Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dinosaurland, Lyme Regis

Back in February (remember that?), Nicole and I (remember her?) decided to pay a visit to Devon and Dorset, which are counties in the South West of England, should you not be familiar with British geography. I'm sure the lack of Hordes O' Tourists made up for the cold and the bitter wind. In any case, we stayed close to, and thus spent a fair amount of time in and around, Lyme Regis (which is just about in Dorset), home of the endlessly charming Dinosaurland Fossil Museum. It not only boasts stacks of fossils collected locally, but also a collection of late '80s model dinos fit to slap a smile on the face of any plastic saurian aficionado. And a Dinosauroid. More on that later.

Lyme Regis is the perfect setting for such a museum. The town is famous for the fossil-rich local coastline (it's on the Jurassic Coast), and was home to palaeontological pioneer Mary Anning. In fact, the largest part of the museum is formed of the former church in which she was baptised. Dinosaurland is owned and run by palaeontologist Steve Davies and his wife, Jenny. Having already been to any of the several fossil shops in Lyme Regis, you'd be quite prepared to see a huge collection of ammonites (as in the photo above), but Dinosaurland is full of wonderful surprises - not least a huge room packed to the rafters with...taxidermy.

Taxidermy in a fossil museum? It can only be a bonus. There's some great stuffed stuff in here too, like this fox atop a pike.

Of course, we're really here for the slightly dated plastic models of prehistoric animals. Dinosaurland doesn't disappoint.

This plesiosaur, surrounded by fish fossils, has sat on its rock in classically Burianesque style (beached Nessie) for decades now, as the below photo (taken in 2002 and featuring a fellow who knows a thing or two about plesiosaurs) will testify.

"Plesiosaurs/and their biiiscuits..."
 I love its speckliness, although that head isn't half peculiar. Other marine reptile models include...

...this ichthyosaur, a lovingly home-made diorama (by Steve) tucked away in a dark corner.

The museum features a number of real ichthyosaur specimens (and casts) of course, including this beast. Mary Anning would be delighted. It had a wonderful story behind its discovery, too, although I managed to lose it down the back of my hard drive somewhere. If anyone's able to fill me in, I'll update this post accordingly.

Some of the other life models hanging around weren't actually created by Steve, but were purchased from a museum in Gloucester that went under. They include this very homebrew Baryonyx, sculpted (I believe) out of polystyrene. It's pretty damn hideous, but hey - at least they got the single crest on the snout right.

There's also this herbivorous...thing (below). I'm not quite sure what it's supposed to be, if it is meant to be anything in particular. It resembles a basal ornithopod with a periscope neck.

Mounted on the wall next to a Megalosaurus skeleton (which has popped up in a few museums here and there) is this half-a-Rexy-head. He's very cross with you.

The Megalosaurus mount is positioned superbly so that interesting angles are visible unexpectedly as one explores the museum, and especially the first floor balcony. As can be seen below, it's surrounded by the odd disembodied head and '70s retro Scelidosaurus model.

The main attraction in terms of plastic dinosaurs (andotherprehistoricanimals) is the Time Tunnel, located up on the first floor balcony. It depicts the history of life on Earth through a series of very charming home-made dioramas, most of which were apparently installed in the late '80s to early '90s. Beginning with a load of rubbish marine animals, the first tetrapod on the scene is Ichthyostega, looking very happy and toothy as usual. Glorious googly eyes.

Proceedings soon move on to the Permian, where this rather boxy Dimetrodon is also depicted devouring some hapless, smaller creature. Life: it's all brutal dismemberment and Donald Trump. I think I'll have another beer.

The Triassic diorama sees, naturally enough, the dinosaurs making their grand entrance in the form of these alarming spindly creatures, presumably a group of Coelophysis because they're lanky and lithe and that. This is one of the more vegetation-packed scenes, and all the better for it.

I do like the smiley fellow in the bottom right. Reminds me of a hollow Chinasaur from the bargain bin. And Blackgang Chine.

Of course, by far the best creature in the lineup is this magnificent, none-more-'80s dromaeosaur, which (although beautifully painted) hasn't aged at all well. It's a glorious hodgepodge of period details, right down to the incongruously tiny hands and peculiar periscope neck (I sense something of a trend here). It also bears a passing resemblance to the Dino Riders Deinonychus toy, which was reincarnated in the early '90s as part of a dinosaur toy range endorsed by the Smithsonian.

Incidentally, Steve is well aware of how dated this lovely ugly bunch are, and has considered replacing them with something a little more up-to-date. I will continue to strongly discourage him from doing so. These models put a smile on my perma-frowning face of misery, and I'm sure they'll do the same for plenty of other visitors, too.

And so the Age of Dinosaurs (and with it, the Time Tunnel) ends. Or does it? What if...the dinosaurs had survived? And don't be silly and suggest that birds are, effectively, dinosaurs living today. It's 1989 and a number of prominent palaeontologists wouldn't approve. No...what if the troodonts had survived? And went on to evolve into goggle-eyed reptilo-men as envisioned in a surreal dream one night by Dale Russell after eating a vast quantity of strong cheese?'s another model saved from that defunct museum in Gloucester.

Yes, it's a Dinosauroid! Or 'Saurian', as the signage would have it. This one, rather unusually, is equipped with a thumb not so much opposable as completely reversed, like the hallux on a perching bird. A gloriously bizarre little relic from another time. See below for a photo with a human to indicate scale.

As usual, I'm doing the museum a great disservice with this post - it's absolutely not all about the model dinosaurs, which are really just a delightful bonus. At its heart is a carefully curated - not to mention enormous - fossil collection, all arranged neatly and labelled up by Steve himself. As I'm a Chasmogoon, though, it was of course the plastic creatures that caught my attention. It's a wonderful museum, and I'd like to thank Steve for taking the time to chat with me and putting up with my...unusual questions. If you're ever in Lyme Regis, please do drop by!


  1. A former church? It sounds rather sad, although it's better for it to serve some useful purpose than to simply fall into disrepair...

  2. "It resembles a basal ornithopod with a periscope neck."

    Actually it's a rare early sauropodomorph that was never fossilized.

    1. It reminded me of this Sibbick Plateosaurus, mostly in the pose and neck.

  3. I concur with llewelly; while its shape is a little odd, its posture is a dead-ringer for a vintage prosauropod.


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