Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

Why hurry when you can dawdle: A bike ride to Woodstock..

Cycling to Woodstock

Left Oxford about 9am and cycled to Woodstock  – either 10 or 12 miles away depending on which signposts you go by.

It’s a glorious ride along a cycle track all the way. Through the village of Yarnton but bypassing Bladon where Winston Churchill is buried.

A warm day brought up the scent from the over grown verges heady with feverfew and all the other wild flowers whose names I should know but don’t. Oxfordshire County Council is to be praised for holding back on the weedkiller and simply cutting back the verges where absolutely necessary. There were times when the wild grasses were six feet high.


Bliss. Brought back the memory of another great bike ride  – from Skibereen to Bantry.

Woodstock is best known for its stately home, Blenheim Palace, dwelling of the Duke of Marlborough.

Ian’s play about John Churchill, the first Duke richly rewarded for winning the battle of Blenheim records an entry from the diary of John’s wife: “ My lord returned from the wars today and did pleasure me twice in his top boots.” My favourite quote.

I had toast and a marvellous cup of coffee in Harriet’s Tea Rooms – Bewleys, you’ll notice.


And read the Observer while sitting in the sun before taking a stroll round the town.


This is an affluent place


which may explain the notice in one shop telling me that I must spend £14 if I want to use my plastic card. Reassuring to find a Coop there though.

The almshouses look fine though I did wonder who qualifies to live in them nowadays.


This is a bike ride that could be done in 90 mins but what’s the point in  hurrying? Dawdling Imagebrings its own rewards.



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A few books mentioned at the Blenheim Literary Festival, some on Syria, one on the Duchess of Marlborough

Blenheim Palace Literary Festival

Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, about 10 miles from Oxford, is the ancestral home of the Churchill family. In 1704, John Churchill, a brilliant strategist, defeated the army of Louis XlV at a small town on the Danube, called, in German, Blindheim. In gratitude, Queen Anne built for him the palace known as Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and at the same time made him the first Duke of Marlborough. John Churchill was married to Sarah, an ambitious beauty who became a lady in waiting to Queen Anne and greatly influenced her.

In 1964, the writer Ian Rodger, to whom I was married, was commissioned by the BBC to write a radio play in celebration of the 90th birthday of Winston Churchill. He chose, as his subject, the story of Blenheim. He researched the diaries and papers of Sarah – no Google in those days – and returned home one day triumphant, having unearthed an entry in Sarah’s diary: “My lord returned from the war today and did pleasure me twice in his top boots.”

The Blenheim Palace Literary Festival was held this week (Sept 14th…) One of the speakers at the festival was biographer Anne Somerset whose book, Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion describes how the friendship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill came to an end, precipitated by Sarah’s claim that the friendship was destroyed by the Queen’s lesbian infatuation with another lady-in-waiting. A book worth reading if you are at all interested in that period.

 I came to Woodstock for the discussion on Syria and before it started, spent a while having a wander round.The notice on the Bear Hotel (where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton stayed when visiting Oxford) filled me in on some more history: around 1100, Woodstock was a favourite place for Henry ll, father of Richard the Lionheart, and it was here that he had meetings with his lover, the fair Rosamunde while still married to the tempestuous Eleanor of Aquitaine ( Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.)



The Syria session was lively with Eugene Rogan, head of the Middle East Centre at St Anthony’s College, Oxford and author of the wide-ranging The Arabs: A History, Lindsey Hilsum Channel 4 editor of international news and author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, David Aaronovitch writer and commentator, the whole event chaired by Munir Majid, author of 9/11 and the Attack on  Muslims.

My own book, My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria, with an introduction by Eugene Rogan, is about a very complex country and its even more complex peoples. Here’s a link to it:


If you want to know what it’s like to visit an Arab family, hitch a life with some Kurds, ride a bike around Damascus, stay in a one-star hotel, listen to a desert poet, ride a camel, overnight with some desert nomads,fight off a sex-hungry host, spend Christmas 3000 feet up a mountain…. This is the one.

Order from me directly (info@bullstakepress.co.uk) and your signed copy will be posted the same day.

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