Travel Tips: The How-To of Going About and Beyond Blenheim

Travel tips from this month's Journeys column

smithsonian.com

Tourism at Blenheim is hardly new. Thomas Jefferson stopped by in 1786 and wrote of the experience, "Art appears too much." A playfully disguised Jennie Churchill, before she was mother to a certain prime minister, enjoyed tagging along with the tours just to overhear what might be said of her Marlborough in-laws.

Dressed in an old cloak and carrying a Baedeker, she once nearly betrayed herself when she burst into laughter after a tourist exclaimed of a family picture: "My, what poppy eyes these Churchills have got!"

Blenheim Palace
Open daily,
10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,
from mid-March to October.

Admission:
Adults: £9.50 (about $14); teens, ages 16 and 17, and seniors: £7.30 (about $11); children, ages 5 to 15: £4.50 (about $7); children under age 5 are free. Family tickets: £25 (about $36). The last admission of the day is at 4:45 p.m. Visit the Blenheim Palace Website at www.blenheimpalace.com.

 

Getting There:
Blenheim is located in the small town of Woodstock, about 62 miles northwest of London on the M40 and 8 miles northwest of Oxford on the A44. Buses from Oxford leave every 30 minutes. The Oxford Bus Company can be reached at 011-44-1-865-78-5400. Cars and bicycles can be rented in Oxford. Parking is free in Woodstock.

The Weather:
Without a doubt, it's going to rain, so don't forget your "brolly." Annual rainfall at Oxford is nearly 26 inches; less than Seattle's 34, but umbrellas are still in order.

The Park:
You'll find plenty of gardens, such as the Rose Garden, the Arboretum and the Water Terraces, to wander through in this 2,100-acre park. For a brisk 45-minute walk, take the path around the lake. For a longer walk, follow the route around the park, which takes about two hours. A comprehensive guide is available on the Blenheim Palace Website.

The Marlborough Maze:
This hedge maze of just over an acre is designed to reflect the palace's history and architecture. Two wooden bridges provide a view of the labyrinth and its exit.

Pleasure Gardens:
South of the palace visitors can enjoy a butterfly house, ornamental and exotic trees and shrubs, walkways, temples, cascades and other formal garden features.

Akeman Street:
A 2,000-year-old Roman road runs through the northern part of the palace grounds. Before the Saxons arrived, there were Romano-British settlements on the grounds, and the remains of several large Roman country houses were excavated in 1936.

The Site of Woodstock Manor, a Royal Residence
Here on the bluff in front of Blenheim Palace stood, for some six centuries, a summer getaway for England's kings. The once-vast complex is marked today by a small stone monument. To learn more about the manor, including the many strange events that occurred there, click here.

Bladon Church:
Winston Churchill often came here to visit the grave sites of his parents, Jennie and Randolph. So frequent were his visits to the little churchyard that villagers grew accustomed to searching for his cigar stubs in the grass and taking them home as treasured mementos. Now Churchill, too, is buried here along with a number of other family members, including Consuelo Vanderbilt.

Other Highlights:
Adjacent to the Marlborough Maze is a play area for children, putting greens, and giant games of chess, checkers, and snakes and ladders. A narrow gauge railway with a locomotive named Sir Winston Churchill links the palace to the Pleasure Gardens. A gift shop can be found in the old palace dairy.

Highlights in Surrounding Areas

In and Around Oxfordshire:
After touring Blenheim, most tour groups quickly move on to the nearby Cotswolds or to Stratford-upon-Avon. But many sites are worth seeing in the nearby towns of Burford, Witney, Chipping Norton, Charlbury, not to mention Woodstock. Burford offers the Cotswold Wildlife Park (011-44-1-993-82-3006). At Witney, home of the famous Morris dancers, the Cogges Manor Farm Museum (011-44-1-993-77-2602) is a working medieval farmhouse. At Chipping Norton is the Rollright Stones, a late neolithic stone circle where, legend has it, a witch turned soldiers into stone. For information, contact Oxfordshire Cotswolds Tourism 011-44-1-993-70-4645; fax 011-44-1-993-82-3590; email tourism@westoxon.gov.uk.

Other Nearby Manor Homes, Castles and Gardens:
Beyond Blenheim, visit Kelmscott Manor, Rousham House and Gardens, Chastleton House, Stanton Harcourt Manor and Broughton Castle. Click here for our special guided tour.

Oxfordshire Museum:
Located at Fletcher's House on Park Street in Woodstock, the museum provides information on the archaeology, social history and industry of the county. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is £1–-about $1.50. For information, call 011-44-1-993-81-1456. The Woodstock Visitor Information Center (011-44-1-993-81-3276) is located within the museum.

A Walking Tour of Woodstock:
This town, so often overshadowed by its infamous tourism site, has its own unique character. A locally produced walking tour of Woodstock and other nearby towns can be purchased from the Woodstock Visitor Information Centre (011-44-1-993-81-3276) in the The Oxfordshire Museum.
 

  • Town Walks in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds £1.99
  • An Introduction to Woodstock £1.50
  • Postage and packaging £1.50

White Horse Hill:
A magnificent 374-foot-long prehistoric rendering of a horse, carved into the chalk of the Berkshire Downs above Uffington, is located 18 miles from Oxford.

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