Ever since I saw a full feature magazine spread on Blenheim palace in my pre-teen years, that is the image I envisioned whenever I thought of a perfect palace. However, it was only during my most recent visit to the UK that I finally managed to visit the place. While my friend and I discussed, where to take her daughter for a special 13th birthday celebration during my visit, Blenheim palace popped up in my mind.
We spent friday night in Oxford and took the bus to Woodstock on saturday, after walking around Oxford university in the morning. After checking in at the lovely Pollen B&B in the village, we walked the few minutes to the side entrance of Blenheim palace. There was a notice on the outer wall, requesting fishermen to be quiet when they arrived within the palace premises.
We decided to explore the palace that day and some of the parkland the next morning. These were the special six highlights of our weekend at Blenheim.
- The landscaped garden, especially the lake area
The lake immediately catches your eye, as you enter through the side gate, or when you near the palace, if you enter through any other gate. The lake in question, with the partially submerged bridge, is man-made and is one of Capability Brown’s(considered England’s greatest gardeners) legacy to Blenheim.
The palace was built by the first Duke of Marlborough, in early 18th century.
During our visit, the palace was decorated for Christmas and we learnt that though there were many different tours on offer, only the exhibition and the state rooms tour was open to visitors that weekend.
2. The Winston Churchill Exhibition
The exhibition focused on Sir Winston Churchill’s life. It was during a dinner at the palace, that his mother started experiencing labour pains and was ushered to a nearby room. The room, where Winston Churchill was born, is the start of the exhibition. Another section of the exhibition that caught my attention was about his marriage, and how he met his wife and that he proposed to her at Blenheim palace.
3. The stateroom tours
The staterooms tour started in front of two key portraits. The first was a family portrait of the first Duke of Marlborough and his family, including his eldest daughter who became his heir through Queen Anne’s command in the 18th century. The other portrait that the tour guide pointed out was the portrait of the woman whose marriage to the 9th duke of Marlborough in 1895, helped recover the palace and its estate from heavy debt. She was Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress, who was unhappily married to the Duke before they divorced and she remarried a French pilot. Her autobiography, Glitter and Gold, is available at the palace gift shop.
The Red Drawing Room, is one of the first rooms that one visits and the huge picture at one end is the family portrait of the 9th Duke of Marlborough and his family.
Each of the state rooms was packed with portraits and tapestries, from across the centuries. The Green writing room had the Blenheim tapestry, one of the tapestries in the Victory series and commissioned by the first duke, which depicts his victory at the Battle of Blenheim.
The third state room, was the state bed chamber, and therefore glowed in gold. There were temporary art installations, in each of the state room, as part of an art exhibition. We didn’t get most of those art installations – like the one, which was a heaped bundle of rags in the middle of a state room.
My favourite of the state rooms was the long library. I thought it did not seem quite like how a library would have been envisioned and I learnt that it was originally designed as a portrait gallery but later housed the 9th duke of Marlborough’s collection of over 10,000 books.
On the day we visited, it was being organized and decorated for an evening function at the palace.
4. Afternoon tea at the Orangery
As part of the birthday celebration of Nikki’s birthday, we decided to have afternoon tea at the Orangery, which looked onto the private Italian gardens of the palace and which is not accessible by the public.
5. The pleasure gardens
On sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast at the B&B, we decided to walk across the grounds and visit the pleasure gardens. I think Nikki loved this part of the palace the most. There was a miniature model of the village at the entrance.
We tried out the Marlborough maze, which Nikki soon figured out and was zipping in and out to the centre of the maze. It was funny that my friend and I kept taking the wrong turns, until we finally decided to retrace our steps back to the entrance.
There was an interesting Blenheim Bygones exhibition at the pleasure gardens, which exhibited various gardening tools that had been used at the palace over the years.
The building also housed two tiny rooms, one of which was the gardener’s office and the other was the night room, where the junior gardeners took turns to spend the night, attending to the boilers and glass houses.
6. The majestic oaks at Blenheim
An impressive part of the palace park was the magnificent oak trees. The largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe can be found within the Blenheim palace park.
We were not able to visit a lot of the outdoor areas that we had wanted to, since it was too large a place, but we enjoyed our first visit to the palace and its parkland. The entrance ticket to the palace is valid for a year, so for those living in England and especially relatively closer to Oxford can visit the place in smaller doses.
My friend also loved the B&B we had chosen for this weekend getaway. Pollen B&B, in the heart of Woodstock village and within minutes to the palace was such a charming place with a friendly manager. Our space was the entire top floor, which had a sitting room, a lovely writing space, two cosy sleeping spaces with three beds and a lovely bathroom. It was filled with stuff that the owners had collected from their travels.
Which of the special six features intrigues you the most about Blenheim palace?