Blenheim Palace, the home of the Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill was our first stop today. It is an enormous, very impressive building, built in the early 1700s. The first Duke won a decisive battle in the Spanish wars, and the Queen gave him the title, the land and ₤240,000 for a house – nice prize! We did the guided tour, as you do, and were impressed by everything we saw, as you are. We were very fortunate because the private rooms (i.e. the part where the current Duke – the 11th – lives) were open to the public, although we had to wait until the Duke had finished his lunch! The private area did have the feel of somewhere people actually lived, rather than a museum, but were only slightly less grand than the rest of the palace, still full of priceless antiques and art treasures. It’s hard to imagine living like that. There were all the rooms you find in your average house – the Duke’s sitting toom, the Duchess’s sitting room, the billiard room, the china room (you need somewhere to display 300 years of collected china), the butlers pantry and of course the kitchens (plural). One room is used exclusively to create the flower arrangements for the rest of the house – I think every home needs one of those. We even got to meet the butler (Tim – a very unbutlerish name, but he certainly looked the part).
Blenheim is just outside Oxford, so that is where we went next. We had our trusty map & guidebook, and walked the streets, avoiding cycling students and tour groups. We couldn’t see a lot arriving mid-afternoon as we did, but we got a feel for the place and saw the outside of lots of the colleges and buildings. We visited the divinity school in the Bodleian library (built in 1462 – we are continually being blown away by how old these places are!), the Sheldonian Theatre, and had a look at the Martyrs memorial commemorating Latimer, Ridley & Cranmer who were burned at the stake nearby, in 1555.
We had dinner at a pub called the “Eagle & Child”, itself very old (around 1650), but more famous recently as the meeting place of the Inklings, who met there every Tuesday morning from 1939 to 1962. The Inklings, of course, included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who “profoundly influenced the development of 20th Century English literature”, according to the plaque that marks the spot. It was incredibly atmospheric, and the food was good too.