DAY OUT: Beaulieu

Beaulieu lr

By Tim Saunders

“There’s so much change going on in the world at the moment, it’s comforting to step back in time,” says my wife Caroline as we visit The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the delightful New Forest.

Henry (6) had watched a programme about the Bluebird and is awestruck at the length of the massive vehicle. None of us can comprehend travelling on land at over 400mph. That’s nothing though because that land speed record was later broken by a car travelling at more than 700mph. Imagine that. There’s an interesting film that plays as we admire these feats of engineering and it all started with quite sedate speeds. But then in the 1920s it started getting serious with the Sunbeam 1000hp recording 200mph along a beach with the waves lapping into the shore beside it. If I was the driver I would have been petrified but there was no fear for First World War veteran Major Henry Segrave.

What a great way of introducing children and their parents to history.

James Bond’s Aston Martins are impressive. There is a scratched and battered DB5 driven by Daniel Craig in No Time to Die and on closer inspection the damage is purely superficial – it’s just a sticker. Clever stuff. But we cannot fathom whether the bullet holes in the windscreen and side windows are the same. We savour the atmosphere of the old garage and the row of old shops. Of course the old days were tough but there is still something romantic about it all when looking through those rose tinted spectacles. A bygone age when climate change was simply not a consideration. With that in mind Clive Sinclair’s C5, his electric run about is on show. This museum really is a celebration of man’s ingenuity.

We cover much of the museum before the children start to flag. So we find a bench and tuck into our packed lunch. It’s a glorious autumn day and we can savour the trees and their seasonal change in colour – lots of reds and golds. Sufficiently recharged we queue for a return trip on an old open top red London bus. We all enjoy a little rest.

“Can we go on the monorail?” asks Henry. So we head there. There’s an interesting audio guide, which gives a little history about the monorail, the kitchen garden and the fact that the Earl of Southampton was a relation of the Montagus.

It’s not all about cars at Beaulieu though because the 7,000 acre estate is also home to Palace House, which is like a National Trust property. Grand architecture and fine art, including some striking family portraits greet tourists from all over the world. What a cosy library and a lovely exhibition celebrating the art of Belinda, Lady Montagu. Staff in traditional costume are helpful and knowledgeable. It adds to the very personal story of Beaulieu. We enjoy talking to the cook who shows us the working range cooker and rows of over 30 bells that kept staff busy. “Ten minutes was allowed from hearing the bell to finding out the order and delivering it,” she explains, adding that most staff were illiterate at that time so the different pitch of the bells helped them to know which room they had to go to.

Little Beaulieu keeps the children occupied for some time with its miniature Palace House, swings, slide and zip wire, which Henry particularly enjoys. A lovely moment is when he spies a pheasant and starts chasing it. To his surprise, and ours, he cannot keep up.

Another nice touch is the Art Russe gallery. The paintings and sculptures are exquisite.

The children enjoy using the embossing machines to stamp their trail cards.

There is so much to Beaulieu that an entire half-term could be spent here, not simply one day. It opens at 10am and closes at 5pm and it’s always best to arrive as early as possible. We just don’t have time to properly visit the Second World War exhibition but that’s for another time.

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