The Beaulieu Estate, cars, bikes, historic houses, gardens and a lovely woodland walk
Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley), for those who don’t know it, is a tiny village on the banks of the Beaulieu river, no more than one street of quaint little houses a few shops and a pub, The Montague Arms. Even so, it attracts masses of visitors being home of the famous National Motor Museum, Palace House and Beaulieu Abbey. Large swathes of Beaulieu are owned by the eccentric Lord Montague, Palace House is his home and the Motor Museum houses his massive collection of cars and motorbikes.
Lord Montague inherited his love of all all things with engines from his father, John Douglas Scott Montague, second Barron Montague of Beaulieu, who commissioned the original ‘Spirit of Ecstacy’ mascot for his Rolls Royce. The family have owned the Beaulieu Estate, including Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey and nine thousand acres of New Forest since the sixteenth century. The Village and Bucklers Hard, further along the river are also owned by Lord Montague. Imagine owning all that! Luckily he is very generous with his property and there’s plenty of chance to roam at will, you can even visit Palace House although you do have to pay for that and the Motor Museum.
In fact, if you love cars, historic buildings or gardens, it is well worth buying a ticket and exploring. Not only can you marvel at the massive collection of vehicles, some you won’t see anywhere else in the world, you can also soak up some history if a different kind walking round Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey and the beautiful gardens. There are also regular events such as boat and auto jumbles, car rallies, custom festivals and much more. If you’d like to know what’s going on when you plan to visit or check out prices visit their website hhttp://www.beaulieu.co.uk/.
On this visit we were taking advantage of the well kept footpaths so we parked up in the Motor Museum car park which is free and planned to go off towards Bucklers Hard, a little village with a lot of history. This was where many of the early wooden warships were built using oak from the New Forest and today the tiny village is preserved exactly as it was, a living museum. I’ve been there before, when I was a child and I was hoping my walk today would take me that far but I only had an hour because that was how long Commando was going to run.
I left Commando putting on his running gear by the car and set off, knowing he was going to whiz past me at some point. The first thing I noticed as I left the car park was a huge sign telling me there was an Easter Eggstravaganza going on. I came close to turning around and going to find out what it was all about, I mean, there had to be chocolate involved right? Then I came to my senses and decided lots of chocolate was not the best of plans so I carried on towards the road. Just before I came to the cattle grid at the entrance I crossed a little bridge over Beaulieu river, I stopped to admire all the reeds growing along the water’s edge and the trees dipping their branches down into the water. Then it was on, through the little wooden gate next to the cattle grid and out onto the nicely marked footpath.
The first part of the footpath ran along the grass verge beside the road but it was well worn and gravelled with plenty of room to keep away from the traffic. Why can’t more country roads be like that? It would make walking in the Forest so much easier. Not far from the entrance to the Motor Museum, on the opposite side of the road, a beautiful little thatched cottage caught my eye. Whitewashed with black beams and some kind of vine twisting up above the lower windows it looked like just the kind of place I’d love to live. Imagine walking out the front door and having the forest right there to walk through.
Fairly quickly the path left the road and turned through a wooded area running parallel with it. I crunched through the leaves, twigs and gravel feeling really happy to be somewhere so nice on a Sunday morning and looking around at the trees and snatches of blue sky above me. The path wound through trees and brambles and I dawdled, looking at everything, breathing in the smells, listening to birds singing. I crossed a tiny wooden bridge over a tributary of the river then stopped again as the trees to my left thinned out and the river came into sight. The opposite bank was a mass of reeds with the forest rising up behind it.
Just after that Commando came running past.
“I thought I’d go past you at some point,” he said and sped off into the distance. By the time I’d raised my phone to take a photo all I could see was a speck disappearing into the trees. It must be nice to be able to run but I wonder if he sees as much as I do? I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice all the primroses growing at the side of the path or the fat pink buds on the rhododendrons. When those flower in a month or so the little path will be bright with showy pink blooms.
The path through the woods opened out onto the road again all too soon, marked by a tree stump with some rather dried out shelf fungus growing on it, its bright colours faded. Any disappointment I felt was soon washed away by the sight of the river before me. At this point it widens out and becomes almost lake like. There were gulls and ducks swimming and, on the bank, a white goose who seemed to be shepherding two Canada geese for some reason. He gave me a bit of a look as I passed and seemed to start towards me which was a worry, geese can be quite vicious. Then, when he realised I was walking past, he went back to ordering the poor Canaada geese about.
Shortly after the goose incident the path moved away from the road again briefly as it passed a cream painted thatched cottage right beside the river. Maybe the geese belong to the cottager. I was almost at Beaulieu village at this point and I wasn’t sure where to go from there. Walking past the tiny high street I was tempted to linger and have a look at the shops but first I thought I’d take a photo of The Montague Arms a little further along. I am so glad I did because, right next to the pub there was another part of the footpath with a sign telling me it went to Bucklers Hard. The village could wait.
At first the footpath went past the car park of the pub and turned right past another car park, then I was walking through fields where horses grazed. The river came into view again at this point, with yet more horses on the opposite bank and some houses amid the trees. One field had a pheasant in it but too far away to see properly. Everywhere I looked there were more horses and I began to wonder if there were actually more horses than people round these parts. One, right up at the fence, looked at me expectantly probably hoping I had something for him to eat.
Once I’d passed all the fields I was back amongst trees again and, on a tiny tributary of the river, I spotted a woman standing in a canoe. She said hello and smiled for my camera.
“Crikey, I almost fell in then,” she laughed, trying to steer her canoe back onto the main part of the river.
“Rather you than me,” I said, “that looks a bit difficult from where I’m standing.”
“It’s not if you don’t fall in,” she laughed, “a bit cold for a swim today.”
There were other canoeists behind her and I watched for a while as she slowly turned her canoe around.
In the little wooded area there were streams and rills all round and the sound of water trickling over stones. I imagine this could be a bit muddy when there’s been rain. The gravel path emerged from the wood shortly after my encounter with the canoeists. Now I was walking with a line of trees to my left and a field that seemed to be filled with scrubby red willow stems alive with fat catkins. I stopped for a moment to have a closer look then carried on along the path.
At the other side of the field there was a cottage with a hedge of hawthorn. I noticed the leaves have begun to open and the old adage, ‘don’t cast a clout until May is out’ sprang to mind. The hawthorn is also called May and the proverb is basically saying, don’t leave your coat behind (or if you believe some interpretations don’t plough the soil) until the hawthorn flowers. As the flowers bloom shortly after the leaves open there is definite hope for the warmth of spring in the sight of the hawthorn leaves.
After I passed the hawthorn hedge I found myself amongst the trees again. There were different paths everywhere here but all but one was private. One was for the activity centre and I wondered if that was where the canoeists had come from, another was to some houses deep in the woods. I followed the third. Not long after I passed the private path to the houses the path forked again, the main route swung around to the right and the other, narrower one, forked to the left. The left path had a sign saying Bucklers Hard but from a quick look at the WalkJogRun map it was obvious I wouldn’t have time to make it all the way there. It looked to be at least another mile and a half and I was rapidly approaching the half hour mark where I needed to turn back. I decided to explore the woods right in front of me instead, there was a track leading into them. Looking at maps later I discovered this is Keeping Copse.
At first I kept to the track but soon I found myself wandering off to look at this and that. Wandering off into woods is probably not the best of plans in normal circumstances, it’s very easy to get lost, but I had the WalkJogRun so I knew I could easily retrace my steps. It really is a wonderful invention for people like me with no sense of direction. Sadly there were no bluebells in the woods, or any really interesting plants but I did find a network of rabbit holes, at least I think they were rabbit holes, I didn’t see any rabbits.
The whole area was like Swiss cheese, everywhere there were holes and I began to imagine a whole colony of rabbits beneath my feet. I did see the odd fern here and there with the swollen rhizomes covered in the brown hair of new leaves getting ready to uncurl. In one spot I thought at first I was looking at a pile of toasted almond slices until I looked closer, it was actually the remains of a pine cone, probably nibbled by squirrels or possibly even the rabbits. As I saw neither rabbits or squirrels I will never know for sure.
Turning back along the path I’d come by I accidentally started off along the private path towards the houses in the woods. Things always look very different when you go back the other way and its easy to go wrong, at least it is for me. I’d walked a little way before I saw the first house and at first I was confused. There were about eight houses in all, right among the trees and very curious looking dwellings too. They seemed to be half tree house, made of dark wood, single story but up on stilts with wooden steps leading up to a balcony running the length of the building. They really were quite wonderful and I wondered who lived in them.
It was an easy matter to turn back and get on the right path and soon I was on more familiar territory walking back past the cottage with the hawthorn hedge and the field of willow, back through the little wood where I’d seen the canoeists. I spotted a bright dandelion along the path there and, further along a pheasant came running across the field towards the hedge chasing something, goodness knows what. At least it was close enough to know for sure it was a pheasant this time and it reminded me of the one I saw dead beside the road on Twyford Down a while ago.
The horse that had been looking at me over the fence was laying down in the field with another horse, all wrapped up in their warm horse coats. I didn’t even know horses did lay down, I’ve never seen one do it before. You learn something new every day I guess. When I got to the car park behind the Montague Arms I took another wrong turn but this one actually turned out to be a short cut, leading me across the centre of the high street and back out to the river side. It took a while to cross the road as there was a surprising amount of traffic.
On the other side of the road there were also a surprising amount of ponies, goodness knows where they all came from because they weren’t there on my outbound journey. As you know, close encounters with the New Forest ponies scare me, I’m always expecting them to bite me or run at me. There’s no real reason for this, although I know they can be a bit too friendly, looking for food and I know it is illegal to feed them, not that that stops people. I had no choice but to walk right past them, within touching distance and I did so with extreme caution. In fact I was so nervous I almost jumped out of my skin when a terrific splashing noise came from my right.
Spinning round to see what it was I was just in time to see two ducks scooting towards the bank at great speed. One duck had an egg impaled on its beak, obviously stolen from a nest in the reeds. They scooted up onto the bank and began to peck at the egg but, before they could get very far, a pair of gulls swooped down towards them and the ducks turned tail and headed back to the water. I swear they were trying to look nonchalant as if they had nothing to do with the egg left lying on the bank. The gulls landed and, for a moment, I thought there was going to be a scuffle. In the end the ducks swam off leaving the egg abandoned on the bank. The poor gulls, who I’m guessing the egg belonged to, stood looking at it forlornly, probably wondering what to do next.
I left the gulls to their puzzle and turned back to face the hoards of ponies. Luckily I managed to get past without incident. To be honest the ponies took no notice of me whatsoever. It didn’t take long to get back to the path through the woods where I’d started off. There were some pretty little lesser celandine I hadn’t noticed before and, a little further on, I stopped to have a closer look at some lichen on an oak log. Then I was back out on the road with the Motor Museum entrance in sight. There on the corner I could see a figure waiting and, as I got closer, I saw it was Commando, back from his run, changed into his track suit and waiting for me.
I may not have made it all the way to Bucklers Hard but that just means we can come back another day and explore further, maybe then well even have time to visit the Motor Museum and see what has changed since our last visit.