The New Forest holds many delights which I’m sure anyone who has been can tell you about but just ten minutes on from Beaulieu is Buckler’s Hard and if you haven’t been already it’s not too late.
It costs (at the time of writing) £52 for a family ticket to Beaulieu, which translates as ‘beautiful place’ and that is no word of a lie. It is. The house, abbey, museum and village all have plenty to offer www.beaulieu.co.uk and nearby Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway also has plenty of family appeal www.exbury.co.uk lying across the river as it does, from Buckler’s Hard www.bucklershard.co.uk
Buckler’s Hard (or landing place) is one of three settlements along the Beaulieu River, and should be on the ‘must visit list’ of nature and wildlife lovers, history buffs and sea-faring romantics. People still live and work there, which gives it a vibrancy and demands respect of its visitors as a consequence. Appealing to young and old, the drama of a riverside idyll, where such giants of the sea were built and launched, still haunts this sleepy rural hamlet, crafted by the skilled hands of master shipbuilders and shipwrights who built the likes of Agamemnon, Vigilant, Indefatigable and the Brilliant.
In 2011 the Maritime Museum at Buckler’s Hard was refurbished and re-opened. It costs just over £20 for a family ticket (and a glossy brochure) and whilst, hand on heart I couldn’t say it is, or should be, the ideal destination for a trip with hyper-active children (or adults), it is the perfect place for a romantic rendezvous or for less frenetic family excursions. Arriving by car, you enter via the tea rooms which serve appetizing fare and have a great shop stocked with goodies, beyond the shop lies the orchard and the museum; a wonderful step back in time to the eighteenth century. Between you and me, Buckler’s Hard is breathtakingly lovely, preserved so well by the Montague family. But for me the real gem of Buckler’s Hard is the Master Builders Hotel, I knew that the bar is a favourite for river tourists and the sailing community but until this weekend I didn’t know there was also a riverside restaurant and now I’m wondering why ever not. www.themasterbuilders.co.uk
The hotel itself is beautifully presented and I am now firmly set upon a short stay (take note Mr. B!) The staff were so helpful in dealing with our last minute decision to reserve a table for dinner which we then changed to lunch, there was no hint of irritation at our vacillation and the meal itself was sublime from start to finish. From local bread and freshly made olive pate, to a delicious terrine and a sea bass cooked to perfection, to a heavenly chocolate and bread and butter pudding, all tasting delicious and not looking overly fussy on the plate or slate (my only gripe – slate’s or plates? Plates any day!) The service was friendly and helpful and we couldn’t have hoped for a better dining experience, our ten year old wasn’t bored and nearly…nearly managed the whole of her succulent cod in a golden batter (just how she likes it), she also loved the pea mash and even tried the freshly made tartar sauce. The Hotel supports local produce so perhaps that is why everything tasted so fresh and flavoursome.
We left the hotel in the warm glow of a very pleasant, happy few hours well spent but feeling the need for a brisk walk. The river path to Beaulieu was calling, on the first warm sunny day after a week of grey grizzle, it was so enjoyable we didn’t make it all the way to Beaulieu, we were distracted by the bird hide at Keeping Marsh and views of the river kept inviting us to stop and stare. Another day, another adventure, we will be back .