England, UK, Wanderlust

Adventure island: Finding Isle of Wight dinosaurs

‘Come and see this!’ We trooped obediently across Yaverland beach on the Isle of Wight to look at the small, brown, apparently innocuous item being held out by Trevor, our guide from Dinosaur Isle.

My daughter drawng shapes in the sand on our fossil walk at Yaverland beach - finding Isle of Wight dinosaurs
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My four-year-old and I peered at this latest find from our guided fossil walk, as he enlightened us. The black ring encased in the brown shell was fossilised dinosaur bone; the fact it was hollow meant it must be from an arm bone, probably belonging to a carnivore.

‘T-Rex!’ squealed my daughter excitedly. It could have been… Our day had started rather differently, driving along quiet country lanes, watching a wild baby bunny nibble leaves by the side of the road as we cruised through the timelessly English countryside. I could feel my heart-rate dropping with every passing mile.

But while the Isle of Wight is the perfect chilled-out place for a holiday with kids, from the second you wave farewell to the mainland from the ferry deck, the Spinnaker Tower dominating the Portsmouth skyline, this time we were here for adventure. Family-style.

First up was finding the Isle of Wight’s dinosaurs. On our last visit, we whiled away a few hours inside Dinosaur Isle itself. This time, with Minnie just a few months off her fifth birthday, we were heading out to hunt them on the beach nearby.

Honestly, I thought we would have a nice walk, learn a few new things and come home. I hadn’t imagined we would leave with an actual dinosaur fossil – or a few coprolites.

Minnie couldn’t decide whether to be disgusted by the thought of prehistoric poo or slightly fascinated.

The latter won out, especially when she got to compare the leavings of (probably) an ancient crocodile and a dinosaur.

Add in the remains of a dinosaur footprint – from the time when the beach was a lake, at around the same latitude as Morocco is now – crystals growing in a rock fissure, fossilised shells, pretty rocks and stones leftover from a Tudor castle, and only the advancing tide and an enthusiastically friendly poodle could chase us off the beach.

With a quick lesson on the island’s geology from Trevor as we strolled through about 60 million years of cliff-face history, while yachts tacked and turned, their sails billowing along the horizon, I knew that alone we’d have wandered unknowingly past what turned out to be a full bucket of finds.

Called the UK’s dinosaur capital, this beach is only the beginning for dinosaur fans on the island – there have been a variety of apps, trails and activities created over the years, as well as Dinosaur Isle and The Lost World in the 4D cinema at The Needles.

For more ideas of the best Isle of Wight beaches with kids, including where to see a dinosaur footprint and hunt for fossils, check out this post

Our next stop was Blackgang Chine, with its own dinosaur experiences – after a quick look at some more contemporary ferocious beasts at the Isle of Wight Zoo, next door to the beach.

One of several animal attractions on the island – along with Amazon World Zoo Park and the Owl & Monkey Haven – it’s set in the ruins of a Victorian fort, now home to a string of rescued big cats.

To me, there’s nothing sadder than unhappy animals in a zoo and it’s often big cats which look the most distressed in small enclosures – things couldn’t be more different here.

With an emphasis on conservation and helping often badly treated animals, the lions, tigers and jaguar were lying around soaking up the May sunshine looking utterly contented with the world; pools, rocks and greenery to entertain between cat naps.

I could have gazed at the tigers for hours, it’s astonishing to see such beautiful animals close up.

Minnie had other priorities with a set of 10 stamps to collect from around the small zoo, passing monkeys, meerkats and several different species of lemur. Well, you know I love a lemur too.

But those ‘terrible lizards’ were waiting for us. One of the things I love about the Isle of Wight is that nothing ever seems rushed and nowhere ever seems too far away, so before long we found ourselves further along the south coast at Blackgang Chine, Britain’s oldest theme park.

Including a special ‘Dinner with dinosaurs’ event on that day, with activities and a chance to meet two baby Tyrannosaurus Rexes, we prepared for more adventure. Walking into the shadow of the trees, the sea glinting blue beyond, we heard the first roars – and saw the first teeth.

In ‘Restricted Area 5’ lives one of the world’s biggest collections of animatronic dinosaurs, some looking as if they might bound onto the path at any moment.

Only Minnie’s sharp eyes and quick shout saved me from one… which was squirting water at unsuspecting prey. Phew.

Emerging unscathed, we discovered these weren’t the only fanged inhabitants: two model angler fish in the Underwater Kingdom had my four-year-old running for cover back to the safety of brightly coloured coral, crabs, baby turtles and multi-coloured fish.

As we raced giggling under the huge blue whale suspended above the exit (probably friendly, but she was taking no chances), a second dive beneath the sea was postponed to discover dancing dodos, pirates inspired by the site’s smuggling history, and nursery rhyme land.

Which left one final adventure for the day… the maze. We’d made a tactical error by not bringing a navigator with us to stand on the platform and direct us around, so had to trust to luck and our sense of direction.

Good job no-one relies on us to find lost cities! After wandering the narrow hedge paths for quite a while (some of them quickly starting to look very, very familiar) as Minnie announced she knew exactly where she was going, we finally found ourselves back at the exit.

Rollercoaster in the background behind Nursery Rhyme land at Blackgang Chine - our day out hunting the Isle of Wight dinosaurs

But then who needs a leafy labyrinth when there’s dinner in the sun with a sea view to enjoy, while gloating over our impressive hoard of beach treasures. After all, it’s not every day you find a real dinosaur.

Click here to see more ideas on the best Isle of Wight’s family attractions plus how to find dinosaurs if you’re visiting the Isle of Wight with toddlers.

PIN FOR LATER: FINDING ISLE OF WIGHT DINOSAURS

Hunting the Isle of Wight dinosaurs - a weekend away on the Isle of Wight, UK, including a fossil walk to find genuine dinosaur remains, along with the country's oldest theme park at Blackgang Chine, now home to animatronic dinosaurs, plus the rescued big cats at the Isle of Wight zoo. A great family day out adventure. #isleofwight #ukdinosaurs

Disclosure: I’m working with Visit Isle of Wight who arranged our stay, the fossil walk and entry to the various attractions to help in finding Isle of Wight dinosaurs. All opinions remain my own or my daughter’s, including whether the fossil really was from T-Rex.

Images copyright MummyTravels

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