Blenheim Park
Revealing the land

Feeling a little thirsty on my way to Blenheim Palace recently, I ducked into the service area on the M40 west of London.

The M40 is the sort of highway that makes everywhere look the same. The food stalls in the service area offer mostly non-British food, starting with Chozen Noodle and ending at Starbucks. Was this the real England, I wondered?

Blenheim Palace, built in 1710 for the first Duke of Marlborough, has its own history of masquerade. Its architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, designed the palace as a stage set. And today Christmas tours of the palace are given a “Cinderella Theme.”

But the landscape at Blenheim offers the pleasure of location instead of style.

Lancelot Brown designed Blenheim Park as a carpet of undulating grass that stretched from clumps of trees and forests straight to the house. As with most of his projects, he didn’t reshape the land as much as he “revealed its Capabilities.” Hence his nickname, “Capability Brown.”

As I stood at the village gate to Blenheim, people were strolling over the meadow, some pushing perambulators, as at home in the place as others were in hoop skirts 250 years ago.

The present Duke of Marlborough has converted the west wing into a Tea Room. I went and had a cup.