Blenheim Palace, home of the Duke of Marlborough and built in the early 1700's, is a short bus ride from Oxford. Although we had some difficulties with what should have been easy transportation. Getting there wasn't a problem, but when it was time to leave, since we'd waited until the grounds were about to close, we had a hard time finding the bus back to Oxford. The gate where we entered, right next to the bus stop, was closed, and it took us a while (the grounds are very extensive! 2100 acres according to the website) to find an open gate. By that time we knew we were cutting it close to catch the last bus back to Oxford.
Fortunately, the open gate led us to the little village of Woodstock, where we were able to learn that the last bus would come in a half hour. Finding a congenial pub to wait in, a potential problem—walking or hitchhiking the 8 miles to Oxford—became a pleasant interlude.
The Palace is an amazing place, and we learned a great deal of British aristocratic and military history during our tour of the building. Of particular interest to me was the exhibit on Churchill's early life, a perfectly logical subject, since he was born in the Palace! The main Palace website offers more information on this interesting place, and the Wikipedia article on it is very extensive and informative.
No photos were allowed inside, of course, but the grounds—formal gardens, artificial Romantic "wilderness," and rolling fields—offered plenty of photo opps. This page displays a selection of our pictures, and you can find them and many more in this Flickr set.
Here is the clock tower, which sits atop the main archway leading to the Palace "front yard":
And here is (part of) the main structure, as seen from this courtyard. On the left, Joan and I are walking across the yard toward the entrance.
Here are some photos Henry took just before we entered the building: a glance down the colonnaded front facade, a look up the front stairs past a small cannon (you can get a good idea of the scale of the place by noticing the tiny figure of myself on the steps), and a look up at the curious decorative panels above the porch.
This next group of photos was taken as we toured the Park, a very large area that's a fascinating look at the 18th century idea of perfect nature. It is beautiful, especially its wonderful trees. But it's like a theme park, complete with constructed water features. Folks like us, who enjoy hiking in unmanicured nature, couldn't help but find it somewhat creepy in its loveliness.
The formal gardens, on the other hand, not pretending to be wild, were more satisfying. Here are some views of them, located at the rear of the Palace:
Another attraction of the grounds is the Blenheim memorial, situated at some distance from the Palace. It commemorates the victory of the first Duke at Blenheim in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession. (Hence, the Palace's name; Robert Southey penned a rather cynical poetic take on the battle.) Below on the left you can see the memorial, and on the right is a lovely pond you pass on the way to it. Henry took a lot of pictures of some swans on the pond and you can see a couple of them here. (Joan and I actually feared he might have come to grief somewhere on the grounds while we waited for him to meet us—one of the reasons we were so late leaving the estate.)
And here's a look back to the Palace from the base of the monument. The tiny print you see on the base gives a very detailed (and flowery) history of the battle and the Duke's heroics therein. I don't remember for sure, but I doubt that Southey's poem is reproduced there.
One of the neatest features of the Blenheim grounds is their maze, which is quite large and is reached from the Palace via a little train. Getting out of it is not a trivial exercise, although Joan and I were in no real danger of starvation or attacks from Jack Nicholson. The middle photo shows half of the maze, including the observation platform that's essential to finding the way out. On the right Joan clowns around in a very large hollow tree near the maze.
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