Although better known for its Motor Museum, the Beaulieu Estate is an extensive attraction with plenty to offer family members of all ages, from motoring buffs to history enthusiasts.
Set in the heart of the beautiful New Forest, the Beaulieu Estate features the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House and Gardens, all of which are open to the public.
What to see: The National Motor Museum
The National Motor Museum gallery isn’t just about boy’s toys, it is an entertaining and educational compilation of vehicles and artefacts, interactive displays and historical mock-ups showing how the design of the motor car has evolved and also influenced our lives. Younger visitors will enjoy seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mr Bean’s Mini and the Ford Anglia from the Harry Potter films and budding racing drivers will salivate over the Formula 1 cars and the previous Land Speed Record holder ‘Bluebird’. The main collection is set across two levels and we would recommend spending at least a couple of hours perusing.
A relatively recent addition to the National Motor Museum is the excellent World of Top Gear exhibition. Featuring a host of vehicles from recent series’ of the programme, the exhibition is a real hit with visitors both young and old and demonstrates how creative some of the features on Top Gear really are! Marvel at the sight of the stretch limo…the XJV12 ‘train’ and the Reliant Rocket – and many more, with recent additions often coming to the exhibition. There is also a look behind the scenes in the Top Gear Ernomodrome.
Running until the end of 2013, the Bond in Motion exhibition captures the spirit of James Bond and his use of cars – plus some other modes of transport too! See the famous Aston Martin DB5 and the Lotus Esprit line up alongside the autogyro used by Roger Moore in ‘You Only Live Twice’. The temporary Bond exhibition opened in 2012 and has been extended thanks to its immense popularity.
Other features within the immediate vicinity of the Motor Museum include the Monorail ride that takes visitors on a slow, high-level ride out to the Palace Gardens and back, passing right inside the Motor Museum, the Secret Army Museum, describing how Special Operatives were trained at Beaulieu before being deployed in the Second World War, and go-karts / mini-cars (for younger children) to have a go at driving in.
What to see: Beaulieu Abbey
Although it is only a short and pleasant walk, the vintage open-top bus that runs throughout the day will transport you to Beaulieu Abbey and the nearby Palace House, and it’s a gentle ride that will still entertain your children.
Much of Beaulieu Abbey, first built in 1204, is in ruins as it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries but this doesn’t detract from the appeal – in fact it feeds the imagination, helped by the groundplan of the church that still exists on the lawns. Some buildings are still intact and are replete with exhibition material showing what life would have been like when it was an operational monastery – great for budding historians.
What to see: Palace House and Gardens
Palace House is home to the current Lord and Lady Montagu, but much of the house is open to the public and is beautifully presented in a Victorian style, full of paintings, memorabilia and artefacts and a fascinating insight into how wealthy Victorians lived.
The surrounding gardens are an absolute joy, the Victorian Kitchen Garden supplying seasonal fruit and vegetables for the owners and complemented by the Flower and Wilderness Gardens.
Other information and how to get to Beaulieu
A sizeable café serves hot and cold food and there are plenty of places to eat a picnic should you prefer to bring food yourself.
The Beaulieu Estate lies in the heart of the beautiful New Forest and if you are coming from the M27, just follow the brown and white tourist signs. There is car parking although it can get quite full during peak season.
For more detailed information, visit the Beaulieu website.