I’m of an age to be on the edge of “the Woodstock generation.” I knew about the Woodstock Music Festival, of course. I followed it in the news when it was happening. I subscribed to papers like The Village Voice, the Boston Phoenix and the Avatar. I had a few older college friends from New York who went. But the closest I ever got to it was watching the documentary movie Woodstock when it came out in 1970, the year after the festival.
Anyway, that’s not the Woodstock I’m talking about today. The one I’m thinking of is the Woodstock in Oxfordshire, England, which is about as far as you can get from the revolutionary tumult of “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s army” as you can get. It’s a little village just north of Oxford that is best known for its immediate neighbor, Blenheim Palace, the grand country estate designed by Sir John Van Brugh’s for the first Duke of Marlborough. (The first duke’s given name was John Churchill. His descendant Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim in 1874.) If you haven’t been there, you might still recognize it as the backdrop of a number of period films, most recently The Young Victoria.
My wife and I first visited Blenheim Palace in 1989. The interior is impressive, but I believe we enjoyed ourselves more wandering the vast lawns and gardens designed by the famous 18th century landscape designer Capability Brown.
We took our daughter to Blenheim Palace during the summer of 2002. That night we stayed at The Bear Inn, an old coach inn in the center of Woodstock that dates from the Thirteenth Century. It’s an imposing place with thick stone walls and overstuffed four-poster beds. It’s said that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used to like to sneak away to The Bear. I can’t say the service matched the ambiance. But it was neat and clean. And when we opened the windows of our room we were greeted by the sight above. I can’t say whether it’s the picture itself or just the memory of that moment. The picture has the benefit of the elevated perspective, the colorful triangular arrangement of red mail trucks and the casual demeanor of the people at The Star Inn enjoying a beer at the end of a warm summer afternoon. Whatever the case, this has always been one of my favorite travel pictures.
Just out of sight to the right of the picture above is the Woodstock Town Hall, shown below. Although the quality is poor, this is also one of my favorite travel pictures. This picture was taken just after a brief thunderstorm had passed. The sun was setting just below the clouds, casting that wonderful golden light on the front of the building.
We had dinner that night at a pub just down the street and strolled the neighborhood nearby afterwards while listening to the choir of the church next to The Bear perform the Mozart Requiem.
It happened that one of the local ladies’ societies was having a rummage sale in the Town Hall the next morning. My wife and I went over to look through the piles of silver, china, books, prints and other flea market flotsam. We bought a few things. Some of those trinkets still litter our house.
Woodstock Town Hall, 2002