Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blenheim Palace and Oxford (for lack of a cleverer title, which is why I'm not at Oxford right now)

So . . . Blenheim Palace.

Think Downton Abbey, only more . . . Downton-Abbey-ish. And still going strong.

'Tis the honest-to-goodness home of an honest-to-goodness duke, namely John Spencer-Churchill, the 11th Duke of Marlborough. His wife is a Duchess (though not the 11th, as she's Wife #4 and thus would be at least Duchess #14), his sons are Lords or Marquesses, and his daughters are Ladies. One of his middle names is Vanderbilt, in memory of where the money to keep this family going came from, two generations back.

The first duke got the money for the house as a gift from Parliament on his victory at the battle of Blenheim, which can't have been terribly important in the long run, but was probably dramatic at the time (as recorded by the many extremely large tapestries hanging about the house). The family remained of the military persuasion: the house was volunteered as a convalescent hospital during WWI . . .

. . . and was the birthplace and childhood vacation spot of Winston Churchill. The room where he was born is very clearly labeled as such, and was full of glowing praise for his accomplishment of so daring a feat. I had to hunt for five minutes before I found his mother's name. It was Jeannie. Apparently she was present on the occasion, too. But hey, kudos to Winston Churchill for being born . . . and two months early, too! Such a precocious child.

The real showpiece of this palace is the grounds. They're magnificent . . . beautiful rolling sheep-grazed hills and massive old trees in every direction. We had a little less than an hour in which to explore, which was not enough, but dang it was lovely to just be walking in the countryside. 

The Dangers of a Country Walk.
Crossing a flooded cattle gate . . . we were at risk of re-enacting some scenes from Tess, but thankfully most of those of delicate constitution were wearing shiny new Hunter wellies, so no one had to be carried.
The other truly extraordinary sight Blenheim had to offer was the library.

Really, truly, honest to goodness, this has to be where the Beauty and the Beast library comes from. It's breathtaking. Literally. I gasped. And then started scheming how I could get a job here, so I could just live among the grounds, and the books, and the paintings, forever and ever, world without end.

But the time was gone, and I had to fly back to the bus. My heart broke a little.

It continued to break on our next stop: Oxford University.

Meet Debbie, truly the best tour guide in all of England.
A beautiful, ancient, sprawling school . . . a library that makes even jaded scholars fall to their knees and weep . . . Oxford.

It seems that everyone else in our program bought hoodies. I didn't. In the first place, because I don't wear hoodies, but in the second place . . . I wouldn't want to wear any such thing unless I'd earned it. It's kind of the embodiment of everything I wish I were, as a scholar. While my thesis proceeds at a snail's pace . . .

My sole consolation was in the pub. 

Yes, this pub. Hangout of the Inklings. Home of the random bits of conversation that grew into one or two . . . or ten . . . remarkable books. I raised a glass (or, rather, a fondue fork, as I had fondue) to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

I also celebrated Jo enjoying her first cup of tea. 

She's been addicted ever since.

On our return, I had a second dinner, better than the first, with dear friend Isabel, who has completed her time in London and now returns home, green tie in hand. 

Godspeed and see you in May!
Dinner was shabu shabu, for those of you who know just what, and how awesome, that is. 


  1. Oh! Stewart was at the Eagle and Child two weeks ago! I love the idea of you two crossing paths over there!

  2. If I ever come there I WILL be going to the Greens Café. :-D