Days out: Miss World on wheels

You don't have to be a motoring enthusiast to enjoy the museum at Beaulieu. Emma Haughton and her family were unexpectedly captivated.

Whatever misgivings you may have about the impact of the internal combustion engine, Beaulieu's Motor Museum is undeniably fascinating. Crammed with more than 250 classic cars and motorbikes, it's like Miss World for four wheels. The bulky Daimler 1899 12HP, the majestic, brass-and-green Bugatti 1910 Type 13, the elegant Bluebird land speed record breaker: these are the starlets of motoring, their glamorous bodywork gleaming with a shine you could powder your nose by.

But Beaulieu is not just a load of old cars. There are informative displays on every imaginable aspect of motoring - from road design to spark plugs - while a science section allows hands-on exploration of the basic principles of cars and their engines. You can also explore an old red London bus, while watching a video of its history. But topping the bill is the Wheels exhibition, a multimedia extravaganza bringing alive 100 years of motoring history. Seated in your little carriage, you're twirled around corridors of displays and blasted with the sounds and smells of yesteryear.

Beyond the museum, kids can get a taste of life in the fast lane on the Fast Trax virtual racing games, or enjoy a spin through the motoring century in the simulator. You can also take a vertiginous ride on the monorail through the roof of the motor museum and on to Palace House and its gardens. Seat of the Montagus since 1538, this stately home is packed with family portraits and other mementos, and was once the gatehouse to the adjoining 13th-century abbey, where you can now explore the daily life of Cistercian monks in its ruins.

The visitors

Emma Haughton, a freelance writer, went with her husband, Jonathan Rees, and their three boys, Joshua, seven, Flan, five, and Zachary, two.

Joshua: I loved the virtual racing because I like playing computer games, especially with steering-wheels. I liked the simulator, too; at first it pretended you were in an old motor car, and then you went in faster and faster ones until in the end it crashed. It was cool.

In the museum there was a science bit where you try things out about cars and how they work, which was really interesting.

I liked the monorail, the secret stairs in Palace House and the Wheels exhibition. There was a model prehistoric man who looked like a friend of ours called Neil. I particularly liked the bit where it was all 3D, and the hovercars on the little motorway. All the staff were very friendly and when we were sitting on this old bus a man came in and gave us all a free pen. I'd really like to go back and do everything again.

Flan: There were lots of cars in the museum, some with dummies in. They look real but they're only plastic people. I liked the simulator car when it was going into the jungle and it felt really bumpy. The monorail was quite scary when you were going, because it was so high off the ground and wobbled a bit.

I loved all the bits of the Wheels. You get into a little train and this bar comes down on your lap and you go round the track and see loads of things about cars. We went round twice because we liked it so much.

Jonathan: I really thought Beaulieu wouldn't be for me, because as far as I'm concerned a car is just something that takes you from A to B - if you're lucky. In fact I found it all completely fascinating - I could happily have spent a week there. Walking around the museum, you realise just how much cars are part of everyone's heritage. You see so many things you remember from your past - buses, signposts, old Corgi model cars. I was a bit disappointed to see there wasn't a hall of shame for our old beige Allegro, though.

All the hands-on stuff about how cars work was brilliant, but best of all was the Wheels. That was absolutely fantastic. Each little section was obviously a real labour of love, and, more than that, it was all done with humour and affection. The whole thing, Palace House included, was great, but what really made it for me was the motor museum.

Emma: I don't have a good relationship with cars. I resent being dependent on them, and am so utterly indifferent to what I drive that I can barely tell a Mini from a Mercedes. Even so, I was captivated by the sheer beauty of these old classics.

I was really impressed with the comprehensive attention to detail. Such pains had been taken to recreate all the antique household sundries in an old delivery van, for instance, and the tools and spares in the reproduction of an old garage and workshop. But perhaps the best aspect of my day was Beaulieu's staff. Reg, the principal car cleaner, reassured us that the cars were taken out for regular frolics, and he even told us the secret of their enviable shine (elbow grease). Without exception everyone we came into contact with went out of their way to be friendly and polite. It was such a refreshing change this side of the Atlantic.

The deal

Getting there: the Beaulieu Motor Museum (01590 612123) is in the New Forest between Southampton and Bournemouth, just off B3056. The nearest railway station is Brockenhurst, a short taxi ride away.

Opening times: daily, 10am-5pm; Easter to September, until 6pm. Closed Christmas Day. Some features, such as the simulator and Fast Trax virtual reality games, must be paid for separately.

Admission: adult pounds 8.50; four to 16 years, pounds 6; family ticket, for two adults and four children, pounds 28.

Access: there is full wheelchair access to the motor museum, restaurant and ground floor of Palace House.

Facilities: the Brabazon food court and bars offer a good range of food and drink at reasonable prices. You can also picnic in the grounds.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Senior Textiles / Fashion Technician

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To contribute to the day-to-da...

Recruitment Genius: Health and Social Care NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate