Recently, well a few months ago now, I headed off down south to Hampshire and drove into the New Forest. As I maintained the 40mph limit it came to mind how the New Forest is a real paradox. It's not new and, really, in most places, it's not a forest. Such a strange sight; a series of wide-open grassland spaces where, mostly, you can't see the trees for the forest!
The wide-open spaces result from the fact certain locals, 'commoners', can graze their animals freely in the Forest. I enjoyed watching the wild ponies grazing and, although you're not allowed to feed them, when I stopped to take a photo the subject headed over towards me with a look of expectation!
But I hadn't headed down here to look at horses. I was on my way for a day in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu (pronounced, Bew-lee). And what a day it turned into! There is so much to see, over such a large expanse, it turned into a walk-a-thon of sheer joy.
If you're not interested in cars then don't let that put you off, believe me, with what's on display you will find something here for every member of your family.
I parked in the FREE parking area and headed for the Visitors' Centre to pay the £24.75 entry fee and a further £3 for the guide book. This allows me complete access to the site. Straight away I headed for Beaulieu's namesake, The Motor Museum, but just as I got to the door so did a gaggle of very excited school kids. Unperturbed, I simply veered off towards one of the many other attractions. The nearest being the 'On Screen Cars' display. Here, a display of cars that have appeared in films or on TV was lined up for adoring fans; my favourite being Mr Bean's mini but I was also thrilled to see Elvis alive and well beside his Caddie.
Next on my circuit was the 'World of Top Gear'. Sorry, I have to admit, I don't watch the show but the display has a number of the contraptions constructed and used during the programmes that I found interesting. There were also some driving skill simulators which I steered clear of in case someone in authority saw me and cancelled my licence.
From there I headed out onto the delightful 'Mill Pond Walk'. This gave me a very picturesque and scenic stroll beside the Beaulieu River. Something really wonderful happened along the way. A little bird flew down and perched on a sign next to me and then as I continued on it jumped down onto the track and followed me for a while. I suppose s/he was looking for food but I still felt privileged. I tried to capture the moment but, as you can see, I think my excitement made me blur the pictures.
At the end of the walk I checked out the Clock Gate then crossed the lawn to Palace House – another gaggle of excited school kids! As before, there's no worry about something else to do. I simply veered off again and headed for the 'Secret Army Exhibition'. Here you can learn of how Britain set about training the covert agents and spies who were flown into Europe during the war to disrupt the Germans right there in the grounds of Beaulieu. It's only a small building but it contains a lot of history.
The Clock Tower, Secret Army School and one of the School's Displays
Once I'd finished at the 'Spy School' I returned to Palace House and, this time, was able to view the display unhindered and in the quiet. Like all the grand houses, Beaulieu is truly amazing inside and out.
Then on to the Beaulieu Abbey and Exhibition. At one time, way back in history, this Abbey was huge and had been built by Cistercian monks beginning in the year 1204. Unfortunately, most of it isn't there any more as Henry VIII had it destroyed; but you can still see the outline. The exhibition is very impressive and tells a lot of the story behind the Abbey and the monks.
Ever onwards and I headed over to the Victorian Flower and Kitchen Garden. Sorry, but all I can tell you is, winter is not the best time to inspect English gardens. There was nothing to see and absolutely nothing suitable for a kitchen. If flowers and cabbages are your bag – you'll need to be there in the summer.
Undeterred, I headed back to the Motor Museum and, this time, I made it in without the serenade of young school children. All I can say about the Motor Museum is, 'It is a spectacle to behold'.
Naturally it's predominately British cars but there seems to be a bit of everything. There was a fantastic display of motorbikes (mostly English) but the machine that really caught my eye was a Ford Counsel; just like the one Dad had when we were kids.
Ahh, such wonderful memories of a childhood hanging out the windows of a Counsel
To top off my day in the Park I took a relaxing journey around the whole site again but this time in the monorail – a completely different view from on high. I did find out though that the monorail carriages are not necessarily made for the more rotund of us Aussie tourists to climb in and out of!
Last, but not least, I stopped off in the café where I enjoyed a mug of flat white and a tomato and cheese toastie.
Then, before I departed, I stopped off at the gift shop – big mistake but I did manage to obtain birthday presents for my wonderful wife and darling daughter. This gift shop is not just selling tatt and you can really shop.
The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu caters for everybody. I wager even if you're not interested in cars you will be with something else on display. I didn't think I would find the 'The World of Top Gear' very interesting as I don't watch the show but it was great. I enjoyed the stories and the videos. So, if you have the opportunity, take yourself and your family over to Beaulieu; it's, as you might say over here, "A jolly good day out."