So much of our trip to Scotland and England was the result of serendipity, including our day spent at Blenheim Palace and the Battle Proms. When Rachael and I were planning (via Facebook Messenger) the time our families would spend together, we had decided on a visit to Blenheim because, while my family had been exposed to many castles, only Doug had been to a palace before and I though the kids would be thrilled to visit one. Serendipity came into play when we discovered that, on the very day we planned to visit Blenheim, the annual Battle Proms celebration would be taking place there in the evening.
The Battle Proms is, basically, a huge outdoor “picnic” concert and celebration of British patriotism and history. The closest thing I’ve got to compare it to on this side of the Pond is The Hunt in Far Hills, NJ, which I’d gone to once when I was much younger and which entails very civilized tailgating (think champagne and strawberries instead of brats and beer). The Proms takes place at 5 different venues throughout the summer, and July 12, 2014 was Blenheim’s turn. It was also the celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, so big things were planned, including a choreographed flyover by The Grace Spitfire, credited as the first plane to shoot down an enemy craft just south of Normandy beach on D-Day.
After I found out this news from Rachael, along with the fact that the Battle Proms would feature the 1812 Overture played by an orchestra and accompanied by cannon fire, I couldn’t wait to tell Doug that another part of our travel plans sounded amazing. He was so excited, and still talks about it. I think it was one of the things he was looking forward to most, and that’s saying a lot as he’s the one with the Scottish heritage!
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control, the only one of the Hodgetts family who was able to accompany us for our day excursion was Simon, though I don’t want to imply that he wasn’t enough. Rachael was kind enough to pack us a lovely picnic dinner for the Proms, taking into account the kids’ food preferences and allergies. Simon served as our driver for the trip, and I think both Doug and I were relieved to have the break–him from driving on the “wrong side” of the road and me from sitting on the “wrong side” of the car and trying to keep calm. We lucked out with a gorgeous weather day, as we had for nearly the entire trip.
It was Saturday, and Blenheim was crowded with tourists. Most likely even more than usual because of the Proms taking place that evening. Hypocritically, I don’t think of myself as a tourist in England because I lived there for nearly a year, which is utter crap but I’ll still stand by it. After all, I’ve probably seen more of the country than the typical Brit and I can speak in both the American and British lexicon (just don’t ask me to affect an accent–my English accent is as bad as Simon’s American one).
Blenheim Palace dates back to the early 18th century, when Queen Anne gave John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, the land and money to build it in gratitude for Churchill’s victory at the battle of Blenheim in 1704. (The battle, like so many others, was against the French). If the name Churchill sounds familiar, it does for the right reason: Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in 1874.
We watched an interactive history of the Palace that reminded me of something usually found in Disney World (animatronics), but it did a good job of explaining some of the nearly 400 years of history surrounding the huge manor home. Afterwards, we wandered through an exhibit that honored Sir Winston, and then through the library, past the Willis Organ, and into the Chapel.
I have to admit that I’m absolute rubbish in a museum after about 1-2 hours. I get excited about visiting, but then I either get bored or just tire of walking around. It’s mainly due to the crowds, but my back often starts to hurt too and after too long I become Ms. Cranky-Pants. This was fine because the kids crapped out before I did. We decided to cut our losses and get lunch. It was wonderful watching Simon entertain the kids when the whining was starting to
piss me off wear on my nerves.
After lunch, we headed back to the car in order to drive it over to the part of the grounds hosting the Proms. Still, we were in no rush, since the Proms was an all-afternoon-into-evening thing, culminating in fireworks once it got dark. We were looking at seven hours with nothing to do but listen to music, chat, eat, relax, and wander around the vendors.
The Proms was crowded, but not overwhelming, and it was fun to see the groups of people decked out in their Union Jacks, enjoying very proper table settings and food. We had some American flags planted around our area, and they actually attracted an American who missed other Americans. She was in Oxford with her family for the year and wanted to chat with some other Americans, strangely. They were from Kansas, if memory serves correctly.
The Rockabellas, a group meant to evoke The Andrews Sisters, sang on stage. There were some battle re-enactors, and the aforementioned Spitfire flyover. The band played, the cannons accompanied Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the night ended with fireworks. It was a fantastic day and night!
Next: Visiting Harry Potter