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Jurassic Park on the UK shores; Ken Bennett goes fossil hunting on the Isle of Wight, Britain's own dinosaur isle.

Byline: Ken Bennett

Thanks to finds from a prehistoric fish head to dinosaur bones, the cute, small diamond-shaped island that is a mere two miles across the Solent is fast becoming the Jurassic Park of Europe.

And as more monster discoveries are made, even traditional delights are making way for fun-filled days digging up colourful stones, bones and shells from a bygone age.

So much so that Sandown's Dinosaur Isle, Britain's only purpose built dinosaur museum, spectacularly shaped like a pterodactyl, is soaring over other historic rivals.

It certainly bowled us over as a pounds 13 Family Ticket took us on a Jurassic Journey for a personal eyeballing with the dinosaurs.

Sadly, though, we missed the Fossil Walk, which takes you through 115 million years of geological history before a wander along the beach for fossil hunting.

But it sure beat an unscheduled spell of bad weather in the so-called "Garden Island" rightly known for its mild climate.

I mused that even Queen Victoria, who, mourning the death of her beloved husband, Albert, moved to the Italianate splendour of Osborne House in East Cowes, would be mightily amused.

For the origins of fossil finds go

back as far as 1819, which was all so different from when my parents took me on my first "foreign" trip: though I, too, must admit to trawling the beaches and rock pools for hidden treasures, from a shiny pebble to an odd-shaped shell.

And today, just as then, when the sun shines, everyone heads to the 13 Blue Flag beaches, strung across 60 miles, from the golden sands of the main resorts of Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin to the small sandy bays of Totland Bay, or Steephill Cove, the locals favourite.

Shanklin, with its sweeping promenade dotted with red, yellow and blue beach huts, proved a perfect short stay find.

Even the crazy golf and cafes had an elegance echoing family holidays of yesteryear.

Prices, too, were pretty good, with drinks and cakes and a family round of crazy golf both costing under a fiver. And who can resist those chocolate box cottages offering "the best cream tea ever . . ."

Sandown, a few miles along the coast is livelier but without losing a sense of good taste' not for nothing is the islands known for catering for families and older folk.

And thanks to good roads and top-class public transport, no attraction is too far away.

Our car journey though winding byways to Blackgang Chine was a positive assault on the senses, with enticing glimpses of an azure sea and rugged cliff tops topped off with the overpowering aroma of wild garlic.

Perched on a cliff top and described as "a Disneyland designed by Enid Blyton", Blackgang Chine, 40 acres of former Victorian gardens, offers breathtaking views before entering the likes of Frontierland, Fantasy House, Nurseryland and Pirate's Ship.

And don't forget the life-size replicas in Dinosaurland.

Should you tire of this and white knuckle rides why not try something less hectic?

Once the island boasted 54 miles of rail. Today it's left to the steam railways, manned largely by volunteers since 1971 to haul you gently through the countryside from Havenstreet station, kitted out as it

three. was in its 19th century heyday. From here you are off with a hiss, hauled by a pristine loco dating back to the 1860s, lounging in a First Class carriage for a steam and coal amble back through time, complete with guards in original uniforms.

Family tickets, valid for a day, offer as many journeys as you like. And with a museum, playground and tea-room back at Havenstreet, what better way to end to signal the end of a perfect day, but not the end of our love for this delightful short break island.

After all, there's still the zoo, Victoria Country Park, the model railway and the planetarium and astronomical centre to talk about.

Yes, even the dinosaurs have to give a little ground sometimes.

Dinosaur Isle : Tel: 01983 404344' dinosaurisle.com Family tickets (two adults and two children): pounds 13

Isle of Wight Steam Railway: Tel: 01983 882204

iwsteamrailway.co.uk Family ticket (two adults and two children): pounds 22, third class, pounds 34 first-class

Blackgang Chine: Tel: 01983 730052 blackgangchine.com.

Savour ticket (combination of four people): pounds 31

Ken Bennett's family trip to the Isle of Wight was organised through Wightlink Holidays: 0870 582 0202 wightlink.co.uk.

Three night half board breaks at the Orchardcroft Hotel, Shanklin cost from pounds 152 per person ( half rate for children 5-11 quarters rate 12-16) and include return ferry crossings from Portsmouth or Lymington.Two nights on a half board basis cost from pounds 114 per person.

Wightlink Holidays offers a wide range of accommodation, including bed and breakfast from pounds 51 per person, and half board hotel breaks from pounds 57 per person including return ferry crossings on either the Portsmouth/Fishbourne or Lymington/Yarmouth cross-Solent routes

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From picturesque villages to dinosuar bones, Isle of Wight has plenty to attract visitors
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 25, 2006
Words:838
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