Friday 6 September 2013

Beaulieu - Great fun for kids

Last week when we stayed in the New Forest we were lucky enough to be offered a family ticket to visit and review Beaulieu. I recalled going to the motor museum as a child and I have to say that my memory from the 27 odd years ago was that it was OK but nothing special for a girl. Happy to be proved otherwise my family headed there mid-week in the school holidays. Our party consisted of three children (6 year old girl twins and near 10 year old boy), my Husband and I and my Mum, so there was a wide range of ages to test out Beaulieu.

How was it?
I won’t keep you in suspense, we did have a lovely time and it is a place that you can easily spend a full day, or even more if you have a particular interest in the motor industry or living history. I was highly impressed to see on our receipt that we could have gone to customer services and swapped our receipt for a free return visit for us all within the next 6 days. How fabulous is that? Basically you are receive two days entry for your one payment. If we had paid for our visit it would have cost us £49.50 for a family of 5 (when booked online in advance) which I think is very good considering there is enough to do to be a full day’s entertainment.

Beaulieu was easy to find and well signed, there was a mass of free car parking and we did not have to walk that far to gain entry. The queues to get in moved quickly and the staff were friendly and efficient, from the start it all looked very nice and well kept.

Top Gear Exhibition
Our first stop was the World of Top Gear exhibition and JJ and my Mum loved this. I’ve never watched Top Gear before to be honest but I got a flavour when I watched the 15 minute show in the Enormodrome and it looks great fun. There are loads of the cars used on the show and I imagine if you are a die-hard fan this would be awesome for you as it was good for someone clueless like me!

The Motor Museum
The indoor museum is as you would expect, there are an abundance of motoring exhibits and lots to see. Not just cars but bikes, motorbikes, fire engines, caravans, campers etc are all on display and in such beautiful condition. My girls enjoyed sitting in an old fashioned London bus and watching a short film and JJ thought the Ford Wheels ride that took us through the history of motoring was epic, in fact he announced he could sit on it all day!

If cars are your thing then there is loads of information available with history about each exhibit and there are quite a few hands on areas where the kids can learn a bit more in a way that engages them. Miss E was amazed to find out that her croc shoes were made from old rubber tyres! You can also take part in the daily tours of the museum and learn from the experts.

Probably my favourite part of the museum was reading about the cars which attempted the land speed records, the Sunbeam and Bluebird are both on display and it does feel very special to be standing next to something that cost so much in its time and created history.

Within the museum is the excellent Bond in Motion exhibition, this covers vehicles and other modes of transport such as the crocodile used by Roger Moore in Octopussy. If Bond is your thing then you are bound to be interested in these 50 different vehicles that are all genuine from the films. The area looks very slick hidden behind frosted glass and the cars are beautiful and you can imagine Bond behind the wheel.

Palace House and gardens
I knew there was a house at Beaulieu but I had not realised that we could access it and have a look around. This was probably the first time my girls had seen a staged house and they were really interested in chatting about all the ‘call bells’ and the enormous dining table. We got to listen to a duet singing and playing the piano and you can of course talk to the characters who act as living history and will tell you what life in 1880 is like.

Outside the house a car draws up regularly and picks up various staff and guests and you can sit in the car for a photo or chat to the staff and learn a little more about how we used to live. Then on the lawn where some Victorian games for adults and kids alike. We are a family who like a bit of old fashioned fun so we were happy to play hoopla, noughts and crosses, solitaire, Sudoku and do a bit of skipping. My Mum was very proud to be able to solve the Sudoku.

We walked back up to the museum via the Victorian kitchen garden and enjoyed a chat with one of the gardeners learning why they plant sweet peas and dahlias near to the vegetables (to attract good insects such as ladybirds in case you are interested!).

Beaulieu Abbey
The ruins of the Abbey and the parish church of Beaulieu are beautiful. If Religious artefacts and places are your thing then you will enjoy it here. You can feel the peace as you walk around and of course you can explore the exhibition about how the monks used to live.

During the summer there are Falconry displays three times a day and the birds of prey on display there are awe inspiring. Their handler is a really nice guy and very happy to talk between shows and fill you in on a bit about how the birds live.

For the kids
With three under 10’s in tow it was important to us that there was enough to occupy and entertain the kids and we need not have worried. They all had a great time and we went home after a solid 7 hours with aching feet and boggling minds. As well as everything listed above there is also a kids play area, this is advertised as being for under 5’s but all my kids enjoyed it, especially the mini-bus which they pretended was an ice cream salon. My girls were also able to ride the electric mini-cars for free and these were a big hit.

Miss M loved the monorail and managed to convince my husband to ride it a few times, it is nice that it goes through the museum and you get to see the cars from a totally new perspective.

Miss E would not let us go home until we had ridden on the old fashioned Beaulieu bus, this was a nice round the park tour on a warm day and we all enjoyed this. The great thing was that we only had to wait 10 minutes for the bus and about 5 minutes for the monorail. Queues do not appear to be an issue at Beaulieu which is a massive plus point.

Every school holidayBeaulieu lay on fun for the kids and often theme the park to match the occasion. This summer it was about the Living history and we had to spot lots of characters and play the lawn games. October half-term it is of course Hauntings with spooky activities for all.

Catering facilities
As we entered the grounds our first sight was the Brabazon restaurant and it was nice to see so much outside dining space with parasols, the calibre of the furnishings is high and you can comfortably enjoy coffee and a slice of cake. We did not lunch in the restaurant but the food there looked really god quality and talking to one of the gardeners we learnt that much of the produce is grown on the Beaulieu estate. The prices were as I’d expect with homemade soup and roll retailing for £4.25, a jacket potato with one filling at £4.75 and kids meals including a drink £4.50. If you want something more filling then main courses seem to be between £6.95 and £8.50 but as I mentioned before the quality looked really good. It is not your average theme park fast food here.

We enjoyed some ice creams while at Beaulieu and these were on the expensive side, a child’s milk lolly started at £1.20 and a magnum style lolly was £2.20. I was also a bit dismayed to hear that the whole site had run out of still water due to a busy weekend. Thankfully they were happy to give out free water on request.

In conclusion
Beaulieu is a fun day out for all ages. It is beautifully presented, there is an abundance of space for picnics and your kids to run around. Once you are in you do not need to spend any more money but if you choose to eat here it looks like you are in for a treat. There is also a marvellous large gift shop with reasonably priced trinkets (my kids bought a £1 keyring each).

The variety of attractions at Beaulieu is vast and I think they have really worked hard to ensure that they deliver an experience that meets their strapline of ‘much more than a motor museum’.

Well done Beaulieu, our family is happy to give you 10/10 and we will be back!

Disclosure: We were provided with free entry for the six of us for the purposes of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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