It was my birthday last week and we usually mark the day by going to London or having a weekend away. Options were understandably limited this year, so we decided to visit much closer to home.
The village of Beaulieu and it’s world famous Motor Museum is just a stones throw from where we live, although we haven’t been for years. Certainly the attraction has become synonymous with classic cars and bikes and the history of the automobile…but Beaulieu is so much more than that.
The village of Beaulieu is largely unspoiled by the passage of time and its name derives from the French beau lieu which translates as “beautiful place.” Ponies roam around this tranquil little village and the award winning Beaulieu estate encompasses the Motor Museum, Palace House and gardens, Beaulieu Abbey, the Monorail and various other exhibitions and activities. The Museum, Palace House and various other indoor exhibitions are not currently open, but the Abbey, Palace grounds and gardens are well worth a visit.
Andy and I booked tickets for £9 each and we could choose a time slot in which to arrive. At the entrance, we were greeted by a very helpful member of staff who patiently took the time to explain all the changes that had been put in place due to the pandemic, and talked us through a map showing what was still accessible and the suggested walkway through the estate. The Brabazon cafe is open, offering takeaway coffee, tea, cake and sandwiches and there are clearly marked toilet sites around the grounds.
Walking into the estate opposite the cafe, a number of classic cars are on display and we spent a while looking at them and chatting to another highly knowledgeable staff member – the wonderful Nick. I’m embarrassed to say I am not particularly interested in cars, but Nick was such a joy to chat with, talking about their individual histories and then telling me all about the origins of my first car! It is very noticeable that Bealieu’s staff are throughly committed and very enthusiastic and they are obviously a huge asset to the estate.
We then made our way into the Kitchen and Victorian gardens. The kitchen garden has every vegetable, herb and fruit you can think of growing in beautifully well kept and tended areas. A couple of staff were attending the gardens and were also friendly and knowledgeable when it came to taking about the history, The Kitchen garden being originally laid out in the 1870’s. The Victorian Garden was my favourite though… from the quirky Alice In Wonderland topiary to the Lovelock Tree Sculpture, and all the beautiful displays of flowers and shrubs, covered walkways, fountains and lawns. It was so lovely we went round again!
Next we walked around the ruins of the Abbey. Beaulieu Abbey was built in 1204 by King John, and was originally populated by 30 Cistercian monks. The Abbeys’ buildings reflect it’s status as an royal foundation. The original church was huge, being 335 feet long with 11 radiating chapels. Not much is left of this part, but the original layout is easy to visualise and the magnificence of what the building would have looked like still radiates all these centuries later. South of the church lies the Cloister, which is still partially intact and you can wander around the ‘lanes’ which would have been trodden by centuries of monks on their way to the Chapter House, the kitchens and the refectory and sleeping quarters. In its heyday, the Abbey was surrounded by farm buildings, guest houses, a mill, and extensive gardens.
Unfortunately in 1538 Beaulieu Abbey succumbed to Henry VIII’s dissolution programme, the monks were granted pensions or transferred to other houses and the land was sold off. Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, and an ancestor of the current owners, was given ownership of the abbey and demolished the church, Cloister and Chapter House and set about building a house on the site. The Abbey was was my favourite part of the day and I really didn’t want to leave the serene surroundings. There is a wonderful calm atmosphere and it is not hard to imagine the scene as it would have looked in medieval England. You can almost see the monks on the way to prayer if you concentrate!
Andy finally persuaded me to leave the Abbey, (after another walk around the cloister), and we made made our way around to the gardens of Palace House. Palace House would usually be open to visitors, but as this is not possible at the moment, Lord Montagu has opened up areas of the gardens and lawns where the public are not usually allowed. Walking around the house you can see the gothic windows and apparently parts of the house date back to the 13th century. Most of it was however, demolished in 1871 to create the Montagu family home it is today.
More classic cars are on show here, in the garage area of the House grounds and I particularly liked the red “Amphicar” pictured below. Perhaps I am not so disinterested in cars as I thought!
The last part of our visit encompassed The Mill Pond Walk. This walk takes you through woodland and is a meandering route offering spectacular views across the tidal Beaulieu River. The walk is quite magical and there are lots of tree carvings to spot along the way. The carvings are by artist Paul Sivell and you can spot snakes, dragons, tree people and forest fairies and fawns. It’s not an arduous work and there is a wheelchair route available. Oh, and don’t forget to check out The Ice House along this route, which is a very interesting structure and gives a bit of insight into food storage in the days before fridges and freezers!
I was very impressed with Beaulieu. Yes, large parts of the site aren’t open at the moment, but it is also a lot less busy than normal, and it’s a really good opportunity to visit if you are interested in the history of the area and an insight into the life of medieval England. And, with my new found interest in cars, I may well visit again as soon as the rest of the Beaulieu reopens! ❤️
*We visited on Monday June 22 2020 and all the photographs included in this post are my own.