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Blenheim Palace (Woodstock)
Member Name: tartlette
Blenheim Palace (Woodstock)
Advantages: Lots of history, incredible architecture
I've wanted to go to Blenheim Palace for a long time. I had dropped the hints to Mr Tart and last weekend he said we were going on a mystery tour. After all the hints I wasn't too surprised to end up in Blenheim (especially as we were staying with family nearby) but it goes to show that hints can work!! It was still a lovely thought on his part and we ended up having a great time.
The land which Blenheim is situated on was originally a royal hunting lodge called Woodstock. John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, was given the land by Queen Anne as a reward for his defeat of the forces of Louis XIV of France at......wait for it.....Blenheim! Although John died before the house was completed it was finished as a legacy to him by his wife Sarah and the subsequent Dukes of Marlborough have lived there ever since. The house is probably most famous as the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Blenheim is located near Oxford, in Woodstock. The Palace is signposted from most of the major routes around the area and is around a 20 minute drive from Oxford itself. You can also get the train to Oxford and then a bus from there to the palace.
Blenheim is not the place to go for a cheap day out. An adult ticket for the house and grounds costs £17.50. Mr Tart and I used our Historic House Association memberships (a little known organisation which it is well worth joining if you like stately homes not in the National Trust). Although the prices are very high you can spend the whole day at Blenheim with the gardens.
After parking (which is on site) we made our way to the entrance. We already had our tickets from the car park attendant. You cannot fail to be immediately impressed by the sheer scale and magnificence of Blenheim. The architecture is hugely impressive.
We decided to see the house first and then spend the rest of the day in the gardens as it was such lovely weather. As you go into the house you have a choice of two directions. You can either see the Churchill exhibition and the state apartments or you can see the exhibition on the house's History. We did the state rooms first.
We headed through the Churchill exhibition. This contains various memorabilia about Churchill's connections with Blenheim as well as his life in general. There are lots of photographs, letters and artefacts. The exhibition was really fascinating and great for anyone with an interest in Churchill or World War Two. I really liked that they had some of Churchill's speeches playing as you went round the exhibition. The only problem was that it was housed in some tiny rooms and it made it very difficult to see everything because you were constantly having to get round other people in a very restrictive space. The exhibition culminated in the room where Churchill was born.
You then move through to the state rooms themselves. They were absolutely magnificent. The walls were all highly decorated and there were tapestries and paintings everywhere. The furniture was really opulent and ornate as well. There is the choice of having a guided tour although I rarely do these as I have been known to correct guides in the past and I like wandering through at my own pace. The tours seemed to go quite often and on our way around there were two that we had to squeeze past. Although the state rooms were completely amazing they did lack really good information boards. They did have them but they weren't really big or colourful enough. I would have also like a portrait list as they have in other houses like this, so that you can tell who you are looking at when you're not doing the guided tour. I also felt that the state rooms finished a little too quickly. For the size of the house we didn't get to see a huge amount of rooms.
Once you've been round the state rooms you exit through the chapel. This is on the side of the house and was surprisingly small to me. It does contain an amazing monument to John Churchill, the first Duke, which is well worth a look.
Once we'd finished this we headed back to the main entrance to do the exhibition on the building and history of the house. We went to the bottom of the stairs where we had to wait until they were ready to start again....intriguing I thought, isn't this supposed to be an exhibition. Then they told us that it was interactive and you were led round by a ghost! OK, interesting.....!
We went upstairs where we listened to a painting of the house being built (from about 2 years ago!) talk to us about the building of the house. You then follow the exhibition through various rooms, with the doors opening automatically. The exhibition is a mix of moving waxwork characters, sound effects, talking pictures, artefacts and information boards. You start with the building of the house and move through the History of the house with Sarah Churchill's ladies maid as your guide. The experience is really good, although a little tedious at times. It does provide a much more interesting way of looking at History and I think it would be great for kids. I especially liked the scene which was supposed to be in Hampton Court with Barbara Villiers in bed (a working waxwork protecting her modesty with the bedcovers!) with John Churchill hiding in the wardrobe and King Charles II trying to get in through the door (Barbara was mistress to both men).
Once we had finished this we headed for the cafe. For places like this I normally pack a picnic but we were staying with Mr Tart's family and they are re-doing their kitchen so we thought we might as well splash out on lunch out instead. There was a fairly good selection in the cafe. There were sandwiches and salads as well as hot meals. We went for chicken pie. This cost £8.50 which was fairly pricey but it came with potatoes and vegetables as well. The food was over-priced but that is to be expected in places like this and it was really good quality and tasty food so we didn't mind too much. One thing that was really good was that they had jugs of tap water and glasses at the till so you didn't have to pay for a drink as well if you were happy with water (although there were plenty of drinks available).
After finishing lunch we headed for the grounds. The grounds of Blenheim are very extensive and we didn't get round all of them. We did see the rose garden which was beautiful and we walked to the Cascades but this was closed off as they're doing works there. Once we'd walked around the grounds we headed for the train. There is a mini railway which takes you to the maze area. This area has a cafe, some outdoor games, like giant chess and a putting green, as well as the maze. The maze is the second largest hedge maze in the world and it pretty old as well. It is laid out as a memorial to the Blenheim victory. It is supposed to take about 25 minutes although we cheated a little and used the bridges that you go over to work out our route!
Once finished we headed back to the house for a well deserved ice cream (!) which took about 15 minutes, as we had just missed a train. The ice creams weren't cheap at £3 for a double scoop but they were delicious. I would recommend heading to see Churchill's grave once you've finished, as it is only a 5 minute drive away and signposted from the Blenheim exit.
I really loved Blenheim. We had an amazing day. The house and gardens are completely beautiful and well worth seeing. I do think that the entrance price is over the top but it is worth it if you spend the whole day as we did. The house has interesting exhibitions for people interested in older History but is also great for anyone interested in modern History, with the Churchill connection. Highly recommended.