It is recommended that you approach Blenheim from the old village of Woodstock, taking a leisurely stroll along the main street If you enjoy fine old mellow stone and brick work clad in ivy and creeper prepare to be charmed. Resist the allure of antique shops but allow time for refreshment at one of the ancient coaching inns or traditional tea-shops. There are so many you'll be spoilt for choice. If you garden, explore the winding lines that lead off the main street and steal ideas from old cottage gardens. But the best is yet to come. You will arrive at an imposing lichen encrusted gateway. This is in fact the Triumphal Arch and the Woodstock access to the palace of Blenheim. The inscription reads:
"This gate was built the year after the death of the most illustrious John Duke of Marlborough by order of Sarah his most beloved wife to whom he left the sole directory of the many things that remain unfinished".
Once through the gate, a magnificent vista unfolds before you; green pastures where sheep graze and roam at will; Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge spanning Queen Pool and the Lake, acre upon acre of rolling parkland, and beyond, the Palace itself, resplendent, dignified, all grey and ochre stone, its colonnades leading the eye to the roofscape, where statues and great golden balls stand aloft against the sky.
Take time to let this gladden the eye and soul; to notice a pair of white swans gliding effortlessly on the water, the way a great tree in the foreground leans its lower boughs to sweep the grass.
Then you might choose to walk the 1 mile circuit of Queen pool, enjoying the changing views of the Lake, or take the straight path (across which the sheep wander with a proprietorial air) to the visitors main entrance.
Blenheim Palace is so enriched and densely packed with historical fact and anecdote that to absorb all would need a second or even a third visit. So be selective. There is much to enjoy and learn (for example, do you know the derivation of the Order of the Garter, or the technique of Boulle and Counter-boulle?)
Why Visit Blenheim Palace?
For the price of admission (eight pounds and fifty pence), we can tour the palace and grounds. Yet the architect Vanbrugh was refused entry, when 277 years ago he wanted to go and view his creation. (The building of the palace had been troubled and contentious, ending in Vanbrugh's resignation. When, several years later, he felt a sudden need to see the palace, he was 'rudely refused' by the porter at the gate by order of the Duchess). There are many other reasons to visit Blenheim:
· For the Churchill memorabilia: comprehensive, spanning his birth to his death.
· For the architecture: arguably the finest example of English baroque you are likely to see
· For the original Hawksmoor ceilings: the gold leaf used is of such fine quality that it has never deteriorated.
· For the Long Library : breathtakingly beautiful, the longest room in England, still used as a ballroom and where you can see many framed family 'photos'.
· To see the private apartments of the present day Duke
· To learn how the late Princess Diana was related to both the Dukes and Sir Winston Churchill.
· For the many priceless tapestries and portraits
· For the formal gardens: Italianate and water gardens
· To see where Winston Churchill proposed marriage to Clementine.
· For good value: the price of your ticket includes the palace gardens, water terraces, lawns, arboretum, rose garden, grand cascade, trips on the lake, the pleasure gardens, herb gardens and 2,100 acres of parkland.
· For the gift shop: it has an excellent selection of tasteful presents (especially recommended are the tapestry cushions and the preserves).
· For the maze. It's the world's largest. Not included in the ticket price but only a quid to get yourself totally disorientated!
· For the powerful atmosphere. This palace is redolent of the lives of eleven dukes and their families. It is a microcosm of national affairs throughout 280 years. Notwithstanding its majesty, it could not but be affected by the changing fortunes of the world outside. Its story is a compelling one. Come and fall under its spell.
The Official Blenheim site is located at http://www.camelotintl.com/heritage/house/blenheim.html .
· Touring to London
Oxford is an idea place from which to visit London.
You might also consider `Cotswold Roaming'. Cotswold Roaming Runs daily tours from Oxford. Full-day tours include Bath, North and South Cotswolds, Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avebury and Stratford-upon-Avon. Half-day tours to Blenheim & Bladon and Cotswold villages. They specialise in small group tours. They can be visited at the Information Centre. Tel (01865) 308300 Fax. (01865) 763232 e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org. Webside: www.oxlink.co.uk.