Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blenheim Palace....birthplace of Winston Churchill

Well, the wifi at the campsite still wasn't working, so we had quick showers and left for the Starbucks at the end of Dean Lane (not taking such a circuitous route as we had last night!). After coffee and some breakfast, we logged onto T-Mobile to check emails, then got on the road again.

Our original plan was to head straight to the campsite at Abbey Wood, east of London, and in retrospect, this might not have been such a bad idea. But several people had suggested we visit Blenheim Palace, near Oxford. Since it was only about an hour away, we decided to go.

As we approached Woodstock (the village where Blenheim Palace is), the fog started to close in. We entered the palace grounds through the Town Gate, and as we drove down the driveway, it slowly emerged from the mist.

We entered through the Palace's East Gate (free admission, thanks to the British Heritage Pass), and made our way into the huge Great Court. It says something about the size of the place, that we stood on one side of the courtyard, and the other side disappeared into the mist.

We wandered around the courtyard for a bit (all three acres of it!), before heading inside. Unfortunately, Blenheim Palace joins Shakespeare's Birthplace, Rosslyn Chapel, and other places on our trip in not allowing photography inside, so for now you'll have to make do with photos on their website.

We went through the first half of the Churchill exhibition, then quickly tacked on to a guided tour that went through some really opulent apartments in the west wing of the palace (the east wing is the residence of the current [11th] Duke of Marlborough and his family, and is closed to the general public). The artworks! The tapestries! The 24-carat gold leaf ceiling decorations! Quite an eye-opener on how the aristocracy live!

After the tour, we went back through the other half of the Churchill exhibition, and rushed back through the rooms the tour had taken us through, before ending up in the beautiful chapel. We then went back in the main doors, for the Untold Story tour that took us through the upper level, and gave a potted history of the Duchy of Marlborough and the Palace.

We then went into the restaurant underneath the Palace for lunch, and then took a stroll through some of the grounds, including the Water Terraces and the lake that 'Capability' Brown had built in the 18th century.

By now, it was about 3pm, and we had been through two of the three gift shops on site, so we quickly went through the third, grabbed coffee and ice cream, and headed back to the campervan. Betty was telling us that it would talk 2.5 hours to get to Abbey Wood, arriving around 6pm.

Here's a bit of advice about driving on the motorways near London: don't. Once we got to the M25, our average speed dropped from about 60mph to around 5mph -- including several periods where we were stationary for 10-15 minutes. We eventually got to the campsite around 8:30. Unfortunately, the reception closes at 8, so for the first time, we're spending the night in the Late Night Arrivals area (along with three other campervans that arrived after us). Fortunately, they do have electrical hookups in the LNA, and their wifi is working. All we have to do is hang around until about 9am tomorrow to get booked in for the next couple of nights. I'm really grateful that there's no more driving until Monday -- I could use the break, especially after today.

Anyhoo, we're both pretty tired, and it's late (just gone midnight), so it's off to bed to rest up for tomorrow's adventures in London.

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