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Friday, August 3rd:

Good morning. It’s shortly after 9:00 in the morning. We had a wonderful night's sleep at the Burford House - the best night sleep we've had so far. My husband actually took a short nap while I watched the news and then he (and I) went to sleep for real.

We've just eaten a traditional English breakfast at the Burford; it was so huge we probably won't eat until dinner. Wheatabix, which our daughter had to eat as a baby because of her food allergies/reflux, is apparently a staple in the English breakfast diet - they look like a mix between a huge shredded wheat and a brick. We looked at each other and just laughed when we saw it.

We've stopped at the grocery store across the street to buy some drinks for the day. We're going to drive to Warwick Castle, which is north of Oxford. Our other planned stop of the day is Blenheim Palace. I've planned the day so that we should have freedom to make other stops if we'd like to. If not, we can spend as long as we like at both places.

I'm getting better at my map reading! We only got lost two times getting to Warwick, and both times knew we'd gone the wrong way immediately. When we passed the castle to park the car, I felt such excitement; it is everything I hoped it would be! A special thanks to Jennifer Schendel for encouraging me to make this one of our stops; when I told her it was on the list as a possible stop, she told me how wonderful it was. It was definitely worth the trip.

I am literally awestruck as we get our first view of the castle on foot; there are tears in my eyes looking at the castle after we walked through the turnstiles with our tour tapes. The main tower is immense and the outer walls with arrow slits are tremendous. Guy's Tower is incredible.

The area where Warwick Castle stands has a long history, dating back to the Dark Ages. The Tussaud Group, which bought the castle some time ago, has settled upon the period of the 1600's and later for much of what we'll see this morning. Warwick Castle, quite dilapidated by the 1600's, was granted to Sir Fulke Greville by King James I. Greville undertook an extensive restoration of the castle and was later murdered by an aggrieved servant in 1628. Greville's ghost is said to haunt the tower. The reason for his murder was that he only bequeathed to the servant twenty pounds. After the stabbing, surgeons tried to heal the wounds in his belly with pig fat - no wonder he died. The servant, upon stabbing his master, then stabbed himself and died an equally horrible death.

Now we are inside the castle itself; one of the rooms has a narrow window that looks out over the river. We saw some rushes wrapped up in the corner - those would presumably have been laid out on the floor in medieval times. We look down the hole of one of the garderobes; it goes down at least thirty feet. Wow.

We visited The Mound, which is the oldest part of the castle, built on orders of William the Conqueror in 1068. Considering its age, it's fairly impressive, although it doesn't look that way from the bottom. It's only after you climb to the top that you can see its full impact and how much construction there actually was at the time.

The vista from The Mound is quite something. You can not only see the entire keep, but you can see off into the distance a huge cathedral that sits on the other side of town. That big church is called St. Mary’s Church and it contains the tombs of, among others, Richard, Earl of Warwick, whom oversaw the trial and execution of Joan of Arc.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - my husband is a sweetie; he took a picture for me of St. Mary's Church in the rain - all I had to do was hold the umbrella for him.

Before going into St. Mary's, we stopped at the cemetery outside - we visited it in honor of our daughter, who loves graveyards.

We decided to walk the steps in the tower to the top of St. Mary's, but while we wait our turn, we are walking around this gothic-styled church. It's been here for over 800 years and all the Earls of Warwick are buried here. The church was originally built in 1123 AD but the towers were rebuilt in 1704 after they were destroyed in the great fire of Warwick in 1694. The organ has a magnificent set of pipes.

I’m afraid my fear of heights got the better of me as we tried to climb the steps in the tower - going up is never the problem. It's always the fear of coming down that scares me.

On my first try, we got about a quarter of the way up before I came down the narrow, winding staircase. I tried again and got about half way, before my husband insisted we leave it alone. I tried to convince him he should go on without me, but he said no, and we left the church. I hate this about myself - I really do. I hate being a weenie.

As we were leaving town, we wandered by a very old and attractive building and tower and later found out that it was East Gate, one of four gates built around the city in the 1500’s.

We have pretty well decided to add 15 to 20 minutes on arrival and departure times of every place we go because we have yet to get anywhere or leave anywhere and get there without taking some wrong turn. We are now on the road to Blenheim Palace and we are going to take the biggest roads to avoid as many circles as we can. It has been raining on and off, but hopefully it will be clearing up before we get there. If not, we are fine in the rain too.

Do all spouses bicker when they are lost and they can't find where they are on the map to go where they are going? Probably. Now I understand why, in all of the traditional regency romances I read, they are always complaining of the heat. Even when it's not very hot outside (by Texas standards, anyway), these castles and palaces and manor houses, without air conditioning, especially in the crushes they used to have, in the clothes they used to wear, seem hot - very hot! Luckily we have lots of water with us in my backpack.

I just realized that the clock in our car is on the 24-hour clock, which is how they tell a lot of time here. Who's to say that the a.m. and p.m. is better than the 24 hour clock and yet, when you look at a regular clock that's not a digital clock, it's a 12 hour clock. Something to consider.

My husband just noticed a Wheatabix truck. We laughed again.

We are now walking up to the entrance of Blenheim Palace, which is the home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. First we walked through an outer courtyard to an inner courtyard, where the entrance to the buildings are. Blenheim is actually U-shaped - the fourth (open) side leads out to its garden, pond, statuary, and outbuildings.

Although the color stone is perhaps not the loveliest, Blenheim is surely magnificent, with its columns, statues, and various and sundry doo-dahs on top. This is tremendously large estate. The two side parts of the "U" are perfectly symmetrical. The pond is apparently called the Queen Pool.

Blenheim was built almost 300 years ago by the first Duke of Marlborough. He was made a duke because his wife was one of Queen Anne's dearest friends. He was given the money and land for the palace by Queen Anne and Parliament because he was a great war hero. He was responsible for defeating the French in the Battle of Blenheim.

The front door has a marvelous and intricate lock and key - see right - that the fifth duke saw in Poland. He had it recreated here in 1825. The door may only be locked from the inside. The key is enormous.

Although Churchill was born here when his mother was visiting, he didn't actually live here, but he loved it so much and visited often. He is buried nearby.

The Green Room has portraits of current and past Dukes and Duchesses and has gold leaf surrounding the murals on the ceilings. One thing it was nice to verify is that the word "Marquis" is pronounced "Markess" in England. The fourth duke of Marlborough was actually a Spencer and a distant relative to Princess Diana. The reason for the Spencer connection is that the first Duke did not have any male sons to be heirs and was able to get Parliament to pass a law allowing his daughter to carry the line - she was the second Duchess.

The ninth duke of Marlborough had a marriage of convenience with Consuela Vanderbilt, who was locked into her room for four days until she agreed to marry him. Her mother wanted a title in the family that badly; he needed the money just as badly. The marriage was awful and ended in divorce. Neither marriage either had subsequently was any better.

We saw an enormous Van Dyck while at Blenheim, and also saw what was known as "chaperone couches," which date from the Victorian period. They were built for the courting couple on one end and a chaperone to sit on the other.

The first Duke of Marlborough commissioned ten tapestries while the house was being built which featured his successes as a warrior. His defeat of the French in Bavaria at the Battle of Blenheim is of particular importance (hence the name of the house). At the time, Louis XIV sought to gain the Spanish throne when there was no direct heir and the remainder of the European community were not pleased. The Duke was 54 at the time of this critical battle.

Because they were commissioned as the house was being built, they are built for the house - including where one wall intersects at the perpendicular with another. The largest of the tapestries is the surrender of the French. To get the reds and blues very vivid in the wool, they interwove silk threads at a much higher thread count per inch than usual. As with the Raphael cartoons we saw in London, cartoons were first prepared of the various battle and war scenes, then sent to Brussels for the creation of the actual tapestries.

One of the tapestries is interesting in that it has a dog in it - the Duke's favorite. Unfortunately, the artist who designed the tapestry didn't know how to draw a dog, so this dog features horses hooves for feet and human ears. And, the dog is running not like a dog, but like a galloping horse.

It cost 220,000 to build the palace; the grounds total 22,000 acres. Given what we know about the worth of 10,000 in 1800 (see the end of our new Historical Cheat Sheet article entitled A Quick Guide To British Currency), at well over half a million dollars, and the enormity of this gift to the duke sinks in.

A "state room" literally means a room for a head of state - the king or the queen. There were generally multiple state rooms on these estates and visitors were allowed into successive rooms based on how well they knew the king or queen.

At the end of our tour of the house we saw a statue of Queen Anne that was commissioned by the first duchess, Sarah. The statue is six feet tall and quite regal. Queen Anne, by the time she died, was 4' 10" and weighed 280 pounds. She had been through 17 pregnancies in 18 years. Five of those pregnancies came to term, but three were stillborn and the rest were miscarriages. Of the two babies who were born alive, the baby girl died as an infant and the boy died as a child.

Before leaving the house we saw the chapel, where the first duke and his wife are buried. He was 74 when he died.

While much of the garden was done by a French landscape architect, the Grand Cascade was designed by Capability Brown, whose name I've come across several times in doing the Castle of the Week. The Grand Cascade is wonderful, as are the more formal gardens.

On our walk through the grounds, we passed the Temple de Artemis;

this is where Winston Churchill proposed to his wife.

After visiting the temple, the rose garden, and the Cascades, we made our way back to the palace on what was probably not the regular pathway, but our story is that we're there to help the woman in the wheelchair in front of us, and we're going to stick with it! On our way back, we came across a mamma duck and her two baby duckies in the pond.

We made it back to our car just as it started to rain. We drove back to Burford, stopped again at the grocery store for snacks (a Cadbury bar for him and a fruity/yogurty thing for me) and rested in our lovely room. Then we walked down to the Lamb's End Hotel for dinner. The restaurant is the favorite dining spot of the owners of our hotel. When you arrive at the hotel, they take you into a sitting room for drinks. It is there that you look at the menu and order. Later, when your first course is ready, they take you into the dining room. Dinner looks to be quite tasty, although my husband has taken a dislike to the hostess!

Dinner was wonderful; we were exhausted afterwards, and my husband still hasn't come to grips with the two hour dining experience that accompanies every dinner. I remember this from earlier trips, but it does seem a little long when there are only the same two of you who have already spent all day in each other's company. Still, we never run out of things to say, which is nice. Still, we had a very big day today and we're exhausted from that. We fell very quickly to sleep.

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