Originally posted: December 22, 2011.
I thought that my only adventure left would be Belgium with the Hertford Choir, but during my last few days in Oxford, I decided to plan one more solo adventure for myself, sort of like my trips to Bath, Paris, and Stratford at the beginning of term. I had heard from some other friends that Blenheim Palace was only a thirty-minute bus ride away. So I woke up early on Sunday morning and caught an early bus toward Woodstock.
If you don’t know what Blenheim Palace is, don’t worry; I didn’t know before I traveled to the UK either. But my tour guide on the Discovering Shakespeare’s Country Tour said it was a great part of the Cotswolds, something not to be missed. The royal family doesn’t live there; it’s actually owned by the Duke of Marlborough. The first Duke was allowed to build it after winning a great victory at the Battle of Blenheim (see where they got the name?). The really cool part of the house’s history is not the Duke though, but one of his relatives, Winston Churchill. He spent a lot of his childhood at Blenheim, riding horses and exploring the vast grounds. In fact, he was born at Blenheim. I loved reading about this great man. I knew before that he was a great politician, but I didn’t know he wrote books and painted. Hallmark even printed some of his best work as greeting cards. I know that British children learn a lot about Churchill in their history classes, but I didn’t in mine so it was great to learn a little bit more.
The palace itself was beautiful. I loved looking at all the Christmas trees. They lined the front drive, stood at either side of the entrance, and framed the different displays in every room. My favorite had to be in the library. It was huge and in that really long room, it even took attention away from the pipe organ. I especially loved the tapestries on display in the staterooms. Many old houses have paintings to display. Even Hertford’s hall had portraits of William Tyndale and John Donne. But not many places display such intricate tapestries. I appreciate that sort of artwork even more because I know that even though great paintings take a lot of time, tapestries take even more painstakingly slow work, for the bad ones and the good ones. All of this was on one wing of the house, but on the other side, they had an animatronic exhibition about the Marlborough dukedom and the history of the house. It was hilarious, and it definitely wasn’t supposed to be. At one point the camera turned off so we could hear the voices, but we couldn’t see the image of our “guide” on the wall anymore. But the most startling part was when we walked into the next room to find ourselves in the King’s bedchamber—complete with an animatronic version of his mistress in bed. She was covered up with the sheets, but seriously? You guys could’ve taken a leaf out of Disney’s book and kept everything PG. And the worst part is that from that entire exhibition and especially that one room, I didn’t learn anything worthwhile about history. But in spite of the weird exhibition, I did really enjoy my tour of the house.
As I was eating lunch, I watched some of the other visitors walking around in the gardens outside. It looked like they were having a great time, but I thought that I would be way too cold to enjoy walking around outside. Just the walk from the bus stop to the palace entrance had me wishing I had brought my gloves along. Surprisingly, I felt great when I did decide to give the gardens a try. I guess the hot tea for lunch and the sunshine had warmed it all up. I’m so happy I did venture outside because as it turns out, that was the best part of my day. I started walking through the garden right at the back of the house, but I quickly realized that there were paths to different parts of the grounds on both sides. And since I had all the time in the world and I didn’t want to be crowded with all the other tourists again, I picked the one on the left and took off. Out there I really didn’t need to worry about crowding; there were times when I was walking through the trees and not only could I not see anybody, but I couldn’t even hear anyone either. At first it was eerie. Yes, at Oxford I spent a good deal of time studying alone but usually in crowded libraries or in my room, just a wall away from another visiting student. I had not been this alone … well, probably ever. After a few minutes I did come upon some other strolling visitors, but as it turns out, I really enjoyed walking alone better.
Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much came from the history of the grounds. I knew that Churchill used to romp around on the same paths when he was a young boy and I can see why he grew up to be such an independent, creative man. With all those tall green trees to look up to and all that space for running and riding, I can see how his childhood vacation spot shaped him into the man that made such a big impact on history. I could also imagine different generations walking on these grounds in the Victorian era and the 20’s and since I love imagining how life was, that made it even more fun.
But I must say, Sophie’s World is probably the main reason why I loved touring the Blenheim grounds. A few months ago my friend sent me a bunch of books to read on the Kindle. He tried to pick out ones that I hadn’t read, and in that sense he succeeded mostly, but on the other hand, he also sent me a lot of books that I probably wouldn’t have picked to read on my own. Sophie’s World started out as one of those books. When I first started reading it one night, the author’s simple tone bugged me. Sure it was teaching me a lot about philosophy, but if I wanted to learn that I would check out a book on philosophy from the library, right? But as I kept reading, the story actually developed, revealing complexities and twists that the initial “simple” tone had hidden from me. Plus, I hadn’t expected to, but I was actually appreciating the lessons on philosophy. The point is that I was reading this book on the bus to Blenheim Palace and I was just at the part where Sophie learns about the Romantics. I know from English classes at Rice and from my high school English classes that the Romantics are not only about nature; they cannot just be boiled down to that one theme. But still, the phrases “at one with the universe” and “all a part of the same thing” were definitely running through my head as I walked through the leaves and over the green hills alone. I felt calm and yes, as cheesy as it may sound, at one with the universe.
I thought that I didn’t have any more adventures left in me, but as it turns out, Blenheim Palace was just what I needed. I believe that this trip helped me relax after the term and after saying goodbye to all my Hertford buddies—and prepared me for my next and final adventure: Belgium Choir Tour!!!