Monday, October 24, 2016

Wacky Hole

Imagine you've acquired a long-standing scenic tourist attraction, consisting of a series of impressive show caves at the end of a lush limestone valley with a gentle river running through it, the water feeding a Victorian paper mill. What might you do to draw even more visitors in? Some extra scenic gardens, maybe? A water feature or two? Or do you haphazardly slap in a truckload of enormous, garishly coloured, hilariously dated dinosaur models and a pirate-themed crazy golf course? If you're 'circus entrepreneur' Gerry Cottle, there can only be one choice.

The Wookey Hole Caves attraction is located in the village of Wookey Hole, near the tiny city of Wells in Somerset (south-west England). The Caves were acquired by Cottle in 2004; the dinosaurs were apparently added shortly thereafter, along with a huge hotel, restaurant and later, the pirate mini-golf (which didn't go down too well with some of the locals, as it replaced their bowling green and Cottle failed to gain planning permission beforehand). Nicole (the girlfriend, for newer readers) quickly christened the place 'Wacky Hole'. I actually visited the Caves with my parents in the 1990s, and while I don't remember it too well, I'm sure I would have if there had been huge dinosaur models there at the time! There's no denying the canny kiddy appeal...

...and of course, any adult lovers of dino-kitsch are going to have a field day. As can be seen in the above view (taken from the walkway up to the cave tour entrance), these cheese-tastic fibreglass monstrosities stick out like an Iguanodon thumb from the surrounding greenery. Many of the models appear to be retro Wolter Design beasts from the early '90s (or even earlier), so presumably they were bought second-hand (or maybe Wolter had a stock clearance, I dunno). Among these are the derpy, hump-backed Bronto, upright smiley Rexy, and an old friend...

Oh no, not again!

Other familiar faces include this 'early '90s hollow plastic toy' Stegosaurus...

...and an Iguanodon with creepy, spindly, humanoid arms and Trumpian hands, identical to a model that used to reside at Blackgang Chine (and I'm sure a lot of other tourist traps). Here it's been joined by a more recent, post-JP genero-raptor, as is sadly inevitable.

In fact, there are genero-raptors all over the place, often looking like they've sprung straight from the pages of a bargain bin kids' book illustrated by an artist with virtually no experience of illustrating anything resembling a tetrapod. (Check out the use of Papo's T. rex toy on the sign, too.)

This guy gets around.
Of course you can't have dinosaurs without those pesky 'other prehistoric animals' creeping in, too. There are a couple of pterosaurs present; one appears to be identical to the crazy model found at Godstone Farm, while the other looks like it's been tie-dyed. Both are clearly based on Pteranodon, because I mean, what other pterosaur is there?

Yes, that's a model of a man in old-fashioned diving gear, standing outside the entrance to an exhibition on the history of cave exploration. There are some odd sights to be had here. Dutch lady for scale.
A few notable prehistoric mammals also put in an appearance - naturally enough, as ice age mammal bones have been found in the nearby caves. Alongside the usual mammoth and cheesy cavemen, there's also a Smilodon sporting a funky giraffe-pattern stripe, because, again, you have to have Smilodon. And since there's a Smilodon, why not a dire wolf? To be fair, signs nearby do point out that both of these animals are from the Americas (actually, the signage is pretty good for the most part).

You know I've been saving the best 'til last. As visitors descend from the exit of the cave tour down into the 'Dinosaur Valley', it's a not a tottering T. rex or corpulent Bronto that first confronts them. Before revelling in the technicolour joys of dubiously accurate Mesozoic reptiles, one must first face down...the Eighth Wonder of the World!

Eat your heart out, Universal Studios!

In spite of the wacky, tacky additions, Wookey Hole Caves is still an attraction worth visiting if you're in the area; the cave chambers open to the public are surprisingly extensive, and feature some interesting, rare geological phenomena. Kitschy dinosaur models are really just a glorious bonus...


  1. Sad to say, this might be one of those rare situations in life where fewer dinosaurs might be a good thing. Although the smilodon looks like it could come from the planet Trill rather than the americas, and that giant not-Kong is laugh-out-loud random! That really puts the cherry on the "caves mean them dinasore things - just get some big dinasore models - any dinasore models" cake.

  2. Tourist caves and cheesy dinosaurs are apparently an inevitable combination. Fiberglass dinos infest the area around Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky as well, despite the complete lack of dinosaur fossils from the region. I mean, it's all geology, right?

  3. The Smilodon's markings make it appear to have sideburns.

  4. if you want to see some dated dinosaur modles gullivers matlock/warrington is the place for you! (the modles however at the milton kenyes locations are actually decent however) the dinosaur models hidden away at blackpool pleasure beach are vintage too.


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