Day 31: “Elderly People,” Elephant Man Trees, Foraging in England and The Maze

A friend in the program mentioned she would be going to Blenheim Palace on Saturday and asked if I wanted to go.  At that point, I thought my day trips were over due to the need for intense study time.  However, when I learned the palace was in Woodstock, just 20 minutes outside of Oxford, I was in!

I got to ride in my first double-decker bus.  So, of course Nicole and I get on the top level and in the front!  Here’s our view: (this is BEFORE the windshield got covered with 4 million bugs in 20 minutes…who knew this beautiful view would be traded for a liberal dose of bug gut spackling?)

As soon as we began reaching the outskirts of the city we saw two funny signs.  I’m not sure this first one would pass the “political correctness” muster in the U.S.  Do you?

I just really didn’t know what to think about it.  I can’t imagine any of the “elderly people” in my family coming to the conclusion that: a) Yes, we definitely need a sign to warn traffic we are running around outside; or, b) and PLEASE be sure to characterize us stooped over with canes.  That’s essential.

The second sign caught my eye because it’s election season back in the states.  I was thinking, is this like a straw poll?  Do they practice first, then do the real election later?  What the heck? Here’s the sign…

It turns out that in spite of the word “Mock,” this is an actual election for their real mayor.  I looked up the event when I got home and here’s what happens:

This ceremony is known to date back to 1786. A mayor and corporation for Old Woodstock are elected with ‘mock formality’ and then ceremoniously pitched into the River Glyme…

So, there you go.  In case you’ve ever wanted to throw your local politician into the river, you can actually get your chance if you live here.

Blenheim Palace is going on my list of “must see locations” for anyone who asks for advice about the area.  If you are a history buff, a Winston Churchill fan, a landscape or outdoors person…then this place is for you.  They don’t allow photographs inside the house, but the grounds will keep you and your camera busy for a long time.  By the way, there is a jousting competition this upcoming Saturday…cool!  Here is a picture of me in the Palace Chapel, pretending to give a sermon to all the family and servants (there was generally an average of four or five family members and between 50 and 95 servants).

Thou shalt not wear thy corsets too tight for fear of fainting!

Once we finished the historical “reality” tour, then were guided around the first floor by an older gentleman who must have pledged his loyalty to the family forever and ever by the way he praised their name.  We then took a little train out to the play area and “The Maze.”

The Maze was incredible.  Shaped out of ewes, it was comprised of a highly complex design with dead ends, curly q’s and two lookout decks (so you could look down to see where you were going and where you had been).  It took us about 25 minutes to get through the whole thing.

Here’s our emotional journey: Oh, this is neat.  Wow, how interesting.  Are we lost?  Which way did we come from? You lead, I’m lost. Geez, how long does this thing take…hey, there’s a lookout! Okay, that was cool…NOW I’m sure I know where we’re going.  I’m feeling lost again.  This is getting long.  Okay – this is really taking a lot longer than I thought – oh, hey! There’s another lookout tower.  Um, what time is it? Do you think they’ll close the gate if we don’t get out of here?  AHHH!!!! We’re free!

Here are a few shots of The Maze…

I’m not even going to talk about what happened after we left the maze.  In a nutshell, we went out of the back of the property rather than the front, and we walked around the entire estate.  45 minutes later, we made it back to the front just in time for the next bus.  It was a modern day miracle.

I will talk about the fact that on our walk we saw thousands of blackberry bushes and a cherry tree or two.  Both were loaded with fruit and I ate some.  Nicole kind of freaked, not knowing whether they were poison, had weed spray on them, etc.  I told her that blackberries were not poison, and that there were tons of weeds around the bushes, so I was taking a chance.  Then I told her that we should probably watch out for large bears who would also want the berries.  This is how I thanked my traveling partner – scaring her to death while we looked for the front of the property.

Right after the “death by poison berries” scare, we were met with an actual creepy image.  There in front of us was “Elephant Man Tree,” and his mouth was open in a permanent horrific moan as if to say, “Why? Why did this happen to me?!”  I have no idea if this is a tree disease, if this is a particular strain of tree that is supposed to look like this (I doubt it), or if there is another explanation.  These trees had extra funky trunkies.  I’ll sign off this post by leaving you with the images of the tormented trees.  Don’t scroll down if you get creeped out by trees that look like people screaming (well, one looks like an elephant or octopus face).