On a recent trip to the new forest we took our kids for a day out to Beaulieu, the home of the National Motor Museum. My wife had been before, but I hadn’t, so had no idea what to expect. If I’m being honest the idea of taking three children aged 6,4, and 2 to a museum dedicated to cars didn’t seem like a great idea, but I went along with it.
We’d been organised (for a change) and bought our tickets online beforehand making quite a considerable saving. Under fives are free, so we only paid for one of the children, but even so it would have cost us £60 had we bought on the day. As it was it cost us £45, a saving of 25%. Well worth doing.
We arrived fairly early and were guided to a parking space in a very large carpark. After a short walk up a surprisingly steep hill we presented our tickets and were in. They provided “Lost Parent” stickers for us to write our phone number on and stick to the kids, but in honesty they were way too big. It was impossible for the kids to forget they were wearing them and so within about ten minutes the younger two had peeled theirs off. A nice idea, but don’t rely on it. We walked back down the hill and our first port of call was the “On Screen Cars” exhibit. There were plenty of shiny things for the 2 year old to look at, and the others were entranced by Harry Potter’s flying car, Wallace and Grommit’s van (clearly not real, but they didn’t care) and Mr Bean’s mini, so it was a real hit, despite being surprisingly small. We then moved on to the Top Gear exhibit, which the grown ups enjoyed, but was beyond the kids. And of course we had to cut it short for the obligatory toilet stop.
The next port of call was the monorail. It’s a fantastic idea, it takes you on a tour of the site from high in the air, and even goes through the main building where the majority of the cars are kept. You can get off at the far side of the site, or go all the way round and end up back where you started. It was however badly supervised. Despite there being a staff member on the platform it was a complete free for all when trying to get seats. We ended up having to split our party and have one person in a different carriage because one person had claimed a seat in the last empty carriage rather than sit with strangers (didn’t work out too well for her), a problem that could easily be solved by having a member of staff directing people to the next available seat. However the kids loved the ride, and we got off at the far side for a picnic lunch.
Next we moved on to the Palace House. There was a Living History event going on, and so we got to hear Lord Montague’s piano being played, we got to see his “cousin” getting a lesson from his chauffeur and the kids got to play a variety of Victorian games on the lawn outside the house. This was the bit I’d been most dubious of, taking pre-schoolers to a Stately home seemed like a recipe for disaster, but it wasn’t. They loved every second, and because they were having fun we got to enjoy it too.
We took a ride in a vintage bus back to the top of the site, and spent a little while in the main hall, but by then the kids were starting to get quite tired, and the younger ones couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to sit in the cars, so we couldn’t spend as much time here as I’d have liked, but I got to see all the things I really wanted to before we headed outside for the traditional ice cream for being well behaved (me and the kids). There was an awful lot we hadn’t seen, but we’d had a pretty full day so didn’t feel like we’d missed out.
The way out takes you out through the gift shop which is a pet peeve of mine. It’s a bit like having sweets at the check-out in a supermarket. It just seems unfair to make parents have to take their kids past things they might have no intention or ability to buy. However that being said there were a lot of things at pocket money prices, so we could indulge them without having to bankrupt ourselves.
All in all it was a great day out. There was a lot to do for both adults and children, but I’m not sure how much fun it would be if the weather wasn’t as good as it was when we were there. The only real downside for me was that there were an awful lot of wasps. I know you can’t get rid of them all, but having worked in pest control for many years I saw a number of nests around the site that could have been dealt with improving the experience for everyone.
The staff were friendly, the exhibits were great, the house was simply lovely, and even though we visited during the school summer holidays it didn’t feel crowded. Add to that the fact that the tickets are essentially annual membership, so we can go back for free any time in the next year means we’ll definitely be back.
If you’re going to be in the area go and visit, but make sure you buy your tickets online first. You’ll save a fortune.