Today was a day with a little bit of everything but I didn’t see as much as I’d planned. I got tired about 4:00pm after a long day yesterday so headed for home. So I’m doing a load of laundry, getting ready to cook a proper meal tonight. I ended up with a couple of toasted Hot Cross buns last night plus a glass of wine while I watched the last episode of the new Upstairs Downstairs on BBC1. Next week, they’ve got a new series of Silent Witness.
Today was my day for Beaulieu. I got a reasonably early start – one of the disadvantages of these beautiful clear days is very cold nights so it’s a bit hard to get moving early in the morning. It’s not far away but the main road from Lymington to Beaulieu was closed which upset the Sat-Nav a bit & I ended up going along some very narrow lanes but eventually found the place.
The entrance & ticket area was very noisy & crowded, mostly with groups of teenage students but fortunately they all headed for the National Motor Museum while I was much more interested in the Abbey.
I had the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey, one of the most significant abbeys in the country, completely to myself for a couple of glorious hours. It couldn’t have been better – beautiful sunshine, daffodils everywhere & magnificent abbey ruins to poke around in all by myself. This is what I came back for.
Beaulieu was founded in 1204 by King John as a Cistercian Abbey & the monks lived, worked & prayed there until 1538 when Henry V111 took it over & sold it to the Montague family, whose descendants still live there. Most of the buildings were demolished & the stone used to build Henry’s castles along the south coast.
Next, I came across a display about the estate in the Second World War when it was used as a training school for spies. Kim Philby ( who was a Russian agent & later defected) was an instructor here & I hope you can read the photo I took of the training modules. Most interesting.
Then, another change of tack. In 1538, the Montague family started building a house around the Great Gateway of the Abbey & it’s now called the Palace House & is kept in the style of its later Victorian additions. Costumed guides give an insight into the workings of a Victorian household of 1889. I’m usually not a lover of Victorian stately homes but this one is lovely because it’s based on the framework of the abbey gatehouse.
Then we go onto the next phase. In 1951, Lord Montague parked 5 antique cars in the front hall of the house, making the whole place smell of oil. (It’s interesting to note he was unmarried at the time.) However, this was the beginning of the National Motor Museum which is also on the property.
It’s massive & is the premier motor museum in the country. I know quite a few people who would have spent a lot more time there than I did but I had a good look, especially at the exhibition of James Bond vehicles. They also have Donald Campbell’s Blue Bird there in which he broke the land speed record on Lake Eyre, South Australia, in 1964. But it’s very difficult to photograph. It’s huge!
So, on to the last stop for this remarkable day. Just down the road from Beaulieu, is an old village called Buckler’s Hard which I’d read about in Edward Rutherford’s book “The Forest” which traces the history of this whole area. Actually, I was horrified to learn that the lady who sold my ticket hadn’t even heard of the book, much less read it.
Anyhow, Buckler’s Hard is on the Beaulieu River & was a thriving shipbuilding centre where several warships for Nelson’s navy were built in the 18th century. Of course, there was plenty of timber about & the royal shipyards couldn’t keep up with the demand. They have a very good maritime museum, all about how wooden ships were built, how the shipbuilders lived, etc.
But this story is getting a bit too long, so I’d better end it here. I think you’d agree it was a remarkable day plus I was driving through the most beautiful country & saw ponies, cattle, donkeys, ponies, pheasants & more ponies.