Catching Up with the Aristocrats and A Prime Minister – Blenheim, Oxfordshire

Woolly says – Today was the day that we would be using one of our Christmas presents…..must remember to email Santa about my missing Ferrari!  The wonderful Dave who allows us to stay with him and annoy his clientele on a regular basis had bought us a gift experience for a night at the theatre and dinner.  With the months passing we had yet to agree on a show that appealed to us all and having vetoed Zoe’s suggestion of seeing Wicked for a second time, I came up with the idea of changing the experience, having perused the website I had finally found something to suit us all.  Sadly, the weather hadn’t been as easy to arrange and as the car sped along the motorway, I could only hope that the rain would stay firmly in the clouds and not on my head.

We were all excited and as the miles passed by, I knew it wouldn’t be long before someone’s Mammoth Book of Facts made an appearance.

Woolly says – That book has been a font of knowledge and she knows it!  Having found the correct page, I set about educating the female population of the car.  Blenheim Palace is a monumental country house in Blenheim, Oxfordshire and is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  The only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace it was built between 1705 and 1722 and became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  The long drive way gave a hint of the splendours to come and having parked the car I eagerly trotted towards the first point of interest, the café, well a mammoth needs to keep his strength up! 

With snacks consumed and tusks and paws wiped to avoid my small companion leaving a trail of jam on priceless carpets, we collected our audio guides and turned to see our small friend racing off around a corner.

Woolly says – To much chat and not enough looking for me, in the time it had taken the women to get their headphones I had already studied the great hall.  I’d spent a good five minutes lying on my back admiring the incredibly fine painting on the ceiling as well as the busts of members of the Marlborough family’s ancestors.  A corridor led me onwards past cases of china and an incredibly large collection of painted toy soldiers which must have taken someone years to paint. 

Imagine my delight at finding a bust of my hero, knowing it was to good a photo opportunity to miss I spent a few minutes talking to Emperor Hadrian while I waited for Jo to appear with the camera. 

With a picture taken I hurried into the first of the state rooms, a wonderful gold ceiling greeted my eyes and an astounding number of portraits covered every piece of wall space as well as being mounted on easels.   The second room was known as the Red Room which was a fairly obvious name for it given the red walls and red chaise lounges, the walls were again adorned with paintings, this family certainly liked to sit for artists it appeared.  Next door the paintings continued but the walls also had some huge tapestries which was beautifully done and intricate in the smallest details, there also seemed to be an abundance of clocks so you could never be late for anything if you lived here.

Having only glimpsed a tail every now and then on the tour I was keeping my fingers crossed that he wasn’t causing mischief, having been fleet of paw I was surprised to catch up with him and that he was lying on his back.

Woolly says – Always the best way to view a ceiling and the roof space in the Grand Salon was defiantly worth looking at. 

The Duchess of the time commissioned Louis Laguerre to decorate the room in the then fashionable technique known as trompe l’œil, or “trick-the-eye”, he had done wonders not only with the ceiling but all of the walls as well.  A large dining table was laid ready for the next family meal to take place although it is used more often for important guests and visitors in this day and age.  The drawing room came next where further tapestries covered the walls and a very ornate babies cradle had been left, luckily the baby wasn’t in place.

The next remarkable room was the long library which was designed by Christopher Wren, at 180 ft (55 m) in length it had originally been intended as a picture gallery, it made a perfect library however.  I wandered along the bookshelves looking for titles I might recognise and wondering if they might be willing to lend me a few of the lighter tombs.  At the furthest point was a large organ, the largest pipe organ in private ownership in Europe in fact and built by England’s great organ builder Henry Willis & Sons, it must make a huge impact on the ear drums when played.  A story goes that the organ was unplayable for many years after a couple of young Winston’s friends ‘borrowed’ some of the smaller pipes, these were only returned on the young mans’ death 50 years later which means that the organ can once more be used.

The organ was most impressive which couldn’t be the same for the mammoth who was gamely trying to press the keys in an attempt to play, having removed him and pointed him in the direction of the palaces exhibition of Winston Churchill before he could play a note.

Woolly says – I thought the other visitors might enjoy a rendition of some Guns and Roses!  The exhibition was fascinating, taking us through the whole of Churchills life, for those of you not in the know, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, RA  was born at Blenheim on the 30th November and is probably one of the best known British politicians as well as being a prolific  writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party. He died at his London home on 15th January 1965 and was given a state funeral to mark his incredible work for the country.  Pictures of the young Winston and his life covered the walls along with many busts sculpted by a variety of artists detailing his work as well as his leisure pursuits of painting and music.  The tour led us into the actual room in which he had been born, according to stories he had arrived in the world several months early interrupting a house party which gave rise to a rumour that he had been born in a cloakroom where all of the guests outside attire had been placed.  The room on display looked perfectly normal with an iron bed and all the usual bedroom furniture you would expect, not a jacket or coat in sight.

Having completed all of the rooms that the public are allowed to see we found ourselves at the rear of the palace. 

Woolly says – Built in a baroque style by Sir John Vanbrugh, the exterior had a lovely soft glow to the brickwork and given the amount of scaffolding and sheeting cover one area there was a lot of work involved in the upkeep of the building.  The formal gardens were a delight and having admired the fountains and managed to avoid any drops of the nasty wet stuff hitting my fur from the gushing water I stood admiring the lake which led away from the more formal aspect of the gardens.

With over 2000 acres to explore I didn’t think we would be able to see it all but with the clouds still keeping the rain at bay I hoped to be able to see a fair amount.  The grounds were amazing with trees that must have been standing for hundreds and hundreds of years, designed by Capability Brown the pathway undulated along a most pleasant walk which led us past the small Temple of Diana where Winston had proposed to his wife and along the lakeside to an area known as the cascades.  A rather nice waterfall allowed some lovely pictures just as I felt the first drops of rain on my tusks.

It seemed like a good idea to head inside and having the opportunity to have a two-course meal as part of our experience a quick discussion decided that we should head towards lunch in the nearby 4-star hotel.

Woolly says – The food was delicious and even I reached a point where I couldn’t manage anything further, unusual I know, having licked the yummy tomato sauce off Jo’s dish of seafood and helped Zoe consume her wood oven pizza I decided that a few minutes were needed before desert.  With the rain still only a small drizzle we made haste to complete our tour of the grounds we hurried back to the palace and towards an area known as the Family Pleasure garden.  Lovely beds of flowers greeted us, sadly although planted it’s to early in the year to see them in their splendour, the butterfly house however was a wealth of colour and life.  Jo is not great at action shots and was finding it tricky to get some clear picture of the beautiful creatures and their wings which wasn’t helped by the fact that they kept landing on her which allowed her to get distracted from the job in hand. 

Once outside only the maze remained to explore, I trotted into the pathways determined to reach the centre first.

I just hoped we wouldn’t lose him!

Woolly says – She’s be lost without me!  In and out the hedges I went, I could hear calls from the ladies every now and then as well as spotting Zoe on a bridge at one point I refused to be side-tracked in my quest for the middle when the worst thing in the world happened….

The heavens opened and the rain started to pound down, knowing that this was one of his worst fears I just hoped that he wold seek shelter under a bush.

Woolly says – ……… my fur was soaked in seconds as I stood shivering and wet, I could only hope that I would be rescued before I started having an allergic reaction to the water, ‘HELPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP, get me out of here’.