December 16, 2004

Blenheim Palace

Last Wednesday, the 8th, we took a day trip down to Woodstock and visited Blenheim Palace. (This wasn't as easily done as we expected. Our plan, actually, was to save a little bit on fares by taking the regional commuter buses down. We wound our way from Leamington through the town of Warwick, past the famous castle, and through various small villages and suburban developments, until we got to Stratford — where we found out the connecting bus wasn't coming that day until mid-afternoon. We had to give up and take the train — which took us all the way back thru Warwick and Leamington on the way down to Oxford.)

Anyway, by mid-afternoon we finally arrived at the Blenheim Palace gates, and walked up the road to the palace itself. It was a cold, gray day, but we were still awed by the extravagant beauty of the building and its far-flung grounds.

After hiking the paths through the woods and gardens on both sides of the building, we walked in through the grand entrance and took a tour of the building itself. We expected grandeur, but were impressed nonetheless. Inside the front portico is a great hall, three stories high, with balconies and high windows letting in — well, not much light, on a day like today, so some spotlights were on, casting pools of cold white light here and there across the hall. We were shown a succession of staterooms, and a succession of portraits of dukes of Marlborough. There was a grand dining room decked out for a festive holiday meal, which is actually served on Christmas day to the duke and duchess and their extended family. The library room, at the end of the tour, was also splendid and vast. Kerry recognized it, and a few other interior sites, from Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet.

We also saw the small bedroom where Winston Churchill, son of the 8th duke's second son Randolph, was born in 1874. Apparently it's been arranged as it was then, with a little bed and a table (and a typed note from Randolph Churchill, thanking the doctor for his help that day). Nearby was an exhibit of Churchill memorabilia, but our time had already grown short. We stepped back outside into the darkness, and actually walked down the road to the entry gate, only to find that it had already been closed and locked. We had to hike a very long distance to get out through another gate on another side of the property (then all the way back to our bus stop outside the original gate). It's almost as if the palace was designed for visitors with cars.

Still, it was every bit as magnificent as we had hoped. It's now closed to visitors until the spring, so we're glad we managed a holiday-season visit while we could.

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