So what do you do on a truly beautiful (but very very cold) Saturday in January when all of your usual National Trust haunts are closed until half term? Find somewhere else of course! We are so lucky to be so spoilt for choice in the area that we live, and with so much of it being free, deciding where to go really can be difficult at times. In the end we chose Crystal Palace Park, mainly for the dinosaurs; as we were reliant on public transport, we didn’t want to go anywhere too far, and we really wanted to avoid Central London, so the dinosaurs it was! A and E are dinosaur mad; E can be found playing “Andy’s Dinosaur/Prehistoric Adventures” all day long every day at the moment, and A just wants to know everything about everything and is constantly asking about them (I really must read that Encyclopedia or I won’t be able to keep up with her questions soon). We regularly visit the Natural History Museum, but we haven’t been to Crystal Palace for a while (not since E started walking in fact, so that probably makes it at least two years since our last visit), so I thought it would make an interesting change!
In the past we have travelled to Crystal Palace by car, which takes just under 30 minutes from Chislehurst; however, as we were reliant on buses this time, it did take a little longer. It really was the simplest journey though, and our particular bus stop was much closer to “Dinosaur Court” than the main car park.
Crystal Palace Park is located in the London Borough of Bromley, and today “consists of the open site of the former Crystal Palace, the Grand Terraces and central axis, statues of prehistoric monsters, geological strata, open parkland and pathways, sport and recreation facilities, an animal farm, playground, maze and café”.1 It was the “statues of prehistoric monsters” that we were mostly interested in this time, though the park really does have so much more to offer; on a previous occasion we visited the animal farm, and we would have again had it not been quite so cold. There is also a museum (open for a few hours at weekends) that I would like to visit at some point, though probably not with the children in tow!
Although simply known to most as “dinosaurs”, the “prehistoric monsters” are actually not all dinosaurs, but a series of sculptures of extinct animals (including dinosaurs and mammals). I won’t bore you with details of all of the different animals present as there are so many (and mainly because I don’t know them myself), but they do cover a wide range of geological ages.
I find everything about these models completely fascinating; they were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, pre-dating Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” by six years, and whilst they have been proven to be fairly inaccurate models (by modern standards), they represent the latest in scientific knowledge at the time. They have been extensively repaired over the years and I am so thankful for that; they are an amazing sight, particularly for any young dinosaur fan with an active imagination, and, in my opinion, a significant contribution to natural history.
As soon as we arrived at the park, we headed straight to the trail, before everyone got too tired, or cold, or hungry, or bored. We did have to walk past the play park en route though, which was tough, but the promise of a post-dinosaur trip seemed to spur them on! We also had to pass a few trees that just had to be climbed, but with the combination of a heavy frost covering on the trees and welly boots on the feet, this proved difficult.
The models themselves are all set on “islands”, surrounded by water, and I think this adds to the spectacle; it certainly makes for a lovely walk. The water was completely frozen on this occasion, so we had fun throwing in twigs and watching them bounce. E also enjoyed jumping on top of the frozen puddles!
There were lots more trees and rocks on the way round which seemed to be easier to climb (and jump off), and Lucy Leopard (remember her?), the preschool toy that we were entertaining for the weekend, enjoyed returning to her natural habitat!
After finding all of the animals, and lots of playing “dinosaur adventures”, we ate our picnic on a bench. At that point we were so cold that we went to get a hot chocolate as soon as we had finished. I remember the hot chocolates at the park café being one of the best I have ever had and spent much of our walk thinking about them, and looking forward to devouring one at the end, but I was left disappointed; the original café has been closed and, as a result of some serious structural issues, is being demolished and rebuilt later this year. Until then there is just a van (admittedly, with quite an extensive menu), but they didn’t have any milk to do the hot chocolates properly, so we had to settle for something else (obviously not the end of the world)!
After a hot drink, despite still being completely freezing, A and E wanted to visit the play area (via the gorilla statue)! As far as play areas go it is very nice, and is largely dinosaur themed (obviously), though it does get very busy (even on a day as cold as this one)! A and E enjoyed digging up “dinosaur fossils” in the sand, and clambering over the dinosaur skeleton obstacle course. Finally, when we could stand the cold no longer, we took our rosy cheeks and numb fingers back to the bus stop, with promises of a return visit on a warmer day (though we obviously had to stop to clamber over tree stumps on the way, as well as count all of their rings)!
1Crystal Palace web leaflet, downloaded 22/1/17.