During 2011 I visited Blenheim avec la famille. 2012 I went twice – once on my own in glorious sunshine and a second time with a friend in the pouring rain. Both times I cycled from Oxford and I discovered that I am a much faster cyclist in the rain than the sunshine!
Sunny (the current Duke of Marlborough) himself was at home – I saw him; that’s his car parked in the courtyard?
Sadly, despite attempts to discover in advance whether the private apartments would be open during my visits, they were not.
I however had two different and new experiences at Blenheim, which if you read my diary from my 2011 visit doesn’t really do it for me architecturally (too big, harsh) or experience-wise (it’s definitely on the tourist trail but in my opinion to its detriment). I also saw the new toilet block and the new shop (for what that is worth!).
I took the “me-time” visit to discover the gardens at Blenheim and disappear from the tourists.
Never, despite first visiting the Marlboroughs’ Vanbrugh-Queen Anne pile in the last century(!) had I ventured outside of the formal gardens (or even around the corner into a hidden garden).
I discovered a rose garden that D would have loved.
I lay down on the bank of the lake and took pictures of the water lilies.
I wandered around Capability Brown’s landscape.
And watched water thunder over the dam.
I stumbled into a damp, watery domestic-scale garden with ferns, dwells, a Japanese bridge and narrow paths.
This was on my second day, which in sharp contrast to my visit on the previous day was damp and atmospheric.
I endured the “Blenheim Experience”, which is essentially something worthy of a Madame Tussaud’s visit (i.e. something I’d submit to if I were on holiday in a city with no museums and it was raining) – groups of 20 or so are let into individual rooms where moving dummies tell the story of the history of Blenheim: from John, the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s scandalous youth as the lover of Charles II’s mistress through to his eventual wife, Sarah’s, relationship with Queen Anne.
The experience is rather surreal and not something I would have expected of an historic house, even if it does occupy some of the rooms above the state rooms and therefore brings back life to a part of the house that may otherwise lay empty. I’m not sure the experience on its own brings anyone to Blenheim or is a USP; I would much rather a good video, which I had seen recently on trips to Haddon Hall and Boughton House.
I think the talking dummy experience is representative of the experience that is Blenheim: large-scale, somewhat slick, designed for the general tourist on a nice day out. Not designed for someone like me.
As I came out I checked out the wooden cobbles in the courtyard to muffle the noise from the horse’s hooves.
Alas, the rooms I really want to visit, those in the private apartment, allude me.
When visited: July 2012
House * out of 5: ***
Garden * out of 5: ***
Theme tune: What a difference a day makes