Beaulieu Motor Museum

Beaulieu Motor Museum

A day at Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest

Not far to drive

I’m ashamed to say that our home is about half an hour’s drive from Beaulieu (pronounced “Bew-ley”) for over 15 years, but we’d not yet been to Beaulieu Motor Museum. We’d had various sojourns into the New Forest- picnics at Horseshoe Bottom (our favourite bottom). Tea, cake and ice cream at a few places in Burley and afternoon tea in Brockenhurst. Walks on the heathland and shopping trips to Ringwood, Lymington and Lyndhurst. Yet, despite its excellent reputation as a great place to visit, we remained inexperienced in terms of Beaulieu’s charms – of which we had not yet taken advantage.

That all changed on an unseasonably cold weekend at the end of April – which also happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary. We were booked into the lovely, 4-star Balmer Lawn hotel in Brockenhurst, and had a trip to Beaulieu planned for the Saturday. At last!

Cycling New Forest

The day dawned chilly, but mercifully rain-free. Being a keen cyclist, I opted to ride between Brock (as it is locally known) and Beaulieu. It was a decision I lived to celebrate, as the route took me through as yet unseen parts of the New Forest. I shuddered my way over cattle grids – the trick here is not to slow down. (Something I already knew after growing up with grandparents who owned a static caravan in Warkworth, Northumberland, complete with cattle-gridded entrance.)

I looked out for signposts and landmarks, keen not to bother checking my phone again to find my way. I was immersing myself in nature and history, and modern technology could take a back seat for once, I reckoned. Luckily, the route was literally as simple as “turn left out of the hotel and keep going till you get there”, and I arrived at Beaulieu much too early. Despite frequent stops for picturesque photo opportunities, I arrived long before our arranged rendezvous at the Motor Museum.

No matter, I took a right at the “Beaulieu” sign – you really (really) couldn’t miss it – and made my way into the village. It’s a charming little spot, with plenty of olde-worlde shops and cottages to take photos of. There was a shimmering lake to my left, as I rolled down the slight incline to the village. The grass was prettily and appropriately adorned with several New Forest ponies, happily grazing. On the far side, you could clearly see what I later found out to be Palace House, which you can visit along with the Motor Museum, at no extra cost.

Seeing cars, by bicycle

The ticket price includes entry to various attractions – the National Motor Museum, World of Top Gear, Palace House & Gardens, Beaulieu Abbey, The Secret Army Exhibition and – joy of joys – rides on the Monorail (& Veteran Bus). I hadn’t been on a Monorail in over 30 years; since a family holiday to Butlin’s in Skegness, circa 1985. I saw one of the old carriages at Butlin’s in Minehead a few years ago, but that was as close as I’d come in recent times.

The Hampshire site is very big, far larger than I’d imagined, so you might well to take Beaulieu up on their offer of unlimited free rides. You can park for free too. If you have mobility issues, there are wheelchairs and scooters available to hire for free; reserving these in advance is recommended. Something to bear in mind if you have small children, too – do bring that buggy!

Top Gear

The ‘World of Top Gear’ collection was a highlight for me, especially seeing the ‘Old People’s car’ for real, after that episode was filmed right here where we live. I loved seeing the old Volkswagen Campervan that James May converted into a boat-of-sorts, one memorable episode. (We are keen VW van fans.) The bikes they rode in the unforgettable Vietnam extended episode were on show.

That brought back amusing memories of the incorrigible three’s awkward, bulky ‘gifts’ to one another, and the subsequent hilarity that ensued when they tried to strap them onto their mopeds. All played out to the cringe-worthy tune of Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’.

An eclectic collection of classics

We saw clapped-out automobiles worth many millions of pounds. A red, double-decker London bus. The “small ones are more juicy” Outspan car. A Sainsbury’s store front that resembled the one local to us in absolutely no way whatsoever. Old school milk floats and ice cream vans, and lots of AA (that’s the Automobile Association, of course) memorabilia. My favourite? A classic Beetle.

Pheasants & Palace House

We were a little tired and out of sorts to really appreciate Palace House properly, but it is beautifully done – complete with guides in period costume. I was nice to spy (and hear) a couple of pheasants as we wound our way there. A particular blast from my past, as I used to live on a Northumbrian country estate where pheasants roamed free – along with red squirrels a-plenty. (How the young fail to appreciate such things, or was that just me?)

The Montagu Arms

To revive our flagging spirits, we popped into the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu village for a small glass of something delicious and refreshing. Very relaxing it was, too – the pub has gorgeous gardens and great views of them. People were having afternoon tea in the lounge and it looked delectable. Maybe next time. The chef there has stayed for over a decade, apparently just overseeing a huge kitchen extension and refit.

So they take their food very seriously. From what we saw, it shows. Apparently when Harry and Meghan got married, they were doing a ‘Royal Afternoon Tea’ to celebrate the Royal wedding; the Lemon and Elderflower drizzle cake and Rhubarb and Custard choux sounded very tempting to the tastebuds.

Tips and tricks for visiting Beaulieu Motor Museum

One tip – do book your Beaulieu tickets in advance. You’ll make a considerable saving. Under fives go free, too. If you’re a cyclist, like me, staying in Brockenhurst and cycling to Beaulieu was ideal. Brock has a fabulous selection of hotels, and I can personally recommend the Montagu Arms, Beaulieu. There’s also the Balmer Lawn hotel, Rhinefield House, The Pig or Carey’s Manor Hotel and SenSpa in nearby Brockenhurst. I’ve dined, had afternoon tea, used the spa or stayed the night at all of those, so I’ve had a good look round them all!

Wherever you go, beware of the free-roaming ponies… which are part-and-parcel of the New Forest’s appeal. Charming it is, indeed.

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