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Capability Brown and much, much moreYou never forget your first visit to Blenheim Palace, UNESCO World Heritage Site and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Designed by Jon Vanbrugh in the early 18th century, the grandiose mansion set in rolling Oxfordshire parkland makes a dramatic statement from any angle.
And this year, visitors are being
encouraged to look at the parkland of Blenheim Palace from 12 very specific
angles, all marked with information panels as part of the new ‘Capability’
Brown discovery trail. Brown spent 11
years working at Blenheim Palace and this year it is one of the showpiece
estates across England celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth.
Blenheim Palace was built for military
commander John Churchill by his sovereign Queen Anne, a thank-you for saving
Europe from the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Even Churchill didn’t get that kind of
I can still clearly remember the impact of my
first visit in the early ‘60s with my parents. To a young schoolgirl like me, Sir Winston Churchill was a rotund and
revered gentleman who had won World War II for Britain. So to come here and see the room where he had
been born in 1874 and a lock of his baby curls was something that sparked in me
a lifelong love of history. Suddenly
the man seen only in B&W became a colourful human being.
So it is with Lancelot ‘Capability’
Brown. Follow the information panels
around Blenheim Palace and you soon start to understand the man and his ideas
on landscape design. As I stand at the viewpoint for the Great Lake
Vista, for instance, and study the information panel, I appreciate how Brown
created curiosity by having the lake meander away out of sight and also the
illusion of never-ending water. I look
across the lake with his eyes and admire the woodland of nearly 1000 ancient
oaks, some of them up to 900 years old.
There are so many things to enjoy at
Blenheim Palace that it’s almost impossible to do everything in a single
day. Buy a single day ticket to the
Park, Palace and Gardens however (Adult: £23.90, Concession £19.90 Mon to Fri
only), and you can convert it to an annual pass for unlimited free entry for 12
months. You can also buy a Park & Gardens ticket only ((£14.90/£10.90
concessions). Blenheim Palace is open daily all year from February 13th to
December 31st, except for Christmas Day, and there’s something to enjoy in
If this is your first visit, my Must-See
sights would be the magnificent State Rooms (free tours depart regularly) with
their tapestries, sumptuous furnishings, and colourful family stories; the
exhibition of Churchill memorabilia including childhood letters written from
boarding school; and the ornate formal gardens close to the Palace. If time permits, walk along the Great Lake past
the Temple of Diana, where Winston proposed to his beloved Clementine, and up to
the Grand Cascade or follow the avenue to the Column of Victory for a panoramic
view back to the Palace.
The free general information leaflet
details four colour-coded walks from 1 to 4.6 miles in length. A separate leaflet marks the 12 Capability
Brown viewpoints including the panorama of Palace, bridge and lake dubbed ‘The
Finest View in England’, whilst another self-guided trail reveals Churchill
stories around the Park and Formal Gardens.
For those with limited mobility – or just
tired legs – a 20-minute buggy tour will show you the highlights of the park
(small charge). Wheelchairs and mobility
scooters can be hired free of charge at the Flagstaff Visitor Information Point
with a refundable deposit (best to phone ahead, especially in peak
season). Just allow a little extra time
for your visit. Even top 18th century
architects didn’t have the foresight to build for today’s wheelchair users, so
be prepared to sometimes take a longer way round.
Blenheim Palace website is packed with inspiration and information. Among new experiences on offer for 2016 are
the 30-minute Private Apartment Tours which now include the Master Bedroom and
the Duke’s Dressing Room (£6 per adult; £5 concessions, Feb to Sep), and the
40-minutes ‘Upstairs’ and ‘Downstairs’ Tours ((£6/£5, Feb to Sep). Go Upstairs to see where illustrious guests
have stayed and Downstairs to visit areas used by household staff both past and
And of course no country house visit would
be complete without appropriate refreshments.
Blenheim Palace offers a variety of eating options, but I can personally
vouch for the tiny sandwiches and savoury tarts, the miniature cakes and
scrumptious scones included on the Traditional Afternoon Tea served in the new
Orangery restaurant. After all, we all
know there are no calories in cake eaten at heritage properties!!
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