Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock

By Claire
June 3
I wake to the light wondering what time it is. 8:00? I better hurry and get up. Oh, it’s only 5:15 am. I’m having trouble getting used to the VERY long days of light here. The sun rises around 4:45 am and sets about 9:20 pm, staying light out until about 10 pm.

We left our Oxford campground this morning heading for Woodstock, a small town 12 miles up the road where Winston Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, is located. He didn’t grow up there, his mother just happened to go into labor a couple of months early while at a party at the palace. He was born in one of the bedrooms, which is on display, healthy and alert.

Photo of a photo of the Palace

We arrived at the palace, drove through the gate, parked for free and began by exploring the 2,000 acre grounds and formal gardens designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Our tickets had been purchased at a discount at the Tourist Information office in Oxford for £13 but the normal price is £18.

Strolling along the endless path, surrounded by nature and beauty and singing birds, we came to the Temple of Diana where Winston Churchill proposed to his beloved Clementine in 1908. Yes, even though he didn’t grow up here, he did spend some time here and you will find an extensive exhibit about him. He is the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough; # 11 is the current occupant of this largest and finest private residence in England. In fact, Winston’s name is actually Spencer-Churchill and Princess Diana is a relation somewhere in the family tree. They had one of his famous “Siren Suits”, a romper he wore during the war because of his very late nights (he often worked until 3 am).

We started in the Great Hall where we were directed by a very formal docent to head upstairs since it was “presently rather crowded downstairs”. We started with an audio visual tour of the rooms with animatronic figures and a video screen guiding us through the history of the palace. We lucked out and had the rooms entirely to ourselves. We enjoyed it.

Later, we hooked up with a group of American students on a tour given by an impressive speaker. The students were getting that glazed expression but we really enjoyed it and chatted with the docent at the end. When I mentioned that we were having a little trouble with the language, he agreed telling us he had lived in Brussels for a number of years and you don’t notice the language differences when you don’t know what they’re saying anyway. He also appreciated the fact that in Brussels no one knew or cared what class he is. In England, you are immediately pigeon-holed simply by the way you speak.

After lunch back at Homer, we stopped for ice cream and then toured more of the grounds and formal gardens—including the Secret Garden, which was simply gorgeous.

Wandering out to the massive back yard that goes on as far as the eye can see, we looked at the back view of this magnificent place.

Viewing the private Italian garden from the hedge, we lingered for a bit then decided it was time to move on. We had spent 6 hours here!

We’re now at Brooklands Farm in the Cotswolds, at a campground called Winchcombe Camping and Caravanning for €27.49 (I plan to continue showing prices in euros. These are converted from pounds. However, forget finding a link to the site. The camping clubs will only link it to their main site and then you have to do a search which only works if you know the region and the county). It’s nice, but very full, due to the continuing “half-term” holidays for the kids. Will it never end? We really miss the lack of crowds. The Warden assured me they will be back in school on Monday for another 6 weeks until the summer break. Strangely, they do not have any cell phone coverage which means our ability to access the internet is zero. We tried our phone just to be sure and received no signal. Apparently, the area we were staying in is in a dip, like a giant saucer.

One thing of note: there are a lot of rules and regulations in the campgrounds we have used so far, specifically:

You must use a coded number to get into the bathrooms.
A strict 5 mph for cars and bikes.
Main site gate is locked between 11 pm and 7 am—vehicle movement is not permitted during this time.
The electric barrier can only be raised with a code number. The entry number must not be revealed to any other person. I wonder if I can tell Chuck?
Washing lines are NOT permitted.
Gazebos (those add-on rooms that so many caravanners use) are not permitted without prior arrangement.

It’s a nice place located in rolling countryside with plenty of sheep and roosters and the staff are very friendly and welcoming; we’re just not used to all these rules that in most campgrounds are just understood and adhered to (other than the washing lines which are used by everyone and no one minds).

This morning I took a shower at 6:30 am and the pipes let off a klaxon call that sounded like a WWII air raid warning. I was worried I would wake the entire site. There are no shelves and only one hook for your clothes and towel. There have been no electrical points in any of the campgrounds here in England so I can’t use my hairdryer. The one in London had two built-in dryers, there were none in Oxford, and here, you pay 20p for maybe a minute to use theirs. I’m not complaining, just pointing out some real differences from all the sites we stayed in throughout Europe and Turkey.

It’s quite warm and clear and we can only hope it will continue. We enjoyed a lovely dinner of roast chicken, asparagus and couscous, accompanied by a shared bottle of Abbot Ale, seated in our reclining chairs alongside Homer. We were fortunate enough to find a Tesco supermarket in Stow-on-the-Wold and replenished our dwindling food supply before continuing on to the campground. Shopping in English is much simpler and finding a roasted chicken was especially nice. I do notice that even in a larger supermarket, the choices are more limited. We found it fascinating that they have devised a wheel brake that makes it impossible to take the “trolley” past a red line and out of the parking lot. It’s like a miniature electronic Denver boot. Amazing! The Europeans do it by charging a Euro to use a cart (which you get back when you return it) and the English simply make it impossible to steal.

When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home. ~ Sir Winston Churchill

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