The Doomsday Book of 1086 describes Woodstock as a royal forest. Following this auspicious start, it continued to be a place of interest for the elite – King Henry II courted ‘Fair’ Rosamund Clifford in Woodstock, Elizabeth the 1st was once held prisoner in the town and many medieval kings resided at Woodstock Palace prior to it being destroyed during the English Civil War. Woodstock’s place in the hearts of the modern aristocracy was, however, cemented with the construction of Blenheim Palace, the residency of the Duke of Marlborough.
Today, the picturesque town bears some evidence of its extraordinary history. Though most of the buildings were constructed in the 17th century (when the first Duke of Marlborough moved in), some much older ones still stand – The Macdonald Bear Hotel, for example, is built around the original coaching inn that dates back to the 13th century.
Fittingly for a town whose name derives from the Old English meaning ‘clearing in the woods’, at the heart of Woodstock lies Blenheim Palace. Set in over 2,000 acres of Capability Brown’s landscaped gardens, this is the place to start when visiting Woodstock and a long, leisurely walk around the grounds is an excellent way to while away the afternoon (wellingtons are advisable). Don’t forget to have a look inside the palace itself – the bedroom in which Winston Churchill was born is a particular highlight.
Once in the small knot of market streets that comprise Woodstock, there is plenty with which to fill ones time. Start by visiting the Oxfordshire Museum to see some examples of the gloves in which Queen Victoria placed her hands (and esteem – a Royal Warrant was issued to local glove manufacturers of Woodstock by the monarch). Though a small town, Woodstock offers two excellent options for accommodation. The first is the aforementioned Macdonald Bear Hotel. Steeped in history, ask a member of staff to show you the original beams and some of the glove-making machinery.
The town centre itself is home to a fair few shops of note. For clothes, head to The Cotswold Tailor, which specialise in making a wide range of apparel out of traditional British cloth, and the Chica Ho boutique, which stock modern luxury clothes. Woodstock is also home to two impressive furniture shops which provide plenty of scope between them for lovers of old-fashioned and modern carpentry (they are Antiques at Heritage and The Real Wood Furniture Company respectively). For a bargain, drive to nearby Bicester Village.
Hunger brought on by all that exploring is easy to sate in Woodstock; The King’s Arms offers a mix of modern and classic British cuisine and tea and snacks are amply supplied at either Harriet’s Cake Shop and Tea Rooms or Hampers Food and Wine. If you wish to head further afield, Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat-Saisons and The Fat Duck are within easy driving distance. Organic treats can be found at the nearby Daylesford Organic Farm.
The second, Hope House, was constructed at the same time as Blenheim. It is now a luxury boutique hotel within the ancestral home of a descendant of the original occupants – the Money family. The hotel now offers a glimpse of the spectacular history of the house (The Moneys were well acquainted with the Churchills and throughout the hotel are little reminders of the friendship, from letters to footprints belonging to the Churchill family carved into the lead of the roof) within the impressively and lovingly updated accommodation.