November 30th, 2014
Before we moved to London, I compiled a list of my “must-see” sights in England. Blenheim was towards the top of the list. It is a very large estate made famous by its Capability Brown-designed parkland, grand palatial aspect, and association with both the Churchills and the Vanderbilts. The Churchills built it, and through an advantageous marriage with an American heiress, the Vanderbilt’s money saved it. Having never been to England before, I overlooked some pertinent information. Some places, like Blenheim, aren’t exactly convenient if you don’t have a car. After a journey that took twice as long as it would have if we had driven, we finally walked up to the gates.
And we kept walking. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head to the side and stare really hard, you might see the entrance at the end of that driveway.
I love this picture of the grazing land to the left of the driveway. It reminds me of the beautiful cinematography in those British period dramas I like so much. Very Pride and Prejudice à la Joe Wright. If only it didn’t have that weird red lens flare.
The path to the house first funnels you through the gift shop. Clearly someone took a page out of Disney’s playbook.
And then you go through a nice courtyard. (Can’t you just picture a horse-drawn carriage pulling up?)
And finally you get a view of the front facade! Isn’t it beautiful?
Yes, those are Christmas trees. Yes, we did this back at the end of November. Which means I guess I have only made it to November so far in my blog. *Embarrassed silence* Baby steps, though, right? And who doesn’t like a bit of Christmas in July?
And now the interior:
This was the bedroom in which Winston Churchill was born.
And from here we got to see some of the principle rooms, which retained most of their original decoration except for an… interesting… ongoing art exhibition. For example, the carpet of this gorgeous red drawing room was covered in crabs. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. They really didn’t provide any information other than the fact that it was all very exciting and modern and interpretative. All of which I would agree with.
The dining room was set as if for Christmas dinner. Do you see the ribboned tube above the soup bowl? Those are called crackers and are enormously popular in the UK around Christmas. You grab each end with two hands (or two people grab each end with one) and you pull. The tube will pop open with a little crack! thanks to a teensy bit of gunpowder, and some little knick-knacks will fall out. Crackers usually contain a joke, a little toy, and a paper hat shaped like a crown. Next time you read Harry Potter, the Christmas scenes will make a lot more sense.
The little banner hanging from the fireplace has an interesting history. It is called the Quit Rent standard. The flag is the nominal rent paid to the Crown every year. A new flag is given to the Crown every year before 13th August. If the flag were not given (i.e. rent was not paid) then the freehold for Blenheim Palace would revert back to the Crown.
My favorite room of any house. The library! Look at all of those lovely books!
Queen Anne staring down at us all. It was she who gave the land to the Churchills to build an estate after the Battle of Blenheim during the War of the Spanish Succession. Not only did she give him the land, she promised to pay for him to build a house on the property, and the icing on the cake, made him a duke. They eventually had a falling out, though, and not only did she stop paying the bills for the construction of the house but she also exiled them to continental Europe.
Next we went off to explore the grounds designed by the famous Capability Brown.
The Column of Victory is a central feature of the park, commemorating the Duke’s victory at Blenheim, the village in Germany for which the estate is named.
From the front of the house, we took a little train to the gardens so we could do the maze. But, as the sign below is quick to point out, this is no ordinary maze. No, this is the world’s second largest symbolic maze. It “portrays the trappings of war.” Because evidently yew hedges can do that.
I won’t lie to you. I kept walking in circles. Stephen eventually found the center, climbed up on the little platform, and yelled directions at me. Not unlike a military commander, now that I’m thinking of it. Trappings of war, indeed.