Just outside the spreading grounds of Blenheim Palace is the little village of Woodstock. It is one of those charming little places that seems to transcend time. Well, if there weren’t so many dang cars parked up and down the streets, that is. But the houses are old stone, the windows full of flower boxes, and the doors have adorable little fox and lion door knockers. After we exhausted ourselves at Blenheim we were revived by the charm of this little village and its loveliness.
This little hamlet is the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous composers: Edward Elgar. Everyone knows Pomp and Circumstance, which is played at nearly every graduation in the world, but he was an amazing composer well beyond that lovely piece of music.
Elgar was born in a tiny brick house in 1857. Being one of my husbands favorite composers, we made the trip to Upper Broadheath to see the house and the small museum erected nearby. It was a lovely little spot–the house small but cozy, the garden lovely with fall flowers and apples trees heavy with fruit. The museum was well put together and had interesting displays, artifacts, and of course, listening stations to hear his music.
In London there is an area around Charing Cross Road that is loaded with used bookstores. It’s not as packed as it was when I first visited in 1995, but there are still a fair amount still around. Quinto Books is one of them.
I don’t mind mentioning that we came home from this vacation barely making our luggage weight because of all the books we bought. Not only did we spend a serious amount of hours in Blackwell in Oxford, we also spent the better part of a day knocking around Quinto’s and others like it on Charing Cross. Kosta was looking for history (Ancient Greek or WWII) and music books, while I was intent upon handsome old volumes of fiction and life in Tudor England. We each came away happy, as you can see.
Have you ever seen the TV show Doc Martin? If you haven’t, I demand you go find it right now and watch it. It stars Martin Clunes as a possibly Asperger’s surgeon who developed a phobia for blood and had to take a position as a town doctor in the small coastal town of Port Wenn in Cornwall. Port Isaac is the place where this show is filmed and Kosta and I made a special trip to see it during our 2012 trip to England.
Let me first tell you about driving in Cornwall–if you have any tiny little hint of anxiety disorder I suggest you avoid it at all costs. The roads are about the width of a horse’s butt, lined with tall hedgerows and corkscrew around like a Matchbox car race course. Don’t forget as an American, I was driving backwards to what I was used to. And then of course the locals drive like demons escaped from hell. I felt like peering through my fingers the whole time I was behind the wheel.
But once we got there? PERFECTION. This town is so breathtakingly charming I could have stayed for months, just wandering the streets and the grassy cliffs above. We didn’t see anyone famous as they weren’t filming, but we did see Doc Martin’s house, Mrs. Tischel’s chemist’s shop, and actually stayed at the Old School Hotel which is the school where Louisa Glassin teaches. It was an extremely cool experience.
Until we had to get back in the car and drive back to Oxford.
I’ve spent a little time in this achingly beautiful town. In 1995 I did a study abroad tour called Eurospring where a group of us studied at Oxford for five weeks and then had a three-week bus tour of the Continent. It was the best thing I had ever done in my young life and the travel bug bit me hard.
I’ve been back twice since: once with my mother in 1997 and once in 2012 with my husband. If you’ve been reading my posts this month you’ll already know I studied Gothic architecture in college, and this town is chock-a-block with it. It’s heaven for someone like me to just wander the streets and look up at all the beautiful buildings.
I can’t believe though, that it took me until 2012 to take a tour of the Bodleian Library. Kosta and I both positively went weak at the knees when we were led up to the stacks on the second floor. Oh, but could we have touched those books. Just one little fingertip on a spine.
Yes, I know I’m a nerd. Proud of it too.
My husband introduced me to the best haunted house story ever: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. They made a movie of it in 1964 starring Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn, and Claire Bloom. While most of it was shot on a sound stage, the exteriors of Hill House were shot at Ettington Park, a manor house in the area of Stratford-On -Avon in Warwickshire.
We were so excited to see the place because The Haunting is one of our favorite movies… we watch it every year at Halloween. So when we saw the edifice in person it gave us a delightful chill. It is now run as a boutique hotel mainly catering to weddings, so we decided to peek in the lobby. We spoke briefly to the receptionist, who called over the caretaker, a man named Peter. He was very affable and was delighted to take us on a 45 minute tour of the house and grounds, telling us of the history. It was really remarkable and unexpected, and we had a blast.
Just outside of Oxford, England lies the imposingly grand palace of the Duke of Marlborough. I have been here twice. Once on my study abroad tour in 1995, and once with my husband on 2012. There are no words to convey the vastness or the grandeur of this place. The grounds go on farther than the eye can see and the house almost does too. The formal gardens are beautiful and the park is lush and inviting.
An interesting thing about this place is that Winston Churchill was born here. His mother was related to the family. There is a neat little display in the room where the great Prime Minister was born. It has wonderful memorabilia, including his “siren suit,” a red jumpsuit he used to don in midnight bombing raids. He must have been quite fetching in it.