Last weekend we enjoyed a family day out at Beaulieu, one of Hampshire's top attractions in the New Forest. Beaulieu is best known for it's National Motor Museum, but there is so much more to see than cars. The weather forecast was showers for the afternoon so we decided to leave the museum itself until later in the day and enjoy being outdoors while it was so sunny!
We picked up some free quiz trails at the entrance for The Princess and The Pickle and we were really impressed with the three different trails for different age groups. The Pickle really enjoyed the 'I spy' style guide, finding the objects to match the pictures as we walked around the grounds. We started our day with the Millpond Walk, a scenic route leading to the Palace House - looking back at the photos it's difficult to believe there is a Reliant Robin Space Shuttle sitting just meters away!
I'm not really into cars to be honest (I don't even drive!), so I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the Top Gear exhibition. We all did, especially Daddy of course! It was interesting to see things out of the ordinary and The Princess and The Pickle laughed at the double decker racing cars! They also enjoyed racing the miniature cars outside which were models of some of the Top Gear creations.
It's nice to see a place like this which is so dog-friendly, with bowls of water outside the entrances of buildings. Presumably this has something to do with the Montagu family's love of dogs - many of their pet dogs (some from over 100 years ago) are buried in the pet cemetary under the very interesting 'monkey puzzle tree'.
You can see from the photos how quiet it was when we visited - I did expect it to be much busier on a sunny Saturday, but maybe everyone was waiting to take Dad there the following day for Father's Day.
Inside the Palace House we were taken back to the Victorian times, with everything styled as it would have been back then. Staff in period costume were present, ready to answer any questions you had. The Princess loves visiting places like this and finds them fascinating.
The Abbey grounds were beautiful, even though much of the Abbey itself was destroyed and in ruins. It was nice to see signs telling you how to avoid stairs, making it as accessible for pushchairs as a place like this can be.
There was also a sculpture trail and it was interesting to see all the different designs and what each one was made from.
On to the motor museum. Again, I was surprised how interested I was in seeing all the different cars. James May's Meccano bike was just amazing - I remember seeing a few of the episodes from his series where he explored the capabilities of childhood toys and found it really interesting.
The Princess and The Pickle both loved the 'orange' car which falls over if it goes too fast! They also enjoyed seeing Mr Bean's car in the On Screen exhibition, along with the flying car from Harry Potter, Del Boy's van and Zao's Jaguar from Die Another Day.
There were many interactive features inside the museum which was great for keeping the kids entertained. A large touch screen table meant they could click on images and turn pages through virtual magazines to find information. Usually touch screen devices are upright like notice boards, but this was just at the right level for children to be able to use themselves.
We also stumbled across 'Wheels' on our way out, which turned out to be a ride where you sit in pods (not really knowing what it was, it felt a bit like we were entering Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ride!) and the pods spin to each side, showing you various displays with commentary on the history of cars. The Pickle wasn't sure about this (he's not really a thrill seeking child) but The Princess loved it and wanted to go on again!
Other activities we enjoyed were the monorail and the vintage bus ride. Both of these were included in the ticket price and it was nice to see there were no hidden charges. The steps to the top deck of the bus were very steep for small children, but that is the design of the times. The views from the monorail and the top of the bus were beautiful (well the name Beaulieu does mean 'beautiful place' after all). We were also lucky to enjoy the free Dodgem rides (although I think they were only there for the Hot Rod Festival that weekend). Somehow, we managed to completely miss the mini motorised vehicles and play trail, but we'll definitely be visiting again so we'll look for that next time.
Before the journey home, we just had to visit one of our favourite New Forest spots. It's a pebbly beach, a 15 minute drive from Beaulieu and it's usually very quiet and doesn't appear to be very well known. The beach is at the end of Tanners Lane (SO41 5SP) and it's so picturesque and nice for a stroll, throwing a few stones into the sea, and watching the boats go by. The Princess even discovered a tyre swing and it's a great place for spotting crabs too! Luckily, after a rain shower in the afternoon, we were able to spend a little more time in the sunshine before heading home.
We were sent a family pass to review this attraction. All opinions are my own.