Many years ago, Marc introduced you all to the marvellous wonder that is Paradise Park. Early in 2019, he also introduced me to the place. Now I will re-introduce you to it, because I am on a mission to bring back Ugly Ugly Dinosaurs to LITC (or, as those savvy to today’s Internet lingo call them, Cursed Dinosaurs), and there is simply no place quite like Paradise Park. Enjoy!
Although there’s plenty of tourism in the greater Brighton area, there is little reason for a Dutchman to visit Paradise Park… unless you and your mate happen to be the biggest dinosaur geeks in the world. Located next to a garden centre in the bleak coastal town of Newhaven, it’s a small, self-made dino-themed park and museum, and one of the most endearingly quirky little places I’ve ever seen.
The party starts with a small, cramped indoor museum. Officialy, it’s a museum about conservation and the history of the world, but it goes all over the shop. There’s stuff about the solar system, prehistoric times, volcanoes and earthquakes, life on earth and, finally, space travel. What does it all have in common, except that it is all things that children think are cool? I think I have just answered my own question.
And then, there’s the dinosaurs. Oh my fur and whiskers, the dinosaurs! If you like dinosaur kitsch, this is a paradise indeed. Drink it in, everybody:
They look like off-model cartoons, they move like wooden puppets and they roar with sound effects from Godzilla and JP. It’s hilarious. I would like to draw your attention especially to the eye placement on the Velociraptor‘s head, the teeth in the front of Saurornithoides‘ mouth and the sack-like necks on all the theropods. They in no way resemble anything that has ever actually existed, but there’s a real homespun charm to them. Say what you will about these silly things, but they are certainly not the same modern, mediocre factory-built models you see in your average, newer dinosaur parks!
This was my first introduction to this way-off Styracosaurus with its Elasmotherium– like horn that Marc encounters everywhere. One has even popped up in the Netherlands recently. Paradise Park even has two of them! Interestingly, this one moves its head to and fro while its brightly coloured sibling outside (more on that one later) is completely still. Has the owner cut the head off and personally put a servomotor in to make it move? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Even more baffling is fact that there’s little dioramas here and there with actual toy dinosaurs – and cheap ones at that – on display. It’s too bonkers for words and irresistible for that reason.
Once you’ve made your way through the museum, you enter into some conservatories and indoor gardens, of which the large tropical one is the most photogenic. Here, the absurd dinosaur kitsch does not end; in this case, a ridiculously life-sized wooden toy dinosaur skeleton – the kind you could find in any toy store back in the day (only it’s got a sail now, making it a Spinosaurus!). Who comes up with this stuff? Where do you even get something like this?
Outside in the gardens, the park gets no less bizarre. It’s a pretty nice labyrinthine park with meandering paths along a few lakes, decorated with… anything and everything, basically. It’s like walking through a surreal children’s dream. There’s Roman statues, straight out of the garden centre. There’s dragons, witches and fairy tale figures. There’s an extremely creepy lighthouse keeper. There’s lots and lots of miniature models of all kinds of local landmarks. All of this is presented completely without context, but with an honesty that I find quite endearing. Somebody here has made all their dreams come true all at once.
And, of course, there’s more dinosaurs.
Moreso than the dinosaurs indoors these are more obviously old-school factory models, but that doesn’t mean there’s no character to them, especially because they’ve all been given extremely loud primary colours. Technicolor Triceratops is hunched like the NHM skeleton, Stegosaurus is a cartoon mockery of Knight and the belly-dragging Caselli-style Scolosaurus is extremely retro.
None are weirder, however, than the magnificently derpy Plesiosaurus. Whoever designed this deserves some kind of medal.
Here’s that other elasmo-Styracosaurus, the one that doesn’t move. Compared to Scolosaurus and Plesiosaurus, this gal looks downright sensible. Marc’s photos from 2011 reveal that she’s had a makeover since then, though the new colour scheme isn’t any more or less plausible. Against all odds, this park is fairly well looked-after, bless. There’s also a mammoth and a cave bear in this section, ‘cause where else were they gonna put them?
There’s no big T. rex in this park, but there is this little guy that the signage identifies as a “baby T. rex”. Sure. Gotta reach your Sexy Rexy quota somehow!
Filled with eccentric English charm and a most eclectic collection, Paradise Park is one of the strangest parks (dinosaur-centric or otherwise) I have ever seen. There’s certainly nothing like it in my extremely homogenized home country. On the one hand, it’s a messy collection of ridiculous dinosaurs and a big heap of random stuff, but on the other it’s also an extremely pleasant green park with some lovely lakes and a lot to be amused about. I’m glad Paradise Park exists.
(A Dutch version of this post appeared earlier on my Nielsaurus blog.)