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Christmas at Blenhiem Palace: The Most Festive Place in the Cotswolds

 

 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the VIP press launch of Christmas at Blenheim, an exclusive event being held at beautiful Blenheim Palace in the heart of Oxfordshire. Located in Woodstock, just 10 miles from the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, and is open all year round. As the Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, tourists gather in their thousands every year to explore the house and it’s stunning grounds. As a local Oxfordshire girl I’ve been going to Blenheim since I was around 5 or 6 years old, and have been an annual pass holder many times. Blenheim is the perfect place for a family day out, a dog walk or just for a lazy stroll around the lake on a Sunday morning. The market town of Woodstock is worth a visit too, and I always pop in to some of the little shops, pubs and café’s when I’m stopping by – The Black Prince is a firm favourite of mine! The festive Christmas at Blenheim event was first launched back in 2016 and I can’t believe I haven’t visited until now! I’ve been wanting an excuse to attend so, when I was invited to the VIP press launch, I just couldn’t resist bringing my mum along for the ride and getting us both into the Christmas spirit. Here’s what we got up to, and what you can expect from your visit to Blenheim this Christmas…

 

 

The Great Court

 

 

Upon arrival we were taken into the Orangery for a welcome drink and a speech by the CEO of Blenheim before mingling and enjoying some festive nibbles. The Orangery is part of the estate I have never been to before, but it is decorated beautifully and is host to regular events at Blenheim, as well as being used as a restaurant serving evening meals, lunches and afternoon tea. Between the Orangery and the gift shop, with the small café inside, lies the Great Court. This is the starting point for the festivities of Christmas at Blenheim and is home to food stalls serving Bratwurst sausages and gourmet burgers as well as yummy churros and delicious donuts too. Opposite the food stalls you’ll find a helter-skelter, a carousel and a couple of other fairground favourites; tokens for which can be purchased at an additional cost. The Great Court looked super pretty all decorated in sparking lights, and got us feeling festive the moment we walked through the entrance archway.

 

The New Christmas Markets

 

 

A new attraction for 2018, the New Christmas Markets are located right in the middle of the main courtyard, just in front of the palace itself. Lined with lights and Christmas decorations, the markets sell every kind of gift you can think of, from cheese, chocolate and wine to portraits, bath products and pets toys. My mum and I spent some time wandering around the markets before we did the Cinderella exhibition and it was really lovely to see so many stalls set up all selling lots of fab gifts. We then sat down in the outdoor seating area (which was actually pretty small given that there were so many stands!) and indulged in a traditional German Bratwurst. The smells of the meat cooking, mixed with the smells of the sweet treats on sale, made our mouths water and I can see how people really get into the Christmas spirit whilst visiting this section!

 

The Fairytale Cinderella Experience

 

 

Another new attraction for this year, the Fairytale Cinderella Experience was something I was really looking forward to seeing as I am a TOTAL Disney Princess 😉 Upon entrance into the main palace you are greeted by Christmas tree after Christmas tree, glittering with lights, bows, flowers, stars, anything you can think of that is slightly sparkly is waiting for you in the entrance hall! We said hello to one of the staff members before heading off on the Experience. I’ve been to the palace many times so know what all the rooms are like, but the sheer amount of twinkling lights and decorations made it so much more magical and they have really done a fantastic job of making the palace look extra special. Each room is decorated with props and clothing from a certain character from Cinderella, so you have Prince Charming, the Wicked Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters and then lovely Cinderella herself right at the end, with a gorgeous display of her dresses illuminated against a back drop, and the stunning glass slipper encased in a glass box! There are of course some of Cinderella’s friends dotted throughout the trail and I think you are supposed to count the mice in each room along the way, but I was totally distracted by the sheer beauty of every room that I totally forgot to count! I was really impressed by the Cinderella Experience and I do think it is worth the money to pay extra and see this exhibition whilst you’re at Blenheim for the evening… it was truly magical!

 

The Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail

 

 

This was what we had been waiting for, the main reason I wanted to attend and the focal point of the entire event, the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail was the last stop on our itinerary for the evening and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I had seen so many photos online which looked amazing but, if I’m honest, totally didn’t do the place any justice, and it doesn’t really look as good until you see it in person. But let me tell you, it is well worth being surprised and seeing everything up close and personal as every single section is just incredible! You’ll be taken on a winter wonderland and lead through a variety of different areas including a tunnel of lights, a majestic waterfall, a sea of flowers hanging from the trees and a singing statue in the middle of the lake. The lights, the animation, the music, everything is seriously spectacular and I could have done that trail over and over again. It takes around an hour to complete the trail, maybe a little longer if you have small kids who want to run around and take everything in, and there are some muddy paths and steep hills in places, so be careful if you’re bringing the buggy. The trail was the best part of our entire evening and I would recommend that everyone does this part of Christmas at Blenheim as it’ll leave even the Scrooges amongst us feeling full of festive cheer!

 

 

As I’m sure you can tell from the insane amount of twinkly lights and Christmas trees, I had such a fantastic time at Blenheim for this event and it really got me feeling festive!  Everything from the Great Court to the Christmas Markets looked absolutely stunning, and the attention to detail on some of the décor was second to none. The brand new Cinderella Experience was better than I thought it was going to be, and I can see this being a real hit with kids and adults alike – especially if they’re visiting the Palace for the first time. The real crowning glory though was of course the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail which totally blew me away. Every single section was expertly decorated, with the music, lights, silhouettes and props looking incredible from every angle. I honestly had the most magical time at Blenheim and I really can’t wait to go back again next year! Have you been to Blenheim Palace before? And have you been at Christmas time? Let me know what you thought of it, and I would love to see all your festive photos!

Don’t forget to head to the Blenheim Palace website to purchase your tickets for this event, but be patient as it is hugely popular. I spoke to the CEO of the Estate when I was at the press launch and he told me that a whopping 82,000 tickets had already been sold before the launch night had even started, so get yours here if you want to book your preferred dates! Tickets cost £36pp for combined entrance to the Cinderella Experience and the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail, whilst tickets to just the Lights Trail cost £26pp.

Love Jess x

NB. Big thanks to the fab teams at Flamingo PR and Blenheim Palace for hosting me on this wonderful event! My tickets to Christmas at Blenheim were provided to me complimentary for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

 

 

April Newsletter!

 

 

Hi everyone!

So as usual I’m late putting my newsletter up as I’ve had another CRAZY few days towards the end of this month attending the fantastic Traverse conference in London! I got back from Vienna right at the start of the month, have done some exciting day trips and have taken on some new blogging opportunities too! It was so lovely to have some much needed time off over the Easter break, and here’s how my April went…

 

I took part in my first April fools day campaign

 

 
Right at the start of the month I produced a sponsored post in collaboration with the fantastic Netflights team showcasing five beautiful destinations that look as though they belong on a totally different planet. I had a really good response from this post from you lovely lot and you seemed to really enjoy it! For the eagle eyed readers amongst you though, you might have spotted something slightly odd… and I can now reveal that this post was in fact an April fools day campaign! GOTCHA!! Did you twig?!

 

I reached 3000 Twitter followers

 

 

 

This is a HUGE milestone for me and I’m so pleased to have finally reached the big 3K mark on Twitter! A few years ago I could never have imagined that even just 3 of you would follow me on Twitter and be interested in reading my blog, let alone 3000 of you! A big thank you to everyone who has followed me and my journey over the past few years, I can’t wait to keep growing my blog and my social presence and am eternally grateful to all of my wonderful readers. Next stop, the big 5k! 😉

 
I went to Blenheim Palace for the last time this year 

 

What a beautiful day and what a beautiful part of the world we live in ☀️☀️ #blenheim #sunshine #sundayfunday

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So if you’re an avid reader of my blog, and you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I go to Blenheim Palace an awful lot! It’s so close to my home (just a 15min drive) and it’s one of the most beautiful places in Oxfordshire. Sadly our annual passes have come to an end and we won’t be renewing them until 2018, but we had one final wander around the grounds and the palace on a lovely sunny April weekend. I really made the most of my last visit to Blenheim and went for lunch in Woodstock too to make a proper day of it. I will obviously be returning to Blenheim again soon, just not for a year or so until I renew my AP, but I’ll miss this pretty place! Until next time, Blenheim 😘

 

I had a girly spa day

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Back in January I booked a spa day as part of my sister Sophie’s 18th birthday present for the two of us as well as my mum and other sister Hannah and we couldn’t wait for our first girly day of 2017! We headed to the super modern Bannatyne Banbury Spa in Oxfordshire, around 40 minutes from home, and were treated to back massages, facials and full use of the facilities including pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub. We had lunch there to make a proper day of it and it was so lovely to spend some quality relaxation time together – I totally switched off and had a good detox. I love a good spa day and it’s even better when I get to spend it with my beautiful family!

 

I had an exciting meeting with a local PR company

 

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So I can’t say too much about this at the mo, but last week I had a super cool meeting with a local travel PR company in Oxford and I think I’m going to be working with them at some point in the not too distant future on reviews and press trips! I’ll bring you more news as and when I have it, but all I can say is that I’m really excited to be working with a fantastic team and I can’t wait to get cracking on some new blog projects for 2017!

 

I had the most amazing weekend in London at Traverse17

 

 

 

Ahh I’ve just got back from a brilliant weekend in London for my second time attending the fantastic Traverse conference! I went to the Cardiff event last year and it was fantastic but this year was EVEN BETTER with more workshops, more events, more brands and sponsors and lots more parties! Michael, Paul and the rest of the Traverse team ensured every single one of us bloggers were well looked after at the Ravensbourne building next to the 02 arena and I learnt such a lot from my three days there.

 

 

I networked as much as I could, making sure I spoke to as many people as possible, and this really helped to boost my confidence. The highlight of the weekend was a river cruise along the Thames hosted by CityCruises and CheapFlights – seeing all the famous London landmarks lit up after dark was mesmerising and something I’ll remember for a very long time! Thanks Traverse team – you da best! <3

 

So my April was filled up nicely and wasn’t too crazy busy but it ended on a real high with my recent weekend in London. The month of May is now upon us and I’ve got some exciting things planned as well as my first beach holiday in three years with a week in Tenerife to look forward to at the end of the month! How did your April go? Let me know in the comments below!

Love Jess X

 

 

Also here's me loving life at #CanaryWharf just because tube station tourists have more fun 🚇🚇 #youknowit #TravelTuesday #I'mageek

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December Newsletter: Happy Christmas!

So yesterday was #christmasjumperday and I finallyyyyy started to feel #festive for the first time this December! 🎅🌲🌟

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Happy Christmas Eve-Eve!!

Ahhhh just two more sleeps – I can’t believe it! I know I say this all the time but it genuinely only feels like a couple of days have passed since I wrote my November newsletter, not a whole month! Because of the Christmas break, this newsletter is being brought to you a little early this month, and I have an End of Year Review coming just before the New Year, so watch out for that too, but first here’s how my December went…

I launched my first giveaway

 

It's HERE! My big #Christmas surprise! Go find out what it is over on the #blog- link in bio!! #Wordpress #newpost #blog

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So I’ve never done a giveaway before, but I see a lot of other bloggers doing them and it always seems to work out nicely; I get a few new followers and you get something in return, and it’s Christmas after all 😉 My giveaway is super simple- just go ahead and ‘like’ my Facebook page, if you haven’t already, and the person who is my 500th like will WIN a prize – it couldn’t be simpler! GOOD LUCK!

I went to The Clothes Show

 

Loved meeting @fernemccann today @clothesshow – what a babe! @ambamarie19 #clothesshow #birmingham #sundayfunday

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This was a last minute decision me and my friend made, and I am SO glad we did! We found cheap 2-4-1 tickets online and headed to Birmingham’s NEC Arena on a frosty Sunday morning in December ready for a full day of shopping! I’ve been to The Clothes Show before and loved it, and this was the final year it was going to be held in Birmingham, so it really was the end of an era! We had a lovely day of shopping, grabbing goody bags and celeb spotting too. The show is relocating to Liverpool next year so hopefully I’ll get the chance to attend when I’m up visiting the family!

I took a trip to the Birmingham Christmas Markets

 

I just love #Christmas markets 🎅🌲🎁🎡 #Birmingham #GermanMarkets #SundayFunday

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I went to the Frankfurt Christmas Market Birmingham the same day I was at The Clothes Show, just because we finished early and had time to spare before we had to be home that night! It was super easy to get to the city centre from the NEC – we left the car there, hopped on a train to New Street and arrived within a matter of minutes. The train was cheap, totally stress free and sooo much easier than driving into the centre, faffing with finding a space and paying for parking! The Markets themselves were lovely and super festive, selling everything from handmade chocolates and sweets to little fluffy hats and children’s toys. The Birmingham Markets are the biggest German Markets in the UK, and I would 100% recommend taking a trip there if you get the chance!

It was the public vote for #UKBA17

 

 

As most of you will know, this year I was SHORTLISTED for an award at UK Blog Awards 2016 and the whole experience was fantastic from start to finish. When I found out that the awards were running again in 2017 I knew I just HAD to take part for a second year running and entered my blog in the travel category again. The public vote went live two weeks ago and closed this Monday. During this time I promoted my blog, and my entry, and tried to get as many votes as I possibly could! Good luck to all the other wonderful bloggers too, I know there was some tough competition in my category alone! The shortlist will be announced on 2nd Jan 2017 and I am PRAYING that I make it there again as it would kick off my 2017 in the best way possible – I will of course let you know the outcome and am keeping my fingers crossed!

I discovered Christmas at Blenheim Palace

 

Oh baby it's cold outside ❄️☃ #sundayfunday #blenheimpalace #decemberdays #cotswolds #oxfordshire

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As an annual pass holder I get to visit Blenheim Palace ALL the time, and I totally love it! I go during spring, summer and autumn, but my favourite time to visit is in December, when winter is in full force and the Palace looks even more beautiful than it usually does. This year they’re hosting a special event called ‘Christmas at Blenheim’ which, sadly, I haven’t been to yet, but I have been on the normal days and it’s special anyway so that will do for me! I love exploring the inside of the Palace, gazing up at the artwork on the grand ceilings and wandering around the acres of grounds outside too. Blenheim is particularly pretty during winter so go if you get the chance, spring will be here before we know it!

I started planning my travel adventures for 2017

 

Planning for my 2017 #travel adventures… It suddenly all seems a little bit real! 🌎✈️🚂 #jessdoeseurope

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So this is kind of exciting, but I have been in full on planning mode for the past couple of weeks and already have my first two trips of 2017 sorted! I’m off to Copenhagen for a few days in February (bring on The Little Mermaid!!) and have booked a cheeky week away in Tenerife at the end of May (thanks Jet2 – those free flights came in handy!) – it’s been three years since I had a beach holiday or done any kind of relaxation on a trip so I am really looking forward to it! I’m also in the early stages of planning my European Adventure – details will be revealed in the new year but what I can say is that I’m gonna be doing a 10-week-14-country stint across the continent at some point during 2017. Watch this space… I am so excited! #JessDoesEurope

Well that’s it from me – I’ll be publishing my End of Year Review next week, but until then I hope you have a wonderful Christmas – eat, drink, be merry and ENJOY IT! Happy Christmas everyone, and thank you as always for reading my blog, you have no idea how much it means to me that it’s still going strong after 2 and a half years!

Love Jess x

It's friyayyy 🎅🌲🎉🌟 #fridaynight #christmas #drinkssss

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Hotel Review: The White Horse Inn, Duns Tew (Oxfordshire) – A wonderfully cosy stay at the heart of the Cotswolds

Another day, another hotel review! Wonderful stay in the heart of the #Cotswolds – full review and blog post coming soon! #Oxfordshire

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Last weekend I was invited to stay overnight at The White Horse Inn, a glorious pub with 11 cosy rooms nestled in the sleepy little village of Duns Tew in Oxfordshire. Located an hour away from London, and just 20 minutes drive from both the dreaming spires of Oxford and the world famous designer outlet of Bicester Village, The White Horse Inn boasts the perfect location from which to enjoy some the Cotswolds’ finest tourist attractions. Here’s my full review of this gorgeous property…

The Location

 

 

The White Horse Inn really is at the heart of the Cotswolds; close enough to explore everything this beautiful area has to offer, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities and towns, so that you can get a perfect night’s sleep and a true taste of village life in Duns Tew. As mentioned above, both Oxford and Bicester are a 20 minute drive away, whilst other places of interest, including Chipping Norton, Burford and Woodstock (where you’ll find the stunning Blenheim Palace), can be reached in under 30 minutes.

The Room

 

 

The Inn boasts 11 cosy and comfortable rooms made up of standard, classic and premier doubles, king superiors and king twin beds. Three of the rooms are over the pub itself, up a small staircase at the rear of the bar, whilst the rest of the rooms are separate to the main building. Each room boasts an en-suite bathroom, with hot shower and bath tub, central heating, LCD flat screen TV, tea and coffee making facilities and there is free WIFI throughout. Our double room was located in the main building, on top of the bar area, and was so cosy and warm. The bed (and the pillows!) were super comfy and the hot shower was amazing – we had a great night’s sleep and really loved the homely feel to our room; it was cosy and full of character, as well as fitted with all the new mod-cons I would look for in a hotel room.

The Bar

 

The cosiest of bars welcomes you to The White Horse Inn #cotswolds #oxfordshire #hotelreview

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This 17th century property is full of charm and the bar and dining area complement each other perfectly. The bar is well stocked with every drink you can think of, and the large flag stones and cosy log fire make it the perfect place to unwind. The dining area leads just off from the bar and is equally as characterful, with plenty of space and a fantastic food menu, with locally sourced produce, which changes daily. We were both so looking forward to dinner after a busy day’s shopping at Bicester Village (on Black Friday, might I add!!) so couldn’t wait to tuck in to some hearty pub food.

The Staff

 

And my table literally had my name written all over it! #Oxfordshire #Cotswolds #hotelreview

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The staff made us feel so welcome throughout the whole of our stay, from the minute we arrived to check in, to the second we checked out the next day. Upon arrival we were welcomed by Alex and then shown to our room by George and told what time to head down for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. We were then welcomed at dinner by Alex again, who showed us to our table which quite literally had my name written all over it! Throughout the evening we were served by George and James, they looked after us really well and nothing was too much trouble. The next morning we were served by George again for breakfast and he checked us out upon departure too. I cannot thank the staff enough for making our stay so enjoyable, thanks guys!!

The Dinner and Breakfast

Although this is a pub, the menu and the whole feel of the place felt more like a restaurant, in a really good way! The atmosphere was still as relaxed as the pub/bar area, but the food was mouth-wateringly good and on par with what you’d expect from a restaurant, so we felt that the Inn offered the best of both worlds in that respect. We opted to skip starters and went straight for the main courses, choosing the cheeseburger and the 10oz rib-eye steak respectively. Both main courses came with fries (cooked to perfection) and we really enjoyed our meals!

 

For pudding we chose the homemade apple crumble and the chocolate truffle torte, both of which were AMAZING! I’m such a pudding girl and I love all things chocolate, so my dessert was heaven on a plate, whilst the apple crumble was delicious too. Every aspect of our meal was wonderful, we just wish we could have chosen more food from the amazing menu, although we were suitably stuffed once we’d finished eating!!

Breakfast the next morning was really good; we both opted for the Full English (obviously) and enjoyed freshly cooked sausages, bacon, eggs and mushrooms with thick toasted bread. The breakfasts totally set us up for the day ahead and we left feeling well and truly full up!

The Verdict

 

 

Overall we had a really wonderful stay at this gorgeous hotel right in the heart of the Cotswolds. I would highly recommend staying here on a mid-week or weekend visit to this part of Oxfordshire for a cosy and comfortable stay. Every aspect from the warm and welcoming staff to the fantastic dinner and gorgeous room made our stay such a pleasant one, and I would recommend the Inn to anyone looking for a place to stay in the Cotswolds.

So there we have it, my full review of the wonderful White Horse Inn. I cannot recommend this place highly enough for those looking for a comfortable stay in the heart of the Cotswolds– thank you for making our stay such a pleasant one! For more information or to book a room please visit their website directly.

NB. I was a guest of The White Horse Inn for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are of course my own.

 

 

Bank holiday weekend: Chill out in the Cotswolds

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Hi everyone,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying the second bank holiday of the month, May is spoiling us and the weather has certainly been living up to all of our expectations. I was actually meant to be going away for the weekend but after a change of plan I found myself staying at home instead. Luckily, I live in such a beautiful part of the country and I’m never stuck for something to do, especially when the sun is shining!

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On Sunday I headed to the nearby town of Burford for a spot of afternoon tea with the family. Known as The Gateway to the Cotswolds, Burford is the perfect place to go for a day out although it does get very busy with all the tourists, particularly in the summer months. Visit one of the many local pubs, shop in the little boutique stores or take a scenic walk along the river windrush for a relaxing day out in this pretty Cotswolds town.

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We always visit the famous Huffkins tea rooms for cake or a light lunch and have never been disappointed. Typical delicacies on the menu include scones with jam and cream, chocolate brownies and vanilla slices as well as savoury bites such as pasties, pies, sandwiches and main meals. The food is quite pricey but you do pay more in Burford and its so yummy so its totally worth it!

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After lunch we strolled down the high street and popped into the beautiful St John the Baptist Church at the bottom of the hill. Dating back to the 12th century, the Church is full of history and definitely shouldn’t be missed. In 1649 the infamous Oliver Cromwell imprisoned 340 Levellers inside the Church and ruled that three of the men should be shot whilst the remaining prisoners watched the execution from the Church roof. Many of the Levellers carved their names into the walls whilst waiting to be freed, and to this day the words that were inscribed can still be seen on the brickwork.

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On Monday we drove to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock for the first annual food festival that was being held in the grounds. With tens of stalls selling foods from all over the world, cookery demonstrations, kids face painting and even champagne bars, there was something for everyone on offer. We bought a selection of homemade fudge, cookies, muffins and breads and that was before we’d even decided what we were having for lunch!

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After a stroll round Blenheim’s grounds to work up our appetites we settled on a Spanish treat of paella and tapas for our festival lunches. There were no tables to sit on, only hay bales which made a right mess but it did add to the festival vibe! You could however bring your own blankets and chairs if you wanted to set up for the day.

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The food festival was great, not overly priced at all and with so much going on you could easily spend a whole day there with the family. Free entry if you’re a Blenheim season ticket holder, or £22 per adult for a day ticket to the palace and grounds but don’t forget to convert your ticket to a 12 month pass for no extra cost- excellent value for money as we’ve used ours six times this year already!

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My blog turns one tomorrow and I’m very excited so I’ve got a brand new post and a special announcement for you all.. watch this space!

Love Jess x