A Saturday at Oxford Summer Courses is usually spent on a delightful day out at Blenheim Palace – a beautiful Baroque estate in the Oxfordshire countryside built in the early 18th century for the first Duke of Marlborough’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the birthplace of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There we enjoy Capability Brown’s famous landscapes, take the lakeside walk, admire the victory column, or take the little ‘toy’ train to the pleasure garden complete with a maze!
On those shockingly rare occasions that Britain sees some rain (read similarly unusual British sarcasm here), the day can be more than well spent taking the tour through the state rooms, which hold stunning art and decoration and furniture by various masters, and alongside all the heirlooms come a wealth of family anecdotes, spider-webbing across the British, political and royal elites of the last three centuries. Squabbles with Queen Anne, ambitious and embittered Vanderbilts, treaties with King Louis XIV, and even the annual rent payment to the crown, consisting a single banner adorned with three fleur de lis can all be found along the tour.
Upstairs an amusing and immersive tour leads you through Behind the Scenes at Blenheim with a delightfully plummy speech from the pukka Duke himself and almost as an afterthought, at least as it is presented, we stop by the Winston Churchill exhibit; a fascinating and moving in-depth study of the great war hero and leader. An un-missable day out, only made better by winding down at a concert at the Sheldonian – I remember a particularly spectacular rendition of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony this July.
A Sunday is made up of a fun variety of optional activities including soaking up the abstract and absurd at Modern Art Oxford, a visit to shopping outlet Bicester Village, the gift to the university city of designer clothing at (closer to) student prices, or touring some of the other colleges of Oxford University and museums not already visited during the week. Oxford Summer Courses students can also use the free time for their own exploration, repeat activities such as the very popular punting, or study time to prepare for the week ahead.
The picturesque scenes of Oxford’s countryside are only a few hundred yards from the city centre and our Sunday afternoon country walk is an idyllic package through Port Meadow, along the canals and up to the The Trout for lunch- a quintessential riverside pub- even with wild horses included en route! Sports are also arranged, ranging from football and cricket to Quidditch(!) to an organised sports day with group teams competing in traditional village races such as the egg and spoon, wheelbarrow and sack races, as well as water-balloon throwing, all for the ultimate prize- the incomparable creations of Oxford’s own ‘G&Ds’ ice-cream revolutionaries!