On the occassion of London's Natural History Museum opening its summer blockbuster exhibition Age of the Dinosaur, (www.nhm.ac.uk), we dig deep for the best places to spot dinosaur remains around the UK.
Where: Jurassic Coast
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Jurassic Coast, which accounts for 85 miles of the southern shoreline of Britain stretching from western Dorset to eastern Devon, offers Britain's most fertile fossil-hunting terrain, plus several dinosaur museums. A particular hotspot is Charmouth, midway along the Jurassic Coast, where ancient animal remains are constantly washed from the cliffs (although the cardinal rule is never to dig in or hammer the cliffs themselves). It's also home to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre (www.charmouth.org/chcc/), which runs fossil-hunting walks, rockpool rambles and the like, rents out hammers, and educates the public on how to collect fossils safely and responsibly. The potential for big finds is pretty good -- at least two entire dinosaur skeletons have been found in the region.
Your best base is the lovely little gateway town of Lyme Regis, with its Dinosaurland (www.dinosaurland.co.uk) museum within a converted chapel and a Fossil Festival (www.fossilfestival.com) in late April. There's another Dinosaur Museum (www.thedinosaurmuseum.com) a few miles inland, in the delightful ancient county town of Dorchester.
Where: Isle of Wight
Fossil-hunters and dinosaur enthusiasts flock to this island off the south coast of Britain, with Compton Beach their focal point -- there are dino footprints in its rocks and plenty of fossils to be found. Staff at the nearby Dinosaur Farm Museum (tel: 01983/740844) will help you identify your finds, and you can also watch its volunteers clean and repair dinosaur bones found locally, while younger kids are kept entertained by the 3D dinosaur jigsaws, fossil sandpit, and dinosaur rubbings. At the resort town of Sandown, Dinosaur Isle (www.dinosaurisle.com)is an interactive museum designed in the shape of giant pterodacytl, with a dinosaur gallery with fossils, reconstructed skeletons, life-sized fleshed re-constructions, and two animatronic dinos. Ask about family fossil-hunting days run from the venue.
Where: Lavernock Point, near Cardiff
The startling multi-colored cliffs found on the coast between Penarth and Barry in south Wales include Blue Lias limestone, deposited in a marine environment during the Triassic and Jurassic eras and bearing the fossil vertebrae of extinct marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Particularly worth of investigation are the "bone beds" near Lavernock Point, where you might find fish and reptile teeth, scales and bones, and coprolites (fossilised dung), and you can also see dino footprints on this section of coast.
In nearby Cardiff, the National Museum of Wales (www.museumwales.ac.uk) has an Evolution of Wales gallery with a reconstruction of south Wales as it was 200 million years ago, with dinosaur skeletons and footprints, plus specimens of prehistoric marine animals related to the dinosaurs that swam off the coast of south Wales as well as Dorset (proving that an ancient sea once linked the two areas).
Where: The Fossil Coast, Yorkshire
The Yorkshire coastline from Staithes to Flamborough (about 35 miles) attracts prehistory lovers to its beaches and cliffs for fossils, bones and footprints. The best spots are the charming historical fishing port of Whitby and nearby Robin Hood's Bay, both with dino footprints visible on their beaches, and Port Mulgrave with its ammonites and dinosaur and reptile fossils (the latter not recommended for kids as the beach is difficult to access). Guides and trails are available from local tourist offices, while Whitby Museum, Scarborough's Rotunda Museum and The Moors Centre at Danby run special related events, including a Dino Club, family fossil-identification days, and walks in search of evidence of Jurassic life.
London's mighty Natural History Museum (www.nhm.ac.uk) has one of the world's best collections of dinosaur bones and fossils within its dedicated interactive gallery (closed June 6thÂ?July 22nd 2011 for essential maintenance, although the Age of the Dinosaurs exhibition should compensate for this; see above). You'll need to book well ahead for one of the popular Dino Snores sleepovers for kids aged 8-11 (accompanied by an adult), who get to spend the night in the shadow of the museum's centerpiece Diplidocus skeleton after an evening including a torch-lit dinosaur trail, two live animal shows and plaster fossil-making. There are also themed walks and talks on topics including fossilized dinosaur eggs.