Monday, March 24, 2014
My Happy Place: Blenheim Palace
This weekend, we spent a luxurious overnight trip away to Woodstock, near Oxford, as part of my birthday present from Alison last year. I'll use any any excuse to take the Oxford Tube to Oxford because I think it's fun and it also brings back memories of taking it back and forth to London when I was studying abroad at Oxford. After sleeping in and having a really nice cooked breakfast at home, we hopped on at Victoria coach station on Saturday morning and arrived in Woodstock (after changing over to a local bus at Gloucester Green) by mid-afternoon.
I love Woodstock because it's the quintessential, small English town: you can walk the length of it in about 10 minutes and there are a number of pubs and tea rooms scattered throughout, plus a little post office on the main street. Of course, it's terribly touristy because it's also home to one of my favorite places in the world, Blenheim Palace.
As the residence to the dukes of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is also known for its link to Sir Winston Churchill, as it was his birthplace and ancestral home. My dad is a huge anglophile (in case you wondered where I got it from!) and history buff, so during one of his first visits to the UK, I arranged for us to stay at a very sweet B&B called The Blenheim, which is just situated a few feet away from one of the palace gates! Coincidentally, the room we stayed in was called "Churchill", much to my dad's delight, and it's common for other hotels and pubs in the area to have busts of Churchill and other Churchill-related memorabilia decorating the rooms.
Although the palace itself is stunning (as you can see from the above photo - even against the backdrop of a cloudy day), it's the park and gardens that I'm most fond of. I've visited many country estates throughout England, Wales, and Scotland - but something about Blenheim is just so very special.
Spread over 2,000 acres, the landscaped park and gardens are open to the public (for an entrance fee) to enjoy - that means that you can walk on the grass, get up close to pheasants, swans, and other wildlife (like lamb and deer!), or bring a picnic to enjoy in the summer, overlooking the beautiful lakes.
I also love Blenheim Palace for nostalgic reasons: nine years ago, on my last day as a student at Oxford, John took me there because I'd never been. It was a beautiful, hot summer's day (which is rare in England!) and I remember thinking that it was the most amazing place I'd ever seen. We brought strawberries to eat in the park and spent a while getting lost in Marlborough's Maze, which is a garden maze (for kids, really) surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and flowers.
I remember being so happy but so sad that day, because I had no idea if I'd ever return to England - or if I'd even see John again. And yet, nine years later, here we are.
And for a totally silly reason, I love the mineral water that's sourced and bottled right on the Blenheim estate. I can't describe it, but it almost has a thick quality to it (in a good way) and the sparkling water just tastes so much better than any other sparkling water that I've ever tried. I insist on buying a bottle every time I'm there (took two home with me this weekend) and I'll never forget the time I gave a bottle to my dad, while he was sketching the palace. After excitedly explaining to him that it was the nicest water he'd ever try, I watched as he took the bottle from me, proceeded to down it in one go, then wordlessly handed the empty bottle to me and continued sketching. Oh, dads.
Anyway, if you ever get the chance, I'd highly recommend a visit to Blenheim Palace - especially on a sunny day. It's just so beautiful and such a joy to simply be there. It's one of my happy places.