22/04/2011 10:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Beaulieu Motor Museum - Not Just For Boys And Petrol Heads!

When my son asks to go on boy-centric outings, I usually prepare myself for a day of traipsing around behind him, phone in hand, passing the time on Twitter or Facebook and perking up only once in the tearoom and in receipt of tea and cake.

So when Honda UK offered to treat us to a day at Beaulieu Motor Museum, the first thing I did before saying yes was check out the dining facilities on their website - if there was no cake, we'd be a no-show.
But the refreshment provisions detailed seemed more than satisfactory, so on a cold, rainy February morning, we took to the M3 in our borrowed Honda Jazz (the world's first hybrid super-mini, no less) and, at a sedate 50 mph, motored down to the New Forest. 50mph because a) it was blowing a complete gale and I was in a strange car and b) I had someone else's child as well as my own on-board, which always makes me drive on egg-shells, if there's such a phrase.

But the car was actually a dream to drive (as it should be - the model is very much geared towards family motoring and despite its compact size, gave my usual Volvo estate and Citroen Picasso a run for their money on space, headroom, and kid-friendly-comfort).

We arrived at a very wet and cold Beaulieu just in time for lunch and located the huge cafeteria just beyond the entrance hall - which, when you're cold and wet and desperate for a cuppa, is always welcome; nothing worse than having to walk miles for a snack and drink after a long journey. I geared up for the petrol-fest ahead with a double chocolate muffin and several large cups of tea, and, once sated, strode out into the drizzle, map in hand.

We headed first to the Top Gear experience, which is what had sold the boys (7 and 8) on Beaulieu in the first place.

I don't watch Top Gear. I ambled in behind them, finger poised on phone, ready to load up the interweb and Tweet something about being bored, but my interest was soon piqued by a Mercedes that had been decked out like a cottage... and then a limo that had been converted into a bowling alley...and two cars welded on top of each other..and...and...basically, I was suckered in.

The boys were jumping up and down and demanding to have their pic taken with The Stig (who? what?) - or at least, The Stig's costume, whilst I closely examined a large black and white shot of Clarkson, Hammond and May and tried to decide who I found the most attractive (May, as it happens - the swishy hair swung it).

But Beaulieu isn't just about Top Gear - it is of course home to the National Motor Museum. I didn't really expect this to hold the boy's interest for long, because it is huge and there are just so many vehicles to see, but it did, with my older charge actually taking out his notebook and writing down detailed descriptions of his favourite models. This was my fave (top pic) - not the lure of a flashy sports-car for me, oh no, I want a horseless carriage with gas-lamps:

In fact,we spent so long wandering around the actual Motor Museum that we did not have time to explore the rest of Beaulieu: The James Bond experience, Palace House (which is a 13th century Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey and is still occupied by Lord Montagu and his family) and Beaulieu Abbey, which was founded in 1204 by Cistercian monks. Or the gorgeous grounds and gardens which surround the whole attraction (and which, on a summer's day would be wonderful for picnicing on, or just relaxing whilst the kids run around).

We did, however, find five minutes to have a rummage in the gift shop as we were making our exit - and having slapped a £5 each limit on both boys and imparted stern words about plastic tat, I was relieved that they chose wisely and under budget, coming out clutching pens, erasers, and, in the case of my son, a wind-up Beaulieu torch (you never know when you'll need one).

All in all, it was a good day out, but one which would have been a whole lot better if the weather had been fine, and we'd planned our trip with a bit more foresight - Beaulieu really is a DAY out - there's just so much to do and see there, whether you're a petrol-head or not, and we only had four hours to try and take it all in*. But it was most definitely worth it, and we will almost certainly return again in the summer. (And the cakes are damn good, too.)

*You can actually re-visit for free if you do not have time to see everything first time round - guess they can't say fairer than that. See the Beaulieu website for details.
Normal admission prices are Adults £16.50, children 5-12 £8.75, 13-17 £9.75.
Kids under 5 go free, whilst family tickets are £44.75.

Have you been to Beaulieu? What do you think of it?