Breathtaking Blenheim Palace! * The Travelling Gourmet’s SPECIAL FEATURE

On a gastronomic safari in the United Kingdom, the intrepid and indomitable Travelling Gourmet TM explores Blenheim Palace where Sir Winston Churchill was born…

Story & photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling GourmetTM

All rights reserved

Food photos are of REAL food with no props or special effects

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MOST probably England’s finest and most certainly largest stately home, this Palace is amazing in its historical significance and priceless collection of artifacts. It is also a stunning example of English Baroque architecture. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This amazingly beautiful Palace which opened in 1722, is also the stately home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.

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It was a cold, icy winter’s morning with sunny, sapphire-blue skies when I visited this historic icon. The sun had woken up from its slumber not very long ago. The air was crisp and clean. Frost glistened on the grass and flowers. Located just 8 miles from Oxford, the famous University town, 2,000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland surround this titanic Palace, plus the great lake, and charming formal gardens. I had seen it before in the hit TV series called “Brideshead Revisited” but the real thing in the flesh took my breath away. As I always say: you can’t beat the real thing.

Entering though the huge oak doors dating from 1715, I headed straight for the Winston Churchill Exhibition. The “British Bulldog” who helmed Great Britain and defeated that demented, malignant Nazi midget Hitler in World War 2, has always been one of my heroes.

Churchill & Tommy Gun Winston Churchill carrying a Thompson SMG with 50 round magazine, inspecting the devil may care Commandos in WW2

Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne and a grateful nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Visit the gilded State Rooms, which house one of the finest collections in Europe, and the fascinating visitor experience, ‘Blenheim Palace: The Untold Story’. The Churchill Exhibition includes the very room where Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874. I was extremely touched by the letter written by Churchill to his father when he was an Officer Cadet at renowned Sandhurst Military Academy. He signed off his letter with ‘I remain ever your loving son, Winston S. Churchill’ The S stands for Spencer. Although just a youth, his resourcefulness and determination is evident from the great lengths he goes to, in order to recover the precious watch his father gave him, after he lost it in a pond. Churchill even empties the pond to recover the watch! Intriguing black and white photos show his life and times in peace and war. Compelling photos with President Roosevelt of the USA, Stalin, Field Marshal Montgomery, King George IV, and many more draw your attention like a powerful magnet. Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill when he was the Prime Minister in World War 2, was in the daredevil Special Air Service Regiment. It brought to mind my good friends in the SAS. Major Randolph Churchill even went on missions behind enemy lines in the Libyan desert with Colonel David Stirling, the Founder of the intrepid SAS. In 1943, Randolph Churchill parachuted into Yugoslavia to meet Tito & his partisans with Sir Fitzroy Maclean of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Blenheim Place was also used by SOE in WW2 for its Propaganda Section.

 

Colonel David Stirling of the SAS in the Libyan desert WW2 with his battle hardened lads

 

 

Badge of the Special Air Service with their famous motto: Who Dares Wins

I liked the grainy photo of Winston with the 4th Hussars in 1895, and also with his cute dog, Rufus in 1953. I love dogs! The 4th Hussars was an elite cavalry regiment.

I learned that Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, and was awarded Honourary American citizenship too. Churchill’s Birth Room where he was born on 30th November 1874, was fascinating. You can see his “Siren Suit” which looks like a pilot’s jump suit and bedroom slippers! You can also see his paintings and water colours. Yes, he was also a talented artist. Incredible! Amazing!

Strolling along to the Great Hall, I admired the fastidious collection of amazingly detailed minature lead soldiers with horses, artillery, flintlock rifles, cannons, bayonets & accoutrements from France. I also liked the Chinese porcelain from the Kang Hsi period. The big statue by Michael Vandervoot from the early 18th Century impressed me.

The Great Hall

With its 67 feet high ceiling, it is the highest point in the entire Palace of Blenheim. The big brass lock on the gigantic oak doors date from the 1840s. The simply splendid ceiling was painted by Sir James Thornhill in 1716. There is a ravishing statue of the Medici Venus from 1711. From here I began my Tour of The State Rooms with its priceless collections of porcelain, tapestries and porcelain. The collection of hand crafted German Meissen porcelain and Sevres porcelain in the Green Drawing Room is so exquisite. In the Red Drawing Room my eyes feasted in rapture on the 300 year old tapestry. The tapestry is made of silk & wool. It depicts the War of Spanish Succession and the ferocious Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria, Germany, which gave its name to the Palace. In the First State Room there is a painting of the last battle of the War of Spanish Succession at Malplaquet. I was intrigued by the portrait of Louis IV, The Sun King of France on the wall of the Second State Room. The tour finished in The Long Library which is really long! On the walls are shelves and shelves of lovely leather bound books like the ‘Works of Art Collection’ of Alfred de Rothschild and the immortal ‘The Story of the Malakand Field Force” by Sir Winston Churchill. I love books!! At the far end is a Father Willis Organ flanked by two cheeky cherubs. Above the Organ, the 1891 inscription reads:

“In memory of happy days

and as a tribute 

to this glorious home

we leave thy voice to speak

within these walls

in years to come

when ours are still”

I really like the poem which is very profound & meaningful. Music is played in the Long Library and Chapel on most Sunday afternons.

It was lunchtime and I felt a rumbly in my tumbly, and so felt complelled to adjourn to…the Water Terrace Cafe for a spot of Tiffin. Meaty Pork Pie >>

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with whole grain Pommery Mustard, tangy Branston Pickle & Tomato Chutney went down a treat! The pork filling has a very nice bite to it. YUMMIE! I LOVE a good pie!  The Cauliflower Soup spiked with Cumin plus toasted Foccacia bread is also good.

DSC_0046 Elegant fountains of the Water Terrace!

A marvellous Exhibition!

Suitably refreshed & rejuvenated, I went enthusiastically to Blenheim Place: The Untold Story Exhibition. On the way, I saw the mind boggling Blenheim Place Cake, a stunning example of “Pastillage”. Pastillage is made with sugar and egg white. The cake is gigantic! It is an exquisite & detailed model of Blenheim Palace.

In flagrante delicto…

The exhilarating Exhibition covers 300 years of enticing and incredible tales. It began with a shocking and scandalous scene of life sized figures of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill & well endowed Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland & mistress of King Charles II, in bed in “flagrante delicto”, both in their birthday suits as it were, Ha! Ha! The robots can move and even appear to “breathe”. The bosom of Barbara Villers was heaving! I was incredibly impressed!It was early in 1671 and according to legend, King Charles II walked in on a passionate tryst between John and Barbara…John was forced to hide in the cupboard. However, when the King discovered him he stated; ‘ou are a rascal, but I forgive you for you do it to get your bread.’

 

The Dashing Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill

 

Service with Honour

After years of loyal service and many wars, on 31 May 1701, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was appointed Supreme Commander of English forces in the Low Countries. Churchill served under 5 Monarchs in all! From 1702 onwards Queen Anne became Marlborough’s master. Marlborough is rightly famous for three great victories; Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenaerde, and the pyrrhic victory of Malplaquet during the War of the Spanish Succession. His detractors argue that these 3 great victories were made possible by the mistakes of his enemies, but there is a no doubting his aggressiveness and skillful maneuvering, combined with the flawlessness of his conduct of the battles. Note too that there were about equal numbers on both sides. What furthermore made Marlborough special was his ability to exploit success in battle: after a lot of victories he aggressively pursued the beaten enemy, maximizing the effect of victory. This was what President Bush idiotically failed to do in the 1st Gulf War when Saddam was defeated. Last, but not least, Marlborough had the eye of a master in managing an army. He was an expert in military logistics & looked after everything the army needed: pay, supplies, arms, maintenance, healthcare, all in such a way that for those who believe battles are won in their preparation, Marlborough would always win!

On August 13, 1704, the Duke of Marlborough engaged the main enemy force at Blenheim; a quarter (about 12,000) of his troops were killed or wounded, but the enemy casualties exceeded three times that number. Blenheim is actually named after Blindheim near the River Nebel in Bavaria.

The Duke’s plus points were

1. He prepared his army better than anyone else.

2. His soldiers loved him

3. He was a very able manoeuverer

4. He was aggressive

5. He thought out of the box

6. He exploited his successes

37th Foot at the Battle of Belenheim

To continue with the Exhibition…A ghostly hologram appeared of pretty Lady’s Maid, Grace Ridley, and she provided a running commentary, as we followed her to delve deeply into the illustrious family history as seen through the eyes of the household staff. A very colourful character was the fastidious & very wilful 1st Duchess of Marlborough. She supervised the building of the Palace and made many unreasonable demands on the architect and builders. She was very miserly and questioned every penny spent on the building. The 1st Duchess of Marlborough would have made Shylock look positively generous by comparison. It was very entertaining to see Grinling Gibbons struggle under the weight of stone carvings being tormented by the Duchess, as Grace tells of the wilful 1st Duchess, and her often irrational commands on the building of the Palace.

The Practical Duke

Shown into the laboratory of the eccentric Eton educated 8th Duke of Marlborough I was flabbergasted by his pioneering scientific experiments! Known as the “Practical Duke”, he introduced gas, electricity, central heating and a telephone system of his own design. The 8th Duke’s brother was Randolph Churchill, who was the father of Winston Churchill. Please see my article about Warwick Castle and Randolph Churchill’s liason with the Countess of Warwick…https://thetravellinggourmet.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/wickedly-wonderful-warwick-castle/

At various points of the experience, pregnant pauses allow you to temporarily step out of the story into the present. You can then study the graphic panels, interactive exhibits and even touch screen consoles. This allows you to learn more about the Marlborough family and their servants. At the touch of a button the fascinating link with the Spencers is uncovered, as well as details of how many men ‘Capability’ Brown used to dig and line the famous lake. My only suggestion is there should be more time to study the exhibits during the pauses.

Architect “Capability” Brown

It was amazing to learn about the servants’ life at Blenheim Palace; their wages, how they worked in the iconic Palace, and their close relationships with the family over the centuries. Many fascinating stories are told – sometimes shocking, happy & sad, but always eye-opening. You really appreciate the grandeur and glamour of this magnificent Palace when you learn its secret history. I was absolutely thrilled by the tantalising tales of dramatic events that affected the lives of all who have lived here. I discovered too that the old Bell system is still in use. No.8 is the Dining Room & they can serve the Souffle from the Kitchen to the Dining Room in just 34 seconds!

At the end Grace Ridley, the 1st Duchess’s beloved maid & the Duchess walk off into the sunset, hand in hand…

This remarkable & unforgettable new experience lasts about 35 minutes and is included within the Palace, Park and Gardens ticket price.

Devilishly Delicious…AFTERNOON TEA!

Tigers, TEA & Terrific Treats!

After the enlightening Exhibition, it was time for a spot of Tea…traditional English Afternoon Tea of course…in The Indian Room.

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In his original design for the Palace, the famed architect Sir John Vanbrugh intended the area beneath the Long Library, which is where the present Indian Room & Water Terrace Café is situated, to be a grotto. This was never installed & during the 18th century the area became known as the Stone Gallery.

The 5th Duke (1817-1840) in the 1820s altered the area considerably. The Stone Gallery was converted into three rooms with the southernmost becoming a Drawing Room. This was entirely filled with Japanese panelling plus a large mural depicting tiger hunts in India. Hence the name ‘The Indian Room”.  They were not into conservation in those bad old days. The setting is simply idyllic with simply glorious views of the Water Terrace and the gushing fountains. An effervescent flute of Besserat de Bellefon Champagne NV was placed before me. Admiring the mural on the wall of tigers hunters on an elephant in British India,

I sipped the bubbly with persistent tiny ‘pearls’ plus appetising lemon peel notes…

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Alchemy porcelain, Utopia steelware & spotless white tablecloths set the stage for a lovely Afternoon Tea. In a flash, the goodies appeared…Eled the waiter was very attentive and helpful. The yummies were temptingly presented on a 3 tier cake stand. Ueber-chunky traditional Fruitcake with velvety Marzipan & Fondant Icing 30mm thick,

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irresistable Meringue with Hazelnut Creme, Super-Big Scones with Clotted Cream and sexy Strawberry Jam, delectable Sandwiches of very tasty Beef & Mustard, Smoked salmon, Egg Mayonnaise & ravishing Roast Chicken, Mini Chocolate Log Cake and fruity Mince Pies! Yummylicious! The slightly crumbly scones were as delicious as those I have enjoyed at The Dorchester in London. With the terrifically tasty morsels, I savoured Twining’s aromatic Orange & Cranberry Tea…I was in gastronomic Heaven!

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Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace and proposed to his wife Clementine at the Palace. Winston said “At Blenheim I made two decisions – to be born and to marry. I am happily content with both”.

Situated in rustic Woodstock, just 8 miles from Oxford, Blenheim Palace  offers an unforgettable, appetising, entertaining and enlightening day out for all, young and old. The gift shops have many unique and wonderful souvenirs which I could not resist buying! Do come here soon, you will love it! {:-)

Blenheim Palace

Woodstock,

Oxfordshire OX20 1PP,

United Kingdom

Phone: 01993 810500

2013 Opening Times 

Season Description
Overall Dates
  • Saturday 9 February to Friday 13 December 2013
  • Saturday 9 February to Sunday 3 November 2013 (Palace open daily)
  • Wednesday 6 November to Friday 13 December 2013 (Palace open Wednesday to Sunday)
Opening Hours
  • Palace & Formal Gardens open daily, Gardens open from 10.00am, Palace from 10.30am to 5:30pm (last admission 4.45pm) with areas to be vacated by 6.00pm
  • Park open daily from 9.00am to 6.00pm (last admission 4.45pm or dusk) except Christmas Day – all areas to be vacated by 6.30pm latest

Individual Prices for 2013

Palace, Park & Gardens Ticket 9th February – 13th December
Adults £21.00
Concessions £16.50
Child £11.50
Family £55.00
Park & Gardens Ticket
Adults £12.00
Concessions £9.00
Child £6.30
Family £32.00

Concessions: over 60s or students (with a valid student card)
Child: are between the ages of 5 and 16yrs inclusive (under 5s enter free)
Family: 2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children.

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About thetravellinggourmet

As a renowned Travel, Food & Wine Writer he has travelled the world in a keen & indomitable pursuit of exotic delicacies & fine wines. His articles have been published in over 20 prestigious publications, both local & international. Dr. Lim has toured and trained in Wine Evaluation & Oenology in most of the world's top wine producing areas from France to Australia. The Travelling Gourmet says, "Gastronomy has no frontier. These are the gastronomic voyages of The Travelling Gourmet. My unending mission. To explore strange new cusines, to seek out new wines and new culinary experiences, to boldly go where no gourmet has gone before...." All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage & retrieval system, without permission from Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet and/or MSN. Material may be works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents may be true but may also be products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance whatsoever to actual person or persons, either dead or living, events, or locales may be entirely and purely coincidental and unintentional. No part of this website may be used to villify others or for criminal purposes. Interests: Travel, Food, Wines, Cooking, Wine Appreciation, Parachuting, Languages, Music, Reading, Swimming, Hunting, Ballet, Fencing, Archery, Anthropology and more... The Travelling Gourmet is a copyrighted trademark. All rights and photos reserved. No part may be reproduced without permission.
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