Jurassic World exploded onto our screens just over a month ago, with the disastrous story of dinosaurs mixing with the human race becoming the fastest film to surpass $1bn on the box office around the world.
While you may never get the chance to visit Jurassic World, the story of the prehistoric creatures that used to walk our planet can be experienced right here in the UK, with the southern coastlines renowned as a particular hotspot. Here are details of some great ways you can get your claws stuck into the history of dinosaurs during your holiday cottage break in Dorset, Hampshire or other countryside locations.
Discover the fossilised treasure of the Jurassic Coast
We begin our journey at the Jurassic Coast, a 95-mile coastline which stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth to Old Harry Rocks in East Dorset. While it’s certainly an area of outstanding natural beauty, it’s in our guide because it documents 180 million years of geological history thanks to its composition of Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous cliffs. With so much history locked away in this coastline, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular destination for fossil hunting.
To find out more about the appeal of fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast we got in touch with Roy Shepherd from Discovering Fossils, the complete online resource of palaeontology and guided fossil hunts across the British Isles. Here’s what Roy had to say about this famous stretch of coastline:
“The Jurassic Coast is one of the most productive stretches of coastline in the world for finding fossils; the combination of continual erosion, volume of prehistoric evidence and ease of access ensures visitors can discover a history dating back over 200 million years. There are numerous locations prospective fossil hunters can visit during their time along the Jurassic Coast, with the most productive spots including Lyme Regis, Charmouth, Seatown and Kimmeridge.”
- Roy Shepherd, Discovering Fossils
In addition to this, here’s some advice that Roy offered for those keen to try hunting fossils in the region:
“My tips would be, with regard to safety:
- Purchase a hard hat and protective glasses and wear them throughout the fossil hunt, especially when accompanied by children.
- Keep well clear of the cliff base and be aware of falling rocks at all times.
- Research tide times and always allow time prior to high tide to exit the beach.
- Carry a mobile phone at all times in case of emergencies.
…and with regard to fossil hunting:
- Move slowly and carefully, looking closely at the surface of rocks for evidence of fossils within, i.e. exposed at the surface of the rock.
- Extract fossils only if it can be achieved without breaking them and aim to remove a piece of rock with the fossil at the surface rather than taking the fossil itself out of the rock.
- Seek advice from www.discoveringfossils.co.uk if you think you’ve found something special; and only attempt an extraction if it can be achieved effectively.
- Observe local collecting rules, in particular not extracting fossils that are in situ, i.e. in their life position, in the bedrock."
- Roy Shepherd, Discovering Fossils
Another great resource to check out is the Jurassic Coast official website. By heading to their dedicated Rocks and Fossils page you can discover the story of how this area has changed vastly over time; playing host to a vast desert and a forest of conifers, it’s hard to believe just how much this area has changed over time. We were able to contact Paul Mitchell of Jurassic Coast, and here’s what he had to say about what makes this famous coastline so special:
“The Jurassic Coast is one of the most spectacular walking destinations in the country, and the entire length is accessible via the South West Coast Path National Trail. It is also one of the most important areas for fossil collecting anywhere in the world, with many significant fossil finds profiled in the visitor centres along the coast."
- Paul Mitchell, Jurassic Coast
To learn more about the history of the Jurassic Coast and even find out about some of the other activities that can be enjoyed, check out our guide that we created earlier in the year.
Head to Dinosaur Isle
While fossil hunting is certainly a great activity for the whole family to enjoy, you can only appreciate the huge size of these creatures when you’re up close and personal with them. While this may be impossible in real life, a fantastic alternative is paying a visit to Dinosaur Isle. Although you will have to climb aboard the Red Funnel and head across to the Isle of Wight to reach the attraction, the fact that it’s the UK’s first ever purpose-built dinosaur museum means it’s a must-visit for any dinosaur enthusiast.
We got in contact with Dinosaur Isle to find out more about the attraction, and here’s just some of the highlights they have to offer visitors:
“Begin your journey a mere 100,000 years ago in the Ice Age, when elephants, hippos and rhinos were roaming England! As you walk around the museum you travel further back in time, witnessing for yourself how the lands and seas, and the plants and animals changed over millions of years. See the now-extinct turtle Sandownia harrisi; once it swam the seas around England, but now can only be found in our display. Investigate the ammonites that lived around it, like the uncoiled Australiceras, or the gigantic Austiniceras.
“The pride of our display is the dinosaur gallery. Get up close and personal with a real skeleton of the ferocious Neovenator, and see a moment of a dinosaur’s day captured in a life-size display of fleshed-out models.
“When you visit us, make sure to visit one of our handling tables, where you will have the opportunity to feel a real dinosaur leg, or hold part of the spine of a 125-million-year-old Iguanodon!"
- Alex Peaker, Dinosaur Isle
Another reason to visit the Dinosaur Isle is the wide variety of fossil walks which are arranged throughout the year, all of which take routes along local beaches and offer visitors the chance to discover fossils for themselves. Among the treasures found on previous walks include remains of a new species of crocodile and pterosaur, so it’s worth keeping your eyes wide open as you scour the floor.
Discover the prehistoric fun of DinoFest
Although Dinosaur Isle is an attraction available all year round, DinoFest is a unique event which takes place once a year. It looks to entertain crowds across multiple venues across the county of Hampshire, with events including Dino Artist classes in Andover, Eastleigh and Westleigh, the Dino Explorer activity in the village of Alton and the Dinosaurium at the Winchester Discovery Centre. With so much to offer, it’s sure to appeal to both parents and children alike and serves as a great activity to be enjoyed during your English country cottage holidays in the region.
The most popular events are currently taking place at Eastbourne’s Milestones Museum and the SeaCity Museum in Southampton, where those attending the Dino Hunter and Dino Encounter are able to see incredible animatronic dinosaurs which have been kindly loaned by the Natural History Museum. After we got in touch with the organisers behind this fantastic event, here’s what they had to say about why DinoFest 2015 is so unmissable.
“This year is Dinofest 2015 and is partnered with SeaCity Museum in Southampton. We have 6 exhibitions happening across the county at 12 venues between the dates of 2 May-9 Jan. Definite highlights would include the animatronic dinosaurs on loan from the Natural History Museum that we have on display at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke and SeaCity Museum in Southampton. We also have some amazing prizes up for grabs in conjunction with the big theme. Visitors can join in by Dino Tracking, which involves collecting stickers at every venue to win prizes. The more you collect the more chance you have of winning prizes such as a trip to Blackgang Chine Dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight, a Dino Snores sleepover at the Natural History Museum and our own Hampshire Cultural Trust Culture Card which gives you lots of amazing deals at cultural venues around the county."
- Dinofest 2015
Image Credit: Matthew Anderson (Flickr.com), Jurassic Coast Team, Dinosaur Isle.