Sun. May 22, 2016:
Cotswalds to Oxford
At 4:24am I awoke to a cacophony of bird song. I am all for their sweet songs, within a good context such as in a garden, not when I am trying to sleep! So loud and so not cool. We had misread the information about breakfast. It was by request only if you wanted it outside of the stated hours, not only upon request. There was yogurt from a local farm and the full English breakfast featured sausages from another local farm. Thankfully you could also order the items a-la carte. As we left the B&B we passed by the pen where the lambs were being kept. One was trying to escape and the dog was all over it, trying to herd it back into the pen. The farmer resorted to picking it up and placing it in the pen while the dog kept vigilant watch. We passed by a cow field and they were all crammed together in one corner despite the vast amount of space. We slowed and rolled the windows down to admire them. They were quite interested in us, just staring and chewing.
We got to Blenheim Palace at 10:30am. We had a lunch reservation for 1pm at a nearby tavern, giving us plenty of time to check the palace and grounds out. Or so we thought. Looking at the map of the grounds we realized that the place was enormous. We would be cutting it really close.
We decided to tour the palace grounds first and leave the building for later. The weather was still nice and they were calling for afternoon rain. It was a good 20 minute walk to the Marlborough hedge maze, pleasure garden and butterfly garden. When we got there we realized there was a small train from the palace that we could have taken. We noted it for later if the timing worked out. The maze had a sign at the entrance, saying to expect about 25 minutes to get to the centre. We checked the time and went in. This maze was well designed with dead-ends instead of loops. There were elevated lookouts that served as pseudo-checkpoints, allowing us to survey the maze and try to figure out where we had to go next. We made it to the centre and out in 14 minutes like geniuses. To get out we just had to walk through a passage rather than backtrack. If someone had gone left instead of right at the entrance sign they would have instantly made it to the centre.
The butterfly garden was tropical and like a greenhouse. My glasses and camera lens instantly fogged up and I could barely see. A big brown butterfly landed on Brent’s shoulder and stayed with for most of the time. Then one landed on my leg as we were leaving. It was a 20 minute wait for the train back to the palace, about how long it would take us to walk anyways. Before going into the palace we walked up to the Victory Monument because walking back from it we would have the grand view of the palace. It felt like forever, walking up a gently steeped hill to get to the monument. When we got there I was more interested in the nearby sheep. It was starting to get hot outside. And we still had a well and the remains of a previous house to see before heading indoors. I was getting really tired. It was around 12:30 now and I was starting to seriously regret not having worn sunscreen. It also seemed our lunch plans would have to be postponed, we were barely halfway done.
In the front courtyard of the palace there was a Bentley car show, as always when we go on vacation, we managed to end up at a car show. Before going in we stopped at the inner courtyard. We split a brownie and ice cream sundae, I chose it partly because it was Sunday, but mostly because it was hot outside. We walked through the first half of the house. There was a giant traffic jam of people crowding around the Winston Churchill exhibit. The library was pretty cool, it had two levels of bookshelves and a giant organ. On the tour we got to see the room where Winston Churchill had been born. The exit led us to the terrace and gardens. We walked one of the looped pathways. We saw some pheasants, where Churchill proposed to his wife and a built waterfall. We had done so much walking and there was still the second exhibit in the house and the second looped pathway to be done!
The second exhibit was a timed exhibit of 35-40 minutes, going through room by room and learning about the history of Blenheim Palace and the Marlborough family. The exhibit was excruciating. Only one room was interesting and that was because there was an animatronic lady being caught in bed with a guy. I learned nothing from it and only wound up confused. I wound up counting down the rooms to comfort myself. In one room there was window facing the back lawn. We watched some people play cricket.
Brent had a map of how to get to The Feather’s Pub from the palace, but we were not sure which exit it was from and it was a good 30-40 minute walk between them. Driving past the place and being unable to find parking we discovered it was a few short minutes walk from where we had parked the car near the main entrance to the palace. We ended up pulling back into the palace. The same kid who had sold us the tickets in the morning asked us if we had admission tickets. Brent had to explain that we had thrown them away and all he had was the crumpled up debit receipt. Thankfully he let us in.
The Feather’s Pub had stopped serving food at 2:30pm. Instead we went to a place two doors down, The Woodstock Arms. It was an old setting but it had a distinct hipster vibe to it. I had the Aspall Suffolk Cider (for some reason spelled cyder). The bar tender warned me that it was 7%, much stronger than most ciders. I shrugged it off and said I would be fine. There was no way I was going to pass on the Sunday roast dinner! The sirloin beef came with amazing crispy-skinned potatoes and a soft airy bun smothered in gravy. It was exactly what I pictured a British dinner being like. Even though it was only 3 in the afternoon, it still felt like dinner-time. Walking back to the car, we once again had to explain that we had left the crumpled receipt in the car. The kid laughed and said he remembered us as he waved us through.
We were staying at a Holiday Inn off the highway near Oxford. It would be a 1 hour walk to the town of Oxford, we Googled parking lots closer to the places we wanted to see instead. At this point my head had started to hurt. The bartender had been right to warn me. Adding to the discomfort, my face felt sunburnt and I was dehydrated. I conked out and fell asleep for a good hour and half. I was still not feeling great when I woke up at 7pm. It was a bit late to head out on the town. Instead we went to the gas station to grab some snacks. The lemon Fanta was just what I needed. We also grabbed some cheddar and chive Tyrell Kettle Chips, a Haribo gummy mix, Twirl bar and some more Biscoff cookies. They had a Biscoff krispy kreme donut but we thought they would make for a better breakfast, getting them fresh in the morning rather than the stale evening ones.
The Twirl bar was just a lame version of an Aero bar. Like a genius I brewed some hot chocolate and dunked my Speculoos cookies in it. We managed to watch an episode of Game of Thrones and Inside Amy Schumer, but we still had to wait before watching and let it pre-load which took a while.