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Blenheim Palace Parkland

A fine walk in peaceful countryside to one of Britain's top country houses.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 150ft (46m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks, parkland paths and estate drives. Some quiet road walking, 3 stiles

Landscape Farmland and parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 180 Oxford

Start/finish SP 411158

Dog friendliness On lead in grounds of Blenheim Palace

Parking Spaces in centre of Combe

Public toilets Blenheim Palace, for visitors; otherwise none on route

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1 From the green, take the road signposted 'East End'. Swing right by the village pump into the churchyard and keep to the left of the church. Exit through the gap in the boundary wall, flanked by two gravestones, and begin skirting the right-hand edge of the sports field. After about 50yds (46m), branch off into the trees, then head diagonally across the field. Cross into the next field and keep to the right edge of the wood. In the next field, turn left, still with trees on the left, and go up the slope to the woodland corner. Pass through a gap in the hedge and cross the field.

2 Exit to the road, turn left and keep right at the next junction. Walk along to Combe Gate. Go through the large kissing gate into the grounds of Blenheim Palace, keep left at the junction and follow the drive through the parkland. As it sweeps left to a cattle grid, veer off to the right by a sign 'visitors are welcome to walk in the park'. Follow the grassy path to a stile. Keep right when the path divides and walk beside the western arm of The Lake.

3 Eventually you reach a tarmac drive. Turn right and walk down towards the Grand Bridge. As you approach it, turn sharp left, passing between mature trees with Queen Pool on your right. Cross a cattle grid and keep ahead through the park. With the Column of Victory on your left, follow the drive as it sweeps to the right.

4 Turn left at a cattle grid, in line with the buildings of Furze Platt on the right. Join the Oxfordshire Way, cross a stile and follow the grassy track alongside trees, then between fields. At length cross a track and continue towards woodland. Enter the trees and turn left after a few paces to join a clear track running through the wood.

5 After about 150yds (137m) take the first left turning, crossing a footbridge to reach the edge of a field. Keep right here, following the obvious path across the fields. When you reach a track, turn right. Keep alongside trees to a junction. Turn right and follow the track down through a wood and diagonally left across a strip of pasture to an opening in the trees. Go up to a track and cross it to a ladder stile.

6 Turn left to a hedge, then turn right, keeping it and a ditch on your right. Skirt a field to the road, turn right and walk back into Combe.

When King George III first set eyes on Blenheim Palace, he remarked, 'We have nothing to equal this.' Few would disagree with him. The views of the palace, the lake and the Grand Bridge from the waterside path on this delightful walk are stunning. Set in a magnificent 2,000-acre (810ha) park landscaped by 'Capability' Brown, the great Baroque house covers a staggering 7 acres (2.8ha) and is England's largest stately home.

Blenheim Palace took nearly 20 years to build and was finally completed in 1722. The architect John Vanbrugh was commissioned to design the house for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), following his victory over the French at Blenheim in 1704. Inside, there are various state rooms and tapestries, the Long Library - considered by many to be the finest room in the house - and the room where Winston Churchill was born in 1874.

It was Queen Anne who decided that John Churchill's efforts in battle should be suitably rewarded, reflecting the high regard in which the nation held him. But what exactly did Churchill do to earn such respect? As a soldier and as a statesman, he was responsible for supressing Louis XIV's grand imperialist ambitions in Europe. His spirit and determination resulted in a crushing and humiliating defeat of the French at Blenheim on 13 August 1704. Though he had achieved his objective, Churchill was not ready to retire from the battlefield and he went on to secure many more victories in his illustrious career.

In gratitude, Queen Anne conferred the Royal Manor of Woodstock on the Duke of Marlborough and his heirs in perpetuity, and a sum of £500,000 was voted by parliament for the building of Blenheim Palace. But problems lay ahead. The Duke's wife, Sarah, was Princess Anne's favourite companion before she became Queen in 1702. Sarah used her close friendship and her influence in royal circles to secure a dukedom for her husband, and it was she, not the Duke of Marlborough, who approved the plans and then supervised the building work. Proving just how ruthless and determined she could be, Sarah rejected Sir Christopher Wren's designs in favour of those produced by John Vanbrugh.

The Duchess remained a thorn in the side of builders and architects for some time, insisting that all she wanted was a 'clean, sweet house and garden, be it ever so small.' Parliament complained about the spiralling cost, money gradually ran out and the Duchess forbade Vanbrugh from seeing the finished building in 1725, refusing him entry to the grounds.

Characterised by ornament and exuberance, creating a memorable skyline, Blenheim Palace - decidedly not 'ever so small' - is not to everyone's taste, though the immense scale of the house has to be seen as a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of its creators. The vast parkland and gardens, too, are renowned for their beauty and range. Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge is the focal point, but elsewhere there are formal water terraces and an arboretum - among many other features.

Where to eat and drink

Refreshments are available at Blenheim Palace - the Indian Room Restaurant serves full lunches and afternoon tea, the Water Terrace buffet offers a wide selection of hot and cold food, and the Pleasure Gardens Cafeteria has a self-service buffet. Sandwiches and drinks are available from the Country Kitchen. The Cock Inn is a pleasant village local. Expect a range of beers and a selection of snacks and main courses.

While you're there

Have a look at Combe church. The original building, which was in the valley about 1 mile (1.6km) from its present site, was built during the Norman period. The present church was built or rebuilt in about 1395, about 50 years after the villagers moved their homes up the hill out of the valley. The design of the church is a prime example of the Early Perpendicular style, with a stone pulpit and medieval stained glass. Unusually, the war memorial at Combe gives the dates the men of the village who lost their lives. All except one died in the First World War.

What to look for

The Column of Victory dates back to 1731 and was built to commemorate the heroic efforts of the 1st Duke of Marlborough on the battlefield. Until the mid-19th century, this famous landmark was home to one of the last pairs of breeding ravens in the county.

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