Ten castles, palaces and houses come under the Treasure Houses of England. They are Beaulieu, Blenheim Palace, Burghley House, Castle Howard, Chatswoth, Harewood House, Hatfield House, Holkham Hall, Leeds Castle and Woburn Abbey.
I have visited five of them namely Burghley House, Castle Howard, Hatfield House, Leeds Castle and Woburn Abbey and I am endeavouring to visit all ten of them in due course.
The sixth Treasure House on my list was Beaulieu. It is not far from Southampton in the New Forest. It is preferable to drive there but there is bus service from Brockenhurst train station direct to Beaulieu. It stops right by the car park.
Beaulieu has been the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538. It is situated in the former grounds of Abbey on the banks of the Beaulieu River. The Palace House is a fine example of a Victorian country house.
In 1952, Lord Montagu placed five veteran cars on display in the entrance hall of the Palace House as a tribute to his late father, a motoring pioneer. From these humble beginnings, the famous National Motor Museum in the grounds would develop to contain a priceless collection of over 280 historic vehicles.
There is a lot on offer at Beaulieu, one inclusive ticket provides access to the Palace House and Gardens, Beaulieu Abbey, The National Motor Museum, World of Top Gear, On Screen Cars, and The Secret Army Exhibition. There is free parking.
There are unlimited rides on a mile-long Monorail, an excellent way to enjoy the views of the Beaulieu grounds. There is also a replica 1912 open-topped London bus which makes regular journeys between the Brabazon restaurant and the Palace House. We got on this bus for the short ride to the Palace House. En route we passed Beaulieu Abbey and the bus stopped practically outside Secret Army Exhibition.
During World War Two Beaulieu was a top secret training establishment for special agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Over 3,000 SOE agents were trained at Beaulieu before undertaking daring and dangerous missions behind enemy lines.
We popped in for a quick look round but found ourselves still there three quarters of an hour later. We learned how the agents were trained and how their gallant actions helped to ensure allied victory in World War Two. There were real stories of incredible exploits, photographs and gadgets used by the agents. I was particularly interested in the Women in the SOE who were sent into occupied France.
A tour of the Palace House was next. It is not a big house by stately home standards but there were a lot of family treasures on view. There are costumed guides and for an extra pound you can get a conducted tour of five extra rooms which are normally closed to the public. These included the late Lord Montagu’s bedchamber. The Victorian kitchen has been newly restored to its original layout and there is a gift shop beyond it where one can buy upmarket jams and biscuits, as well as china mugs and other kitchen paraphernalia.
We took the open-topped bus back to the Brabazon restaurant as we were feeling peckish. We had a very tasty fish and chips lunch at the Brabazon restaurant. Sounds posh but it is actually a cafe. Whilst on the bus we noticed there were picnic areas for visitors.
After lunch we walked across to On Screen Cars where we saw Del Boy’s Robin Reliant, James Bond’s Jaguar and the flying Anglia from Harry Potter amongst others. The next stop was the Motor Museum.
I thought the museum held a display of “old bangers” but I was wrong. This museum has one of the finest collections of cars from the earliest motor carriages of 1875 to classic family saloons, legendary F1 cars, land speed record breakers, motorcycles and motoring memorabilia in the world. It is a must go to place for motoring buffs.
By the time we finished at the museum, which is on two levels and has a lift for disabled access, we didn’t leave ourselves much time to visit the World of Top Gear. Twenty of the battered, modified cars from BBC’s Top Gear were on display and each one had a separate film clip of how it arrived in that condition.
We didn’t want to get caught up in rush hour traffic so we left without visiting Beaulieu Abbey. However, we were caught up in traffic on the way home and the journey home took us four hours whereas our journey in the morning only took us two and a half hours to get to Beaulieu.
Beaulieu is not just a place for car enthusiast but also people interested in history. I would visit again and would recommend it as a good family day out.