Thanks to my wonderful in-laws for babysitting the kids for the day, Dan was able to take me to Blenheim Palace on my 37th birthday. This is going to sound crazy, but prior to visiting Blenheim Palace, I had no clue about its significance. In particular, I had no idea what I was about to visit in regard to scale and grandeur. My knowledge of Blenheim Palace was limited to seeing road side markers for it and thinking that it would be another palace/castle to check off on my list. Blenheim Palace is one of the most amazing places that I've visited in England. I can't believe that I had no clue.
We visited on a rainy Tuesday morning in August. I should have realized that I was in for something special with the vast size of the car lot. Hundreds of cars and many motor coaches had already arrived before us. As soon as we parked and started to walk towards the entrance, thunder clapped and the rain really started to pour. We found shelter under a series of large trees (probably not the brightest idea) and took a video of a kiddie train.
It's about a ten minute walk to the entrance and we were drenched by the time we made it to the booth to buy our tickets.
The tickets were twenty-two pounds each for adults. If we had lived in England, this would have been a huge bargain, as a one day ticket can be converted into an annual pass. There is plenty to see to make it worth coming back more than once. We went ahead and converted our tickets to annual passes on the chance that we might visit again on our 2015 Europe vacation.
We presented our tickets at a tunnel, that still didn't betray the magnificence that we were about to experience.
As soon as we walked through the tunnel, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge courtyard. Blenheim Palace with its yellow stone walls is stunning.
Pretty darn grand, right? The palace was done in the unusual English Baroque style and was designed by the team of Sir John Vanbrugh ( a dramatist) and architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. The land and money to build the palace were a gift to John Churchill, who through his military career and family connections was given the title of the Duke of Marlborough. The gift was awarded to Churchill for having led the Battle of Blenheim, which was a decisive battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. Through a Parliamentary vote, it was decided that Churchill should be given the land and means to build the palace on behalf of a grateful nation.
This is a picture of the Column of Victory that we took from the courtyard. On a future trip, I'd love to walk out to the column. We missed seeing a lot of the castle grounds due to the rain.
Our entry included a free guided tour. Depending on the crowds, they will sometimes combine the English and foreign language tours. We let two tours go in front of us, Italian and Chinese, so that we could get a tour only in English. The foreign translation tours were just huge groups, taking twice as long and by waiting about thirty minutes, we were in a smaller group with a great guide that had plenty of spare time to answer questions. Although I've now forgotten much of the information, at the time, it was very interesting.
Photography was allowed during the tour and we got some great interior shots of the rooms and artifacts.
Take a look at the hot pink settee. See the partitioned section? That's a Victorian era chaperone or courting couch. It allowed a couple to have "privacy" as the chaperone discreetly listened to their conversation.
Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace and he also proposed to his wife, Clementine, on the grounds. The palace had a huge Churchill display, that we skipped due to time constraints. I can't imagine it topping the exhibit at the Churchill War Rooms in London, which is a must-do. They did have Churchill's baby vest at Blenheim Palace.
Predictably, my favorite room was the library. Queen Anne was both a close friend to John Churchill's wife, Sarah and also the reigning monarch when he was awarded the funds for the palace, which explains the statue in her honor.
At the opposite end of the library was an unexpected surprise, a giant organ.
The palace tour ended after the organ, but we were directed on a path outside that led to the palace chapel.
We took a champagne and truffle break at the cafe and enjoyed the views of the back garden.
After our break, we took a walk across the expansive lawn to the edge of the property.
We visited the Secret Garden. It didn't have a locked gate, but it was just exactly what Frances Hodgson Burnett dreamed up, a bit wild to contrast with the manicured gardens closer to the palace.
The rain started to fall just as we left the Secret Garden and we ran to take shelter under the columns in the palace. My favorite picture is the full shot of the palace as seen from leaving the gardens.
After our walk on the grounds, we had one more part of the interior to tour. On our way inside we snapped a few shots of the entry, including the eyes on the ceiling.
The second interior tour was very different from the first. It took us through a series of rooms that told the story of John and Sarah Churchill and the construction of Blenheim Palace. The tour was unguided, but each room had a timed presentation where the doors closed and we watched a scene with animatronics and other visual effects. It lasted about forty-five minutes and was fun, highlighting scandals and gossip that occurred at the palace. The storytelling guide that led us through the rooms was a maid, who ended up being a ghost. The animatronic of Sarah Churchill looking into the mirror was kind of creepy. Between the shows in the rooms, there were areas with interactive videos and artifacts, that gave more information on what had been mentioned in the rooms. This part of the tour was very engaging.
We spent about four hours at Blenheim Palace and we did not see it all. It's easily a full day attraction and if you live close, the annual pass is a bargain. We took a few more shots on the walk back to our car.
I was very excited to see Blenheim Palace as the pit stop on this most recent season of one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race. They likely filmed close to the time that we visited.
Next post, our visit to Winston Churchill's grave!