Digressions of a Traveling Housewife.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Haven't been to England since 2003, when I last came with Jon. This time, instead of staying in Cheltenham, we opted for the Hilton Puckrup Hall, a golf oasis in "the back end of nowhere."
After one night at the Hilton Heathrow, we stopped by Blenheim Palace, residence of the Eleventh Duke of Malborough and a World Heritage Site for our list. A pleasant and impressively huge palace, it was built for the first Duke, John Churchill, for winning the Battle of Blenheim. Queen Anne built it for him and his wife, Sarah, her friend and confidant. Unfortunately, spiraling costs on the home broke up the friendship, according to a travel show we watched Stateside. According to our tour guide, it was something else entirely, jealousy on the part of Sarah when Anne took a poor relation of Sarah's under her wing, usurping Sarah's place. Hmm. This difference of opinion speaks to England's protection of it's monarchs, even those long deceased, as much as to the States' willingness to reveal every nuance of the monarchy's pecadillos.
One of the most interesting facts I learned on tour was that Queen Anne provided that the duchy pass from the Duke to his heir, male or female. This strikes me as rare, and probably owes to the Queen's own succession to the throne. (I enjoyed the story's feminist overtones.) The second Duke was in fact Duchess Henrietta, John's eldest daughter.
Since then, however, there have been nine additional Dukes, including the fourth Duke who revived the Churchill name, and the Ninth Duke. Charles Spencer-Churchill, first cousin to Winston Churchill, married Consuelo Vanderbilt for a much-needed influx of cash. She brought $15Million with her, and refurbished the castle, providing "an heir and a spare" before divorcing Charles after 11 years of marriage. The John Singer-Sargeant painting is a masterpiece of deception; Consuelo towered over her husband (she was nearly 6', he was 5'6"). Note the step added to the picture, to help disguise the disparity. Also, note the two Blenheim Spaniels in the painting.
After touring the grounds (really, we were looking for the open exit), we sped up the M-5 to Tewkesbury and the Hilton Puckrup (two syllables, not three) Hall and Golf Resort. Too bad we don't play golf -- it's quite lovely here, except for the rain. Today I plan to enjoy the swimming pool, take advantage of the health club, and head into the tiny town for lunch.
I'm using my two weeks here as a private little writing retreat, working on my current project, and reading heavily. Tewkesbury has at least one second-hand bookstore, where I purchased The Lawless Road by Graham Greene, and several pubs. I've eaten twice at the Black Bear, not because it was so good, but because our first night in town it was the only pub still serving, and on Monday it was... the only pub serving lunch.
Ah, jolly old England. They roll up the sidewalks at 8 pm.