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England's prehistoric playground

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Let's face it, dinosaurs are far cooler than caravans and I will even go far as to state my belief that a tropical island off the coast of Costa Rica makes for a more exciting destination than sleepy Bournemouth.

This, and the fact that Jeff Goldblum exudes just that little bit more on-screen sexuality than me, is why Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park was made into an Oscar-winning movie while my recent weekend on England's 'Jurassic Coast' will be chronicled only in my photo album and this sorry excuse for a travel feature.

Having arrived from the bright lights of London late one Friday evening and pitched up our Xanadu on wheels on a site just a mile from the beach, we already had an advantage over our fellow weekend wannabe-palaeontologists.

Up first thing in the morning – well before the special Jurassic Coast Bus which conveys enthusiasts from the nearby urban areas to the stunning south-west coastline – we wandered down to the beach, fully equipped with a pocket book on fossils and a guidelines of the do's and do not's downloaded off the internet the day before.

Even without reading up on their history, the cliffs bearing down on Lyme Bay make for a grand sight, particularly before the crowds arrive.

However, to know, as we did, that they were in fact not merely cliffs but perfectly preserved documents of 180 million years of geological history, spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, puts them in a whole new light.

Rule number one of fossil hunting, though, came immediately to mind: picking up off the beach good, chiselling into the cliffs bad.

In fact, despite issues of coastal erosion and concerns of the stony beach disappearing, visitors are positively encouraged to take away samples they may come across and even take them any extra-special finds along to museum experts.

Alas, with my luck it seems unlikely that I will be troubling the Natural History Museum anytime soon with my discovery of a whole new species to complement the Ichthyosaurus skeleton found here by Mary Awning some years ago, a discovery which first focused the world's attention on this 95-mile long stretch of coastline.

But, I quickly realised, that this isn't really important.

In fact, I bet Ms Awning would have been equally as content if, like me, she had spent the day enjoying the sunshine and sifting through stones and pebbles, finding little more than the odd imprint of a snail-like creature or a decomposed crab.

Heading back to our campsite for a late lunch, we opted to lock our findings up safe in the knowledge that our caravan insurance policy would no doubt cover fossil theft, and head for a stroll along the top of the cliffs.

Britain's longest national trail and a Unesco World Heritage site, the South West Coast Path is at once challenging and breathtaking and, luckily for us, passes through numerous picturesque villages boasting idyllic and friendly pubs.

Not only did I get a new hobby out of a cheap and cheerful weekend away, but also I will never be short of paperweights.


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