As I had so much GCSE Coursework to mark over the Easter break, I decided I wouldnâ€™t go away for the whole weekend, but would do some daytrips. On Friday I packed my little picnic lunch (being the budget conscious traveller I amâ€¦) and drove to Blenheim Palace, near Oxford.
To be honest, while the house is nice enough, it was the grounds I really loved. The most interesting thing about the house were the rooms set aside to tell something of Winston Churchillâ€™s life. He was born at Blenhiem Palace, spent much of his childhood visiting it and proposed to his wife Clementine here (the old romantic â€“ he picked a lovely spot, the small Temple of Diana overlooking the lake). The collection includes letters written by Churchill to his father while he was at school, including a detailed account of lengths to which he went to recover a watch he had lost in a small lake; very entertaining reading.
The grounds were lovely. I saw my first pheasants here (does it count as â€˜in the wildâ€™ when it is in the pampered grounds of a grand palace?) and enjoyed the walk to the Grand Cascade (man-made of course!).
On Saturday, my friend Helen joined me for a daytrip to Dover. We wanted to visit Dover Castle and see the White Cliffs as well. We had a lovely day for the visit. Although it was a little misty in the morning, it had cleared up by the afternoon.
The castle itself was quite interesting. The displays set up in the actual castle were based on Henry VIIIâ€™s one and only visit in 1593 (more evidence to confirm my opinion of him as a deeply unpleasant, arrogant manâ€¦). There was also information about the 1216 siege of the castle by Prince Louis of France (later Louis VII). From the rooftop, with the help of some artistâ€™s impressions, we tried to visualise the movements of the troops (difficult, with neat roads, homes and trafficâ€¦). The grounds of the castle also contain a restored Saxon church and a Roman lighthouse believed to possibly be the oldest standing building in Britain (it dates from AD 50).
Of more interest for me were the secret war tunnels used to manage the evacuation, known as Operation Dunkirk, of over 300 000 British, French and Belgian troops from Dunkirk during World War II. There have pretty much always been tunnels here since the construction of the castle, but a number of significant tunnels were built during the Napoleonic Wars when Dover was particularly vulnerable to a French attack. The tunnels remained an official secret until the 1980s (it was set aside after the war as a potential shelter for the government in the case of a nuclear attack). The tour was fascinating and I can recommend it.
Helen and I finished our day with a stroll over the top of the famous â€˜White Cliffs of Doverâ€™ â€“ apparently much better seen from the ocean! Nevertheless it was a pleasant day and a nice way to finish the visit.