Bowled over by
AS a youngster, I had heard of the music concert at Woodstock where all my favourites had assembled to perform for thousands of music lovers. An old friend had written to me about it and had sent me cassettes of the concert. So on my last visit to England a few years ago I made it a point to drive into this beautiful countryside of Woodstock in the Cotswolds. I had no idea that I would suddenly come across Blenheim Palace, one of the most amazing examples of Baroque architecture that I had ever seen. Just as the native cakes and buns, this palace and its surroundings may be devoured in a few greedy bites, or elegantly nibbled and gently savoured. This is the best way to do it, to stroll through its rooms and colourful sweep of ornamental gardens and allow its many flavours and grandeur to permeate.
I had read much on
English history, the subject being compulsory in the school I went to.
And then, on top of it all, we in India had heard so much about Sir
Winston Churchill, that I just could not pass by this historic place.
From my history lessons I remembered that The Battle of Blenheim, a
major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession, was fought on
August 13, 1704, near the village of Blenheim, Bavaria (now Blindheim,
Germany), north-west of Augsburg on the north bank of the River
Danube. Anglo-Austrian forces, led by the British military leader John
Churchill, and the Austrian general Eugene of Savoy, defeated the
French and Bavarian forces advancing towards Vienna, Austria, under
the French marshal Camille de Tallard and Maximilian II Emanuel,
elector of Bavaria. After this defeat, French military domination of
Europe began to decline.
The large country house of Blenheim Palace, one of the most imposing country houses in England, was built as a gift from the British nation to John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, by Queen Anne as recognition of his crushing defeat of the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The palace, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, is set in about 2000 acres of parkland and is one of the finest examples of Baroque. It is Italian in design and its location in an English park does not seem to be out of place because of the joint efforts of Vanbrugh and "Capability" Brown, the chief Landscape officer. The most memorable part of my visit was the walk in the gardens which are renowned in Europe for their beauty and range from the formal Water Terraces, Italian Garden and the Rose Garden to the natural charm of the Arboretum Pleasure Gardens and Cascades.
After a leisurely walk in the Marlborough Maze, the world’s largest symbolic hedge maze that is located within the Walled Gardens, we took a little rest in the beautiful cafeteria next to the garden while the children frolicked in the Adventure Play Area. I was rather taken aback to find the Indian Room Restaurant which overlooks the Water Terraces and offers hot and cold buffet. The hot meal on the terrace rejuvenated me to once again begin my exploration of the place. The gift centre, the book shop in the palace courtyard and the souvenir stall in the water terraces gave me ample opportunity to do some exciting shopping and take back home some lovely gifts for my children.
The palace is arranged around a great court, with stables and kitchen flanking the house itself. The most imposing interior is that of the great hall, with carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The collection comprises tapestries, paintings, sculpture and fine furniture set in magnificent gilded state rooms. The saloon was magnificently decorated by Louis Laguerre in 1719-1720. I just could not wait to get to the Long library which measures about 200 feet in length and was decorated after 1722 by Hawksmoor. It took my breath away to see one of the longest rooms in an English private house. Being a book lover, I felt at home in the company of some 10,000 volumes and the magnificent four manual Wills Organ. Nearby is the grandiose chapel containing a huge monument to the First Duke of Marlborough.
I then walked over to the Churchill exhibition which includes manuscripts, paintings, personal belongings, books, photographs and letters that Sir Winston wrote to his father. The main attraction of this exhibition is the simple room where Sir Winston was born on November 30, 1874. I was quite excited standing here and thinking of the man who was once called "a genius without judgement", who rose through a stormy career to become an internationally respected statesman during World War II and one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers.
Moving out of this area, I strolled down to the Blenheim Lake that was created by "Capability" Brown and is the home of many varied fowl. Spanned by Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge which divides Queen Pool from the lake, its tranquil waters tempted me to take a boat and relax in the quiet of these beautiful surroundings. As I lay back in the boat, Churchill, as a chunky explosive redhead, came to my mind, especially his getting the lowest grades at Harrow. I was reminded how in later life he once said, "By being so long in the lowest form (grades) I gained an immense advantage over the clever boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English.
Thus I got into my bones the
structure of the ordinary English sentence which is a noble
thing." Amused by this arrogance, I gradually went into a little
snooze. And as I moved into deeper sleep I remembered the house in
Mhow where once Churchill resided as an officer and which I used to
pass everyday on my evening stroll and sometimes visited a friend who
was the occupant.