Monday, June 22, 2015

Shutford Day 2–In Which there are Palaces, Mazes, and I Learn that Jacob is Actually a Lord.


Having missed the Churchill Exhibit at the Science Museum in London, I thought I would try and make amends by visiting Blenheim Palace, the childhood home of Britain’s most celebrated Prime Minister. It was handy that there was also a big flower show on at the same time, so we packed up to enjoy that most English of phenomena, the Great Day Out. There is a huge industry here of marketing local destinations to the locals themselves rather than just to tourists. Families are encouraged to pack all the various trappings required for the day, get in the car or on the train in the morning, spend the entire day at the destination and come back that evening. Pamphlets and brochures depict happy families with smiling children clutching buckets and spades or spread out around the picnic basket, sunshine streaming through the leaves. In reality, the children are often screaming and the parents look worn out as they push their huge buggies down the paths, but they stick it out and at least make the effort.

We made the effort, too, and set off for a day at the Palace which is the home of the 12th Duke of Marlborough who still lives there with his family (more on that later) but is also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, who is somehow related. I am terrible with family trees as they always look more like a Family Jungle to me, so don’t ask me how.

Kate was much better behaved than Serena and nicely took us on the back country roads, which was beautiful. Our route also took us past Broughton Castle which is very nearby, and has been a location for the filming of Wolf Hall, my new favourite BBC series about, you guessed it, Henry VIII, and his relationship with Thomas Cromwell. It just so happened that the Antiques Roadshow was filming there as well but as much as I would have liked to have watched Anne and Roger Flitchley discuss the merits of Anne’s great grandmother’s enamel hedgehog, we gave it a miss.

Blenheim is near the village of Woodstock, which was as cute as could be. On this trip, Zoe has us playing a game whereby you gain points for being the first to spot a pub with legs in the name. You get one point per leg. For example, I am currently in the lead with 20 points due to my razor-sharp eyes being the first to see such pubs as The Blinking Owl (two points) and the Horse and Jockey (six points). Every village we go through usually has a pub or two so there has been quite a bit of shouting out pub names and then arguing as to who said it first. Woodstock had several so there was lot of yelling going on until I pointed out this sign:


We aren’t fisherman, of course, but it still stopped the yelling.

Blenheim Palace is over-the-top in its opulence and size. We drove through the entrance gates and down the drive, staring at the grandeur and taking in the Capability Brown vista. Capability did the landscaping for most of the big fancy homes in England, so consequently they all look the same and have the same features: huge lawns, deer parks, a lake, gardens, a summer house (gazebo-type structure in the middle of the grounds) etc. etc. All very nice, if you can manage it.

Our first stop was the Flower Show, where we wandered the stalls and took in the exhibits. The market stalls were the best.


I’m not sure about the whole ‘rating’ concept. Either you pass,or you don’t! Who is getting a three and putting up that sign? And what about the ones with no sign? Did they get a three?  Maybe a two?


Ahh, Ye Olde Spotted Dick. Thanks, but no thanks. Sounds like a very bad hygiene rating to me.


I also wanted to tell the people at this stall to put their pie back together as quickly as possible and never to do that again. Not the most appetizing thing I have ever seen. It makes the Spotted Dick look pretty good…




Fortunately the rest of the food looked pretty good, and we made a few purchases along the way including a bottle of Sarsaparilla concentrate which is delicious, and full of iron and vitamin C.



There was a fabulous cake baker there who had made all the sugar flowers on this spherical cake. She took some time out to show Zoe and Terra how to make fancy iced cookies.


As you can imagine we were exhausted after all this wandering so we stopped at the tea bus for afternoon tea/lunch. It was perfect.


How cute is this bus.


Terra and Zoe spent much of their time trying to get the perfect shot to post on Instagram, but in between photo shoots, they managed to scarf down a fair amount of food.

Revived, we went for the flower tent which was, not surprisingly, filled with flowers.


Everything was flawless, and stunning, and to say the English like their gardens is an understatement. I like their gardens, too.

These huge properties often have yew tree mazes as part of the landscaping, put there to provide a diversion for the visitors. Blenheim has the second largest in the UK so we wandered over. The sign said it would take 25minutes to solve but I would just like to say that I slayed it in nine minutes which allowed me to have short nap in the sun while waiting for Zoe and Terra who took 18 and 27 minutes, respectively. Amateurs.


As expected, the inside of the maze…

There is also a very cheesy butterfly house, the best part of which (besides the Permit to Operate a Zoo notice on the door) was this sign which I think was aimed at humans, although it is unclear:


We had tickets for the state rooms of the Palace so we walked over to check it out. I am not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t this. The whole of Downton Abbey could fit in the Great Hall, I am pretty sure.

We wandered around, awestruck, staring at huge painted ceilings, royal robes, gilded chairs etc. etc. But nothing got my attention like the photograph of George, son of the current Duke and the 23-year old heir to Blenheim Palace. Remind you of anyone? I suppose one young man can look much like any other but we all remarked on the resemblance to Jacob as being a bit weird. Change the hair and it is uncanny. It did have me wondering how on earth they could look so similar. Zoe was a bit freaked out by it and kept looking at me in a funny way after that.



Unfortunately, Jacob is not currently heir to a 100million pound fortune. I did try to suggest to the girls that George might be worth looking into as he is currently  one of the UK’s most eligible bachelors but they just stared at me as if that was the grossest thing they had ever heard. Fine, whatever, girls, whatever.

We did have a look through the exhibit on the life and times of Churchill and even saw the bed where he was born (two months early).

2015-06-21 15.12.12

We finished out tour with a walk through the gardens where there was a number of statues most of which were your average run-of-the-mill statue with the exception of this one, which I rather liked.


No shame.

Of course, there was a cricket game going on on the lawn. We all spread ourselves out on the soft grass in the warm wind and watched the clouds go by. I think I fell asleep out there it was so nice. When I looked up, it seemed that nothing had changed with the game at all so I put my head back down for another 10 minutes until it was time to go.


We may have broken the Great Day Out protocol slightly as we did get home by dinner time, which was nice for once. Tomorrow I have sworn not to leave the cottage, unless by foot as we are all in need of a down day.

Banks for greeding,



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