On Sunday we left our cosy basement flat in Cheltenham and drove across to St Albans in Hertfordshire. We chose this as our base as I have an event in Chelmsford on Tuesday (about an hour north east) and then two days around Rickmansworth and North London (south) so it’s fairly central (and out of the busyness of the city).
We drove via more of the pretty Cotswold villages and found ourselves in Chipping Norton, which is gorgeous. On the way into town we came across the most extraordinary building with a giant stack attached to it. On further investigation we learned that it was formerly Bliss Tweed Mill. It’s a striking building with the most enormous chimney stack atop a dome (sort of looks like a plunger) but the building itself is magnificent and has apparently been converted into apartments since the closure of the mill in 1980. It would be a landmark building to call home.
We then drove to the very quaint village of Woodstock. We must have missed the main gates into Blenheim Palace but I think we got the most beautiful view of the palace and grounds as we came in through another entrance. What a pile it is. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim is enormous, ornate and has the most stunning grounds designed by Capability Brown.
I knew Winston Churchill had been born at the palace but hadn’t registered that his grandparents were the Duke and Duchess. I stood at the top of the gardens imagining what it would have been like to have the run of the palace during the school holidays, when young Winston was a frequent visitor. There is a very interesting Winston Churchill archive in the house and access to the foyer, State Rooms, dining room, library and chapel as well as the grounds. Unfortunately it was extremely chilly and started to rain so our visit to the gardens was short. However, Blenheim currently have a deal where you can convert your one day pass into one year – so we did that and hope to make it back again before the 23rd November 2014.
We drove into Oxford and had a very quick look around. It’s a place we’ll have to come back to and spend a proper amount of time but the light was fading and we were keen to get across to St Albans. Ian booked us into St Michael’s Manor and I have to say it’s gorgeous. St Albans wasn’t a place I knew much about at all but turns out it was one of the three largest Roman cities in England and a seat of power. There’s a museum dedicated to the Roman times and a beautifully preserved mosaic floor in the middle of the sports field (which has a building over the top to protect it). There are other mosaics in the museum and the most stunning park which runs alongside the river up to the St Alban’s Abbey. Another treasure we didn’t realise was here. I’ll let the photographs do the talking suffice to say we’ve been really taken with the area and it’s proximity to London and other centres. It would be a great place to be based when we come back in 2014.