Oxfordshire Mind’s Physical Activity Team are offering a weekly ‘virtual walk’ this week the team are exploring Blenheim Palace.
Hello walkers. Today we are back in Oxfordshire to visit the county’s most famous stately home; Blenheim Palace. Oxfordshire is hardly short of magnificent historical buildings, but Blenheim is definitely one of the grandest. Over its long history, it’s been a medieval hunting lodge, a ducal seat, an MI5 spy base and the family home of future prime ministers, but today it’s most famous as a tourist attraction– and an excellent spot for a picnic.
Blenheim is just a short distance out of Oxford, but as we hop off the bus and step through the gate into the grounds we feel a million miles away from the city. What a great way to just get away from it all for the afternoon. It’s a glorious June day, and we have backpacks with us full of cucumber sandwiches, lemonade, and strawberries. Someone’s even brought a homemade sponge cake, nestled carefully in a tupperware, ready to be unveiled with a flourish at the end of the afternoon. Before we get stuck in, though, let’s go for a little stroll through the grounds to get our appetites going.
The palace is surrounded by acres of green space, and as we walk along the long drive up to the house we can’t help but admire how beautiful it is. Once upon a time this must have been open country, because this used to be the site of a royal hunting lodge– the 12th -century king Henry II was said to have hidden his mistress Rosamund Clifford here in the middle of a labyrinth. But now the wilderness has been transformed into manicured parkland, full of wide green lawns and neat clumps of trees planted in just the right place to draw the eye restfully across the park’s softly undulating slopes.
Finally we reach the palace and walk round to the front to get a good look at the façade. Its immensity and the sheer numbers of pillars make it look more like an ancient temple than somebody’s home. It is beautiful, though, with its warm sandy-coloured stone that seems to soak up the sunlight and radiate it back out again.
If we turn around, we get a beautiful view out over the park and the lake, pooling like a discarded silken garment at the foot of the palace. Really it’s two large pools, spanned at their narrowest point by a huge bridge. A pair of swans are drifting serenely on its mirror-like surface, trailed by a troop of fluffy grey cygnets. They are excellent parents– you can see it in the way they carefully shepherd their brood, stopping every so often to make sure they’re following, and swimming back to gently chivvy any stragglers along if they fall behind.
Behind the palace are the beautiful water terraces, modelled after the gardens at Versailles. Fountains and large pools are surrounded by low hedges in spiral patterns. There’s a café here, and people are sitting out on the wrought iron chairs, sipping tea. Once upon a time the privilege of enjoying a moment of quiet contentment here was reserved for a privileged few, but nowadays it’s open to everyone. Surely it’s much better that way, that the beauty here is something shared rather than jealously guarded.
The River Glyme flows into the lake, and there’s a pleasant little winding trail along its banks that leads away from the back of the house. At the end of the path there is what is known as the Grand Cascade, a sort of miniature waterfall where the water tumbles over a fall of rocks. We lean against the railing and watch it for the moment, appreciating the soothing sound of the water rushing over the rocks and admiring the way it throws up little bits of spray that catch the light and turn rainbow-coloured.
As we head back towards the palace, we have one last stop to make. The rose garden. We step through a trellis archway to find ourselves in a small circular garden packed full of flowers. All about us are blooms in a dizzying array of colours- sunny yellow, fuschia pink, warm coral and red so deep it’s almost purple. Close your eyes and breathe deep. Is there any smell more evocative of English summer than a rose? The scent is so heavy on the air here, you can almost taste it, like a piece of Turkish delight were melting on your tongue. Now our eyes are closed, we can also pick up a faint hum in the air from the bees as they go about pollinating all the flowers. Let’s walk slowly in a full circuit of the garden, stopping occasionally to bring our noses close to the velvety-soft petals, before stepping out of the trellis archway again and continuing on our way.
We turn around and wander back along the path back the way we came. At last we find ourselves once more on the lawn in front of the palace. It’s finally time for our picnic. The palace and the gently sloping lawn provides a picturesque backdrop as we shake out our blankets and begin to unpack our containers full of food. I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk today – and see you next week for another walk!