Advantages Seeing Donald Cambells Bluebird wow!!
Disadvantages Very expensive family tickets only recommended to die hard Petrolheads
|Is it worth visiting?|
I have visited Beaulieu a few times and much has changed over the years!My very first visit to Beaulieu Motor Museum was 30 plus years ago while on holiday with my parents as a youngster.I have vague memories of the visit,especially the incredible Land Speed World Record breaking cars stand out in my mind. Donald Cambells 1960s Bluebird looked like nothing else on earth and the much older 1920s Golden Arrow of Henry Seagrave is a wonder.Were these guys incredibly brave or just stupid?
Next visit was about 12 years ago in 1998 with my girlfriend,her birthday treat to me and we stayed at the beautiful Bucklers Hard a few miles away.I remember the Palace house was still occupied by the family and so felt lived in,not like the usual National Trust Museum type places I have visited.The Museum then was more like a private collection in one large farm like outbuilding,well laid out and plenty to look around but you could manage to see everything in about 2 hours without rushing.Entry fees were modest,can't remember exactly but £6 or so each,not much more or less.We arrived quite late and it was winter time so virtually had the whole place to ourselves,brilliant!Now 2010,my girlfriend is now my wife,its the end of the kids holidays in late August and we decided to have an extra short holiday to the Isle of Wight before our 9 year old son went back to school.Our excuse to get him away from the Playstation and for us to take a trip down memory lane too.We decided to visit Beaulieu in the morning on our way back home to Warwickshire.
First of all I expected to see the place unchanged since our last visit 12 years ago,oh dear,first big shock was the price of the entry.Adults £17 each, Child 5-12 £8.75 ,Youth 13-17 £10,OAP £16 and family tickets are £46.50! Ouch!!Paying using GIFT AID saves Beaulieu at least 25p in the £1 and it will allow you unlimited return visits for the next 12 months.Thats OK ,but if you live miles away you would not bother visiting this again.Opening times are 10am-5pm 27th Sept-28th May & 10am-6pm 29th May to 26th Sept.
These are general entry tickets that allow full access to Museum,Palace,gardens and Abbey ruins etc.You can not visit just the Motor Museum at a discount but you may get a cheaper ticket to visit Palace and Abbey only.Also included is access to the "shed" type building that houses a few exhibits and photos of the Wartime Beaulieu when it was a secret training camp for spies,the SOE.An interesting touch,but not alot to see and takes 5 minutes to look around.They could have done more with this to make it more interesting.Not far from the main entrance is a modern,clean and bright cafe/restuarant opposite the entrance to the old Motor Museum building.Above our heads is a monorail system that links up the Palace House/Abbey to the main entrance/Motor Museum area.Its free,gives an interesting view of the attractions,only a few minutes ride but saves your legs!
We decided to have a coffee and a sandwich as it was midday,prices were typically on the expensive side but the quality was good.Cooked meals canteen style were available but we did not fancy that.Not much change out of £20 for a sandwich and drink each for three of us,should have stopped at one of those countryside pubs on the way!First port of call was the old Museum,spread over two floors,you need an hour to one and half minimum to get around this part.The entrance area has a few customised advertising vehicles,a Beerbottle shaped delivery truck from the prewar days,remember the "Outspan Orange" and "Birds Eye Pea" bubble cars of the 1970s & 90s?
Further into the museum on the ground floor you will find a mock up of a 1920s car repair garage with wheels,tyres,engines and loads of tools more like a blacksmiths place than a Kwikfit we know today. There is an old 1950s bus,prewar coach like a very large pram,old delivery vans,taxi and a short run of old shop fronts in this corner from the prewar days.Close by are racing cars of different periods from the 1930s Bugatti to 1990s Formula 1,rally cars like the Audi Quattro and Ford Escort of the 1970s.
Close by on the same floor are the world record beaters as mentioned,no Thrust SSC though just a monitor regularly showing a film of the current LSR holder at over mach 1,a jet fighter with wheels really.Nice to know we have the Yanks beaten at something!Suspended above your head on ramps are more racers of different eras,I would say this ground floor part of the exhibition is as I remember it not much different.
Upstairs are familiar road cars from the postwar,1950s onward to the 1970s and the rest are the prewar.You will see some strange very early prototype cars,including a replica of the very first petrol car the Daimler-Benz of the 1880s.In a separate section upstairs is a selection of old motorbikes,grass,road and track of all periods of the 20thC.
New for me was the next part just outside,a BBC TV Topgear exhibit with many of the cars used in the show.This included a video presentation made by the cast,very amusing stuff.Next to this was a Formula 1 Michael Schumacker driving experience machine,a fun ride simulator and not a real car,I think this costs extra but was of no interest to me so I can not comment on it.There is a small James Bond Exhibit in a separate building near by,having the white Lotus Roger more famously piloted underwater,Timothy Daltons Aston Martin V8 and one or two others but no DB5 this time.
There is running around the attraction an open topped bus.This is a 1970s replica of a 1920s style Omnibus.You can get on it for a ride,its free!There is a mini track for powered gocarts but never bothered to check this out,not my scene as I like big boys toys,I think this cost a few pounds a go,ok for kids I suppose.
We caught the monorail and it goes through the main building that houses the cars,a good idea and then on to the Palace House.The garden looked nice from the air but by now we were flagging a little and my son who is just nine was getting a bit bored as there were no more cars on the agenda.We spent 5 minutes looking at the Beaulieu WW2 exhibit about the spies and on to the house.There were actors dressed in 19thC costume as a butler,maid,cook,guests and his Lordship.They were attempting to relive the Victorian era,not a bad idea but one or too were over-acting pretending to be drunk!
The house was fine but nothing remarkable,I would have happily skipped the Palace House and gone for a car museum only ticket if it exisited.Close by are the Abbey ruins,only the walls of the cloister and Refectory (Now used as the parish church) remain.It was once the largest Cistercian building in England established by King John in the early 1200s.Now mostly outlines and rubble,there is a museum area with information about the buildings history.Another one of those Monasteries closed down by Henry VIII and destroyed in 1538.
ConclusionI would say the changes they have made have not improved the experience by much.I was quite happy 12 years ago paying a third of the cost of today and just seeing the cars.In my opinion paying almost £50 for a family ticket is just too much and I am a car enthusiast.If you don't like cars but like country houses then join the National Trust its great value and give this one a miss.
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