Part Eight: Blenheim Palace, continued
Blenheim Palace, continued
We enter the Saloon, a huge room with a painted domed ceiling depicting the first Duke as the harbinger of peace, riding a chariot. We go through more state rooms and find ourselves at one end of the Long Library, designed by Christopher Wren. The room is aptly named; it is almost two thirds the length of a football field. At the far end is the largest privately owned pipe organ in Europe. During the holidays, Karen tells us, Christmas trees are set up the full length of the room and school groups sing carols.
Halfway down the hall we pause at a display of ducal coronation robes. The lady’s robe was made for Consuelo, the woman with the giraffe neck. Seeing these robes gets us talking about the tradition of English college students wearing academic gowns. Karen tells us that her daughter has recently been fitted for her gown, which she will wear during Cambridge University’s matriculation ceremony. As a Cambridge graduate herself, Karen is clearly a very proud parent.
We go into the chapel and see first Duke’s elaborate marble tomb and sarcophagus. It too has references to his victory at Blenheim. Ginny asks where the other dukes and duchesses are buried. “Most are beneath us, in the family vault,” says Karen. Then she tells a ghoulish tale about a staff member who descended (alone) into the long-sealed vault to settle a question concerning the burial place of an estranged female family member. Apparently, he found her.
Our tour at an end, Karen takes her leave, Seren and Hannah attend to an errand, and Ginny and I step out into the warm sunshine and stroll through the formal gardens, enjoying the fountains, the statuary, and the views down to the lake. We rejoin Seren and Hannah on the basement level, passing through the crowded cafeteria for a private lunch in the India Room. During our scrumptious meal, Hannah tells us that she is responsible for organizing all kinds of special events at Blenheim, including the International Horse Trials, jousting, craft fairs, and a triathlon (in which Pippa Middleton recently competed). We agree that having any event at Blenheim would make it very special indeed. As we head back to the car, Hannah hands Ginny a bag. “Just a few more mementos of your visit,” she says.
As we drive away, I hear the rustle of tissue paper and look over to see Ginny digging into the bag. “Mmm . . . Does anybody want a Blenheim chocolate mint?” Nick gladly accepts. He pops it into his mouth as he turns south for Highclere Castle, the principal filming location for “Downton Abbey.”
Coming up next: Highclere Castle