A Winter Walk at Blenheim

February 9th, 2019
Penny Hampson

Last week, bored after being restricted to home because of the bad weather (we had a fair bit of snow where I live), I decided a visit to Blenheim Palace was called for. Not for a tour of the house, I’ve done that before, but for a walk in the gardens and around the lake. Even at this time of year there are lots of things to see, and I love spotting the changes brought on by the different seasons.

View of Column of Victory from Blenheim Palace

Entering the main courtyard at the front of the Palace, it was gratifyingly free of tourists, so there are some positive benefits to visiting out of season. From my photo you can see the scaffolding adorning the West Quadrant of the Palace, which is being used to effect stone repairs to the whole of that side of the building. According to the Palace website, this restoration project will cost around £285,000 — which puts my house maintenance costs into perspective!

Scaffolding on the West Quadrant at the front of the Palace

Anyway, husband and I headed off through the formal gardens of the fountain court, where the water was sparkling in the winter sunshine, to the pathway towards the rose garden and the Cascade. At the start of the walk we passed the Temple of Diana, a delightful and romantic summer house where Winston Churchill proposed to Clementine Hozier on 11th August 1908. I must make a summer house the scene of a proposal in one of my next stories.

Fountains on the Water Terraces

Skirting past the Churchill Memorial walk on the left and the rose garden on the right, we saw pheasants grazing amongst the trees — the first time I’ve seen them this side of the lake.

Pheasants grazing

We finally arrived at the Cascade, which was in full roaring flow, very impressive. Last year when we visited, shoals of small fish darted about under the bridge and along the banks, this time we didn’t see any.

The Cascade

Then we climbed the path to view the top of the Cascade and started to follow the trail alongside the Great Lake. Despite the cold and the lack of greenery, it was an enjoyable walk.

Drifts of snowdrops on the opposite bank reminded me that spring is on its way.

Snowdrops and pheasants

I also spotted ‘my’ heron, one I’ve seen on several occasions and nearly always in the same place. Unfortunately, I only managed to catch a distant shot of him in flight along the lake. Perhaps next time I’ll get lucky!

Heron in flight

Walking along the lake back towards the house gives you a great view of Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge that separates the Great Lake from the Queen Pool. At the moment work is being undertaken to dredge the lake to restore the ecological balance. I hope it all goes according to plan and that next time I visit I’ll be able to spot fish in the water. A memorable experience of a few years ago was seeing several pike swimmingly lazily about at the far (Woodstock) side of the Queen Pool — they are seriously impressive fish!

View of Vanbrugh’s bridge over the lake from Queen Pool

And finally, what trip to a stately home or garden is complete without a visit to the tearoom? After an hour or so in the cold, a warm drink was very welcome… not to mention a slice of cake, then it was time for home.

Tea and cake!

I wonder if Sarah Churchill, the wife of the first Duke of Marlborough, envisaged that hordes of tourists would descend on Blenheim. Apparently, although Blenheim was not her favourite place, she took a great interest in its construction, falling out with anyone who did not do exactly as she wanted. As I walked along the paths in the park, I imagined what it must have been like when it was first built, and wondered how the ladies in their long and cumbersome dresses managed to navigate some of the steeper pathways — perhaps they stayed in the formal gardens. I’m so glad I have my walking boots!

Rear view of Blenheim and the Water Terraces

Hope you have enjoyed this brief trip to Blenheim. See you soon!

Woodstock and its church seen from Blenheim Park

Blenheim Palace is near Woodstock, Oxfordshire