Renting an historic townhouse in Oxfordshire for the weekend brought me and my family closer to Agas, tanks and our English roots
On the surface, my family's decision to spend a weekend in Eynsham was not too dramatic a change of pace.
Our family home is also in a medieval town represented by a Conservative MP – though not, as in Eynsham's case – David Cameron, near a university city – Cambridge rather than Oxford– and has the odd stately home on its doorstep, although rather smaller than Eynsham's Blenheim Palace.
The reason for our move was the prospect of spending time in a grand period home, rather than our detached, modern house.
On our first day in east Oxfordshire, we trampled through the fields behind Eynsham town, coming across country pile after country pile. But as the temporary occupiers of a local Georgian townhouse (vivat-trust.org), we felt nothing but neighbourly good cheer for these lucky folk.
And while the sound of military planes roaring overhead from RAF Brize Norton did occasionally threaten to drown out conversation, no level of noise could smother the happy sound of six people talking about their move, albeit temporary, up the social ladder.
The Vivat Trust offers people the chance to experience some of the most beautiful historic buildings in England and Scotland, by changing them into holiday accommodation – and they're often in the most idyllic locations.
Of the 24 homes in Scotland and England in its portfolio, the Vivat Trust owns 10 – and manages the rest for private owners.
Mulberry House is one of its newest properties, sleeping seven. It was the home of a single lady whose son passed management of the home to the charity.
You can still feel the edifying, gentle presence of the former owner in every room, decorated as the Grade II-listed building is with drawings of flowers, landscapes, framed tapestries, colourful pottery – and plenty of elegant, culturally significant books.
Surrounded by such a rich inheritance during our weekend break, we fell naturally into reading, relaxing, playing charades and drifting leisurely from room to room in search of more fun – before heading into the fresh air to clear our heads.
With Aga-related songs in our hearts, we enjoyed walks around the Eynsham countryside, chattering about the house's elegant curtains with pulleys, embroidered chair covers and antique furniture.
We discovered that there really is no better place than Oxfordshire to pretend to live in the past. One afternoon we rounded a corner and found a tank in someone's back field, apparently there as an historic ornament – we hoped.
Further up the road we found the Mason Arms pub in the small village of South Leigh, where the clock apparently stopped circa 1954. As we sat by the fire, a group of red-faced, blazer-wearing men entered and ordered Vermouth.
Metres away, surrounded by sepia photos of men sitting in classic racing cars grinning widely, we enjoyed our beers and then left... just in case the ladies in our party suddenly lost their right to vote.
After a few days of general pottering, it was time for a proper group trip. Blenheim Palace, home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill, is a few minutes' drive from Eynsham.
Built to celebrate the first Duke of Marlborough's victory at the battle of Blindheim in 1704, the scale of grandeur reflects racy moments in its social history.
When Consuelo Vanderbilt – an American heiress with a weakness for French furniture – married a Marlborough, her love of all things European led to an influx of tapestries, elaborate panelling and paintings to rival Versailles.
This perfect 19th century marriage of American dollars and European taste transformed this bankrupt estate into a fairytale setting – and although the marriage may have been socially engineered and fundamentally flawed, it's now an historic architectural legacy attracting millions each year.
Among the recent guests were film producers shooting Gulliver's Travels – released last week.
In the nearby village of Bladon, Churchill's imposing grave in a classically English churchyard offers a moving and distant view through the trees of his childhood home.
YP MAG 1/1/11