Gillian Thornton reports on a Guild tour of Blenheim Palace:
As thank you presents go, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire ranks up there with the very best. A gift to military commander John Churchill by a grateful Queen Anne, this 18th century extravaganza of golden stone would top anybody’s wish list.
Last year, Blenheim Palace celebrated another great military leader, Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at the Palace in 1874. This year it’s the sweeping park that’s in the spotlight, one of the showpiece landscapes created by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who was born 300 years ago.
So there was no shortage of stories for a group of 14 enthusiastic Guild members who were hosted on a private tour of Blenheim Palace on a sunny May morning. Between us we’ve seen many of the world’s most beautiful destinations, but jaws dropped in admiration at the sheer audacity of this spectacularly over the top royal gift.
Brown created landscapes which have shaped people’s view of the quintessential English countryside. Think rolling parkland and picturesque woodland, lakes, cascades and a liberal sprinkling of grand vistas and you’re almost certainly thinking Capability Brown, probably without knowing it.
Our tour began in the Palace State Rooms where we discovered how the other half lived; the precarious relationships between monarchs and subjects; and the colourful lives of the Dukes of Marlborough – the Spencer-Churchill family – who still live at the house today. To add our own personal touch of decadence, we then indulged in a delicious ‘lunch’ of afternoon tea – served daily from 1pm in the stylish new Orangery restaurant, one of several catering outlets around the Palace.
Replete with dainty sandwiches and savoury tarts, miniature eclairs and cakes, we teamed up again with our genial guide to visit the formal gardens, take in some of the views on the new self guided Capability Brown trail, and walk through the Churchill Memorial Garden, installed last year close to the stone pavilion where young Winston proposed to his beloved Clementine.
Afterwards, there was time for independent exploration and retail therapy in the well stocked shop. Over all too quickly, our Blenheim Palace tour was a tempting taster of a destination packed with wonderful article material. For inspiration and information visit www.blenheimpalace.com.