June 21, 2014
We slept-in today and caught breakfast just before the restaurant closed for mid-day. We headed 12 miles (35 minutes) up the road to Blenheim Palace. Blenheim Palace is “a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace.” http://www.blenheimpalace.com/.
They were having a garden show that would have sent Grandma Donna over the moon. We parked on the edge of a field that was dotted with giant oak trees that seemed to stretch for miles and wandered through the stalls of vendors selling plants and garden accoutrements until we found the palace. We went on the tours available through the house, including an exhibit on Winston Churchill, who happened to be born here because his mother was here at a fete when she went into labor with little Winston. The lavishly decorated palace was in Kiki’s words “boring….boring…boring.” Jeff commented that Donald Trump must’ve used their designer. We had some lunch in one of the palace gardens and then wandered the never-ending grounds. There were several gardens and massive amounts of wide open delicately manicured lawn. Jeff LOVED the lawn. After wandering for three and a half hours, we took the little train to the “pleasure garden.” The kids squealed with delight while running through the garden maze (until Kai got lost) and playing on the playground. Kiki finally had changed her tune and screamed “this is fun!” Phew. After checking out the butterfly house, an intensely hot and humid greenhouse filled with fluttering butterflies and exotic tropical plants, we headed out to find where we’d left the car. We outlasted almost the entire field full of cars (five and a half hours)!
Another 20 miles up the road (1 hour 20 minutes), we went for an evening visit at Mary Arden’sFarm, the house where William Shakespeare’s mother grew up. During the day it is a working farm with several hands-on exhibits demonstrating farm life during the time of the the Tudors (16th century). On this particular evening they had an event to celebrate midsummer’s night, a night when the fairies come out to play tricks on people, that coincides with the Summer Solstice/the feast of St. John the Baptist. The girls made fairies, listened to a fairy story told by a woman in Tudor-era clothing and then went on a fairy hunt. A giant parade of children wandered through the farm, finding a “fairy tunnel” (a very cool tunnel made of growing willow branches) that led to the fairy world. In the center of the forest they found the mischievous fairies being watched over by Oberon, the fairy king. The parade moved on to a recently vacated cow pasture (complete with manure) for a massive bonfire to ward off the evil spirits that are said to hang around with the turning of the season. Some of the Tudor ladies ran and jumped a portion of the fire to cleanse themselves of impurities. After the fire, we were led back to the courtyard to witness a traditional medieval Midsummer night’s feast as eaten by 20 or more costumed villagers. I found the entire experience fascinating. From there, we found our hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon, had a bite to eat and headed up to the room. Jeff took a walk and stumbled into a pub for a spot of Whiskey while I tried to get the wired kids to sleep.
It was another delightful day.