Finally took my mum to Blenheim Palace – seven months later than planned (because 2020)
Up until recently, I’d been to Blenheim Palace three times and each visit had one thing in common: it was always for Blenheim at Christmas, the extravagant festive light show that takes place throughout their seemingly endless palace gardens and forest trails.
Despite this, there was something distinctly different each time.
- 2016: I went with a friend as part of a work press trip, which was totes sophisticated – we had afternoon tea and everything. A dad-to-be at that time, I could only imagine going back with my then-unknown child.
- 2017: Roma had arrived! So the moment I envisioned the year before became a reality as we took our then seven-month-old little lady along for the ride.
- 2018: We returned as a family and walked the winter woodland, but entered the palace too. Majestic within, it was made even more magical with a seasonal Cinderella-themed story being told throughout through dazzling displays.
2019 came and went as we decided to give the Christmas lights a break for a year.
However, at the start of 2020, I told my mum I’d take her for a treat around her birthday in February, but we decided to wait for the weather to pick up – LOL.
- Coronavirus struck.
- Lockdown happened.
It seemed any hope of doing anything over the course of summer (or for the rest of the year, who knew?!) was gone.
We know now that’s not been the case. And with September delivering the goods on the weather front like baby bear’s porridge – jusssssssst right – I’ve made good on my promise to the old girl, taking her and Roma along for a press visit last weekend.
My mum had never been to the Palace but had always wanted to visit, Roma had no proper memory of it and I was excited to see the site in daylight and explore different areas of the sprawling surroundings, so there was something for all of us to benefit from.
On arrival outside the main gates, it’s easy to see things have changed with socially distant queues in place in front of the ticket booths and an array of antibacterial gel-filled pumps on offer.
We made a beeline for the palace first, thinking it would be wise to tick that off before queues got any longer. There was already a wait of around 20 minutes to get inside, with guest bubbles of around ten being allowed in at timed intervals following a briefing from a visor-wearing member of staff.
In addition to offering some history about the building, she also reminded us that all visitors 12 and over would need to wear masks while walking the historic halls. I was also asked to place my backpack on my chest, though it remains unclear how that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Inside was just as grand as I remember – if somewhat jarring to be there in the day and without a carriage made of pumpkin, a glass slipper and little mice scattered around.
My mum and Roma were both enamoured by the colours, the décor and overall splendour of the grand manor, as each room varied from the next. Roma even got involved with dissecting the abstract art display from British artist Cecily Brown, which is currently spread throughout the venue as part of the work done by the Blenheim Art Foundation.
Exploring the grounds
Once we got outside, obviously Roma wanted to go back in – which wasn’t out of the question. The first tour we completed took place downstairs and the next queue was to go upstairs. But with a half hour wait, we decided we’d be better off making the most of the autumnal sun that had blessed us and give her (and me) the chance to burn of some energy.
@dadultlifeOh there goes gravity 🤾🏾♂️ ##loseyourself ##eminem ##fyp ##foryou ##boxjumping ##plyometrics ##fitness ##blenheimpalace
With so much space outside, there’s more than enough opportunity to spread out from other guests without fear of social distancing becoming an issue. So having ticked the palace off the list, we made our way towards the river where there was the chance to go rowing.
After a ropey start, we got moving and I soon found my rhythm. The setting was beyond spectacular. The sun glimmered across the water and we got a one of a kind view of the palace from the boat, as we rowed the length of the lake alongside the woods.
There was another sight in the grounds that was a must-see, something I wasn’t aware existed there until that day: The Harry Potter Tree. Cordoned off, a centuries-old tree that featured in Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix can be found, surrounded by Potterheads.
From afar it stands out and up close it’s easy to see why. Considered “one of the most iconic features” in the ground, it’s estimated to have been planted as far back as 1763. In order to ensure it doesn’t give in to old age, a £5,000 preservation project took place in 2016 as tree surgeons stabilised it to give it plenty more years of life.
Finally, without Hermione’s Time-Turner to hand, it was a case of making a judgement call on what we could squeeze in before it was time to head home. Though my flower-loving old dear wanted to hit the Formal Gardens area, she decided we should take Roma to the Pleasure Gardens part of the site.
After speaking with an especially friendly member of the team, Sam Monaghan, we were advised to board the Miniature Train there or else we’d have a ten to 15-minute walk to get there. We planned to take his advice and thought the train would have also been a nice novelty for Roma, but on joining the station queue for the next train, I noticed a worrying sign that said: Due to social distancing measures, the maximum capacity for each train journey is 32 persons or eight family groups/pods.
Clearly standing there in hope with our fingers crossed didn’t work. As you may have guessed, we didn’t make it on board, missing out by just one pod. The driver then told us we had a 25-minute wait for the next train across. This is the only issue we had with the day.
She wanted to wait of course, but that would mean her getting bored and restless, so we managed to twist her arm and convince her that walking to the Pleasure Gardens would mean more time to play. She was sold!
Now we’re all for social distancing, but the train seemed pretty much empty, with entire rows of seats blocked off and left empty, which seemed excessive. It seemed as though wearing masks on the train would have been a better course of action to avoid so many people being left behind, of course still maintaining the separation of families in different pods.
Anyway, we made it. Between being carried on my shoulders and finding conkers on the way, Roma was happy. And she got even happier when we walked through the gates to the adventure playground. From feeling like a giant at the model village and clambering around the climbing frame, there was a trampoline and carousel swing that also gave her plenty to smile about.
The only thing we didn’t get a chance to test out was the hedge maze, which is currently closed due to social distancing. It’s a shame too because it looked incredible.
Perhaps sensing the struggle of parents trying to get their kids to go home, a team member soon came along to fill the role of bad cop and let us all know it was time to make our way to the exits and vacate. The miniature train had stopped running at this point sadly, but it just gave us an opportunity to squeeze in some tree climbing on the way to the car park.
All in all, Blenheim Palace makes for brilliant family fun and there’s plenty to see and do – evidently, since we didn’t get around to it all – whichever time of the year you choose to visit.