The gardens of Britain’s National Trust sites have been re-opening up and down the country. On a quiet wet Wednesday last week I visited one of the country’s finest, Blenheim Palace near Oxford,
It’s a place I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time. I’m sure I went there when I was young – though young was over 30 years ago – so a return visit was well overdue.
It’s so easy to overlook the attractions on your doorstep. We’re often abroad when we’ve got weeks off and when we’re out for the day the buzz of town centre bars and restaurants attract. All out of bounds now.
I’d read somewhere that Blenheim gardens were open and went on the spur of the moment only to see dispiriting ‘Booking Essential’ signs as I headed into the grounds. How lovely it was to be greeted by friendly ‘Richard’ at the ticket office who helped me book online there and then. It made such a contrast to recent experiences where people seem intent on saying ‘no’ or making life difficult.
I really enjoyed my three-hour walk round the grounds which reminded me of how beautiful Britain can be and filled me with patriotic pride, something in short supply right now.
From the car park I walked towards the palace then skirted to the right and headed over the Vanburgh Bridge (pictured above), this is the point where you first start to appreciate the true majesty of the palace and its surrounds.
I walked up to the hill to the Column of Victory and then headed into the woods where I was able to take in the view of the Palace across the lake. It’s been described as England’s finest and that could well be right.
Here were some of the oldest trees I’ve seen including a gnarled, old Cedar of Lebanon with a huge mouth-like hole in its ‘face’. The nearby plaque told me it was featured in the 2007 film ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’.
From here I walked back towards the Palace first alongside formal Italian-style gardens and then through the Water Terraces before heading towards the Winston Churchill memorial gardens, where the great man was born and lived.
This garden included the Temple of Diana where he proposed to his wife Clementine Hozier on 11 August, 1908. Persuading her to marry him was, he wrote, the greatest achievement of his life. The fact this man who inspired a nation and then the world to defeat the awful tyranny of Nazism would rate that personal moment his most important reveals another side of the his greatness.
A bit more aimless walking took me towards the rose garden where I caught another view of the stunning lake created by the damming of the River Glynne by the super-prolific English landscape architect Capability Brown.
I had a great time at Blenheim and it was uplifting to see the efforts made to welcome visitors with temporary toilets available, sanitising stations nearby and a kiosk selling drinks and snacks.
I sensed a bit of a buzz amongst the staff, something of their pride in the place shone through along with their excitement at, once again, being able to share this amazing palace with others.
On the way back I was able to grab a take-away Starbucks decaf latte, another sign that life was returning to something like normal.
Becoming a member of the National Trust was one of the over 60s discounts I was looking forward to. Trouble is there’s no reduction for annual membership, only for lifetime membership and by the time you’ve turned 60, chances are more than half of your life has passed!
At £1,295 (down from £1,730) I’m going to see how often I’ll be visiting National Trust sites before stumping up the cash. One thing I do know is that I’ll be returning to Blenheim.