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THE five year-old son of a friend recently took part in a school fancy-dress day. 'Oscar, how lovely! You've come as Bob the Builder,' his teacher enthused.

'No miss, I'm a palaeontologist,' corrected an indignant Oscar.

Such is the amazing appeal of dinosaurs to small boys -not least our own who, like Oscar, eats, sleeps and talks dinosaurs.

With this prehistoric passion in mind there was only one thing for it -we'd take him fossil hunting.

And where would this prehistoric adventure take place? The Jurassic Coast, of course.

But if sun-scorched deserts petering out to blue seas spring to mind, think again. Picture instead cream teas, because one of the best places to find fossils is the coastline of Dorset and east Devon.

This 95-mile stretch is now recognised around the world for its outstanding geology and fossil sites and is England's first natural World Heritage Site -an honour it shares with the Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon.

Each day we set off from our picturesque cottage in search of nuggets from a lost time. It became a family obsession. So many rocks, so little time.

One of our favourite spots was the beach at Seatown, near Bridport -not least for the views from the AnchorInnpubgardenwhich sits almost on the beach itself.

Jurassic Coast is beautiful, but not breathtaking on the scale of the Grand Canyon. Having said that, we completely fell in love with the whole area and fossil hunting in particular.

Sam, our son, had grand expectations of finding a complete skeleton of a velociraptor but displayed almost as much enthusiasm for a very unremarkable pebble that he found.

Hour upon hour was spent beachcombing and dusk brought with it evening fishermen and a string of small campfires along our route back.

At the end of a back-breaking day we staggered to the car with two dog-tired but very happy children, the remnants of a picnic andahandful of whatmight possibly be fossils on a good day and with a little imagination. We found spring a perfect time to visit. The garden of our Country Holidays cottage was flanked by fields with curious lambs and ewes giving us plenty of entertainment. As well as the lambs, Hannams Cottage camewith its own private lake whichcouldbe fished, but which was far enough away (through two gates and across a large field) not to be cause for concern with the children.

Although the cottage wasn't large, it was perfect for a small family or couple and the outstanding views and privacy made it a place you would want to return to.

Away from the Heritage Coast we found Bridport a very welcoming distraction for an afternoon's shopping.

The town has everything you could want, with a good mix of largish stores and familyrun shops, along with interesting restaurants and pubs. We returned several times over the week and felt very much at home watching the world go by from a pub table out on the pavement.

A few miles from Bridport is West Bay, best knownasthe setting for Nick Berry's TV series Harbour Lights.

Our first visit coincided with heavy rain as we stepped out of the car. Despite this, West Bay has a certain seaside charm, which lends itself to rainy days.

It's a mish-mash of new and old, fish and chip kiosks and candyfloss, children crab fishing from the quay and kamikaze seagulls.

But it is strangely tranquil for a seaside town. No garish fluorescent pink lights and shrill arcade rantings.

Well, none that I could see. The larger and busier towns of Lyme Regis and Weymouth, with its sealife park, are packed with character and well worth a visit, as is the Swannery at Abbotsbury, where baby swans can be seen hatching.

If the kids still have some energy to burn off after all that fossil hunting, Abbotsbury is also home to a Children's Farm and Smugglers Barn, which has pony rides, tractor races and animal feeding along with a soft play centre.

But if you're looking for an antidote to the more typical seaside holiday whereyouwon't be constantly digging into your pocket at the bequest of your children, England's Jurassic Coast is a breath of fresh air -literally.


Sylvie Dalton and family stayed at Hannams Cottage in Waytown, Bridport. For more information on Hannams Cottage and other cottages available from Country Holidays visit website or call 08700 781 200.


PACKED WITH CHARACTER: the bustling seaside town of Weymouth; TREASURE: the Jurassic Coast is full of fossils; PEACEFUL: Hannams Cottage
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 23, 2004
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