarry town, high up in the hills, with a reputation for poor weather, but a cultural gem, a little piece of sophistication, a discovery that we can tell our friends about.  But it was good to see so many people enjoying the late evening sun in the park, sitting out on rugs, having picnics and just generally being relaxed. Matthew Parris has said of the Buxton festival that it is un-stuffy and despite the high brow nature of most of the performances, he is right.  Not quite a people’s festival but not the forbidding and unapproachable and intellectually daunting affair that surrounds some Opera Festivals.

This year I am mainly planning to go to the literary festival, though I may try to take in an opera if there are some last-minute tickets. I like opera, it’s just that I find that sitting for any longer than an hour is hard on my lower back, or if it’s warm I nod off and then there is the risk of snoring. This actually happened to me after a very good lunch at a performance of Peter Grimes some years ago. I console myself with the thought that my snoring was probably the only thing in tune.

And of course there is the fringe. The third biggest in the UK after Edinburgh and Brighton. With over 500 performances by 170 performers, it is always hard to decide what to see, sometimes it is best to take pot luck and not read the reviews. One that I think I will go to is at Poole’s Cavern where they will be hosting ‘As you like it’ by the Butterfly company, which should be a challenge in the cold, the damp and the wet of the cavern.

Lots to look forward over the next few weeks, and if the weather holds, a wander through the Pavilion Gardens and out into the sort of piazza in front of the Opera House where the crowds gather to listen to the street performers or to enjoy a pre opera drink is a treat not to be missed for you could be, as Nick Robinson pointed out, in Tuscany. Buxton the Tuscany of the North?

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