Given Sam Bright’s excellent recent guest post on the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, it only seems fitting that we turn to another, more modern park full of full-scale life reconstructions of prehistoric beasts. Except, of course, this is firmly on the kitsch-o-saurus end of the scale, and there certainly won’t be a reference section at the end. Leave it to me to the lower the tone.
What’s more, this is yet another example of me wallowing in childhood nostalgia. For I recently visited the attraction now known as ROARR! (with three Rs, you’ll note), but known In My Day as the plain old Dinosaur Park and, more recently, the Dinosaur Adventure Park. It’s located in Norfolk, in the East of England; not that far from the city of Norwich, it still feels as if it’s in the middle of nowhere. That’s Norfolk for you. I’d last visited in the 1990s with my grandparents, but this time I was accompanied by Agata Stachowiak. Agata had never been, but was still quite keen on having a peek. What a good sport.
Back in the ’90s, the park featured nothing but old fashioned static models and play equipment, but now the inevitable rubbery animatronics have moved in, with pathetic waggling arms, Jurassic Park sound effects and all. Thankfully (and unlike certain other attractions), the park has retained all their old-school fibreglass monstrosities, and has even repainted a lot of them.
Aficionados of crap 1980s Wolter Design creations are in for a real treat here. You’ll find plenty of the usual suspects – the forehead-horned Styracosaurus, puny-armed tripodal Iguanodon, and Burianesque Stegosaurus with sprawling forelimbs are all here (see Niels’ Paradise Park report from a few years back), but among them are some more…unique specimens. Among these are the Spinosaurus and Parasaurolophus seen above, very obviously created by lightly modifying the old Wolter Tyrannosaurus and Iguanodon, respectively. The Spinosaurus in particular is a highly amusing creation, what with its blatantly mismatched head, pathetically tiny arms, and stick-on sail accessory. Agata remarked that it looked a bit like a ridged crisp(/chip), and I’m inclined to agree.
Among the standard Wolter models are other, more unique and memorable beasts that have (mostly) weathered the decades very well. Seeing them again felt like meeting up with old friends. These include an impressively huge Brachiosaurus with a truly bizarre-looking head and boxy body (seen above alongside some of the modern robots), and a Kritosaurus with nonsensical arms and disconcertingly human eyes. That stare down at you. Into your very soul.
In fact, an awful lot of the static dinos at ROARR! have eyes like this, which makes them all the more uncanny (and in one case, unusually terrifying – more on that shortly). Still, that they’ve survived all these years is very heartening indeed. The park is in the process of quite a major transformation of its dinosaur trail into the ‘Valley of the Dinosaurs’, with far more emphasis on dodgy robots with rubbery skins that will probably look decrepit in a few years’ time, so I really hope the old dears aren’t about to be phased out.
Sadly, said ongoing improvement work meant that a chunk of the Valley was closed off on my visit, and it just so happened to be the most nostalgia-tastic section of all, with Euoplocephalus, a (weird) Triceratops, Styracosaurus and the model I’d most been looking forward to seeing again – Tyrannosaurus, as based on a 1970s Airfix model kit. But, you know, huge. I love everything about this wonderfully shonky old beast, from its endless zipper teeth to its rod-like arms. I’d really wanted to get close to it again, but had to make do with viewing from a distance. Oh well. An excuse to return again, perhaps? Maybe it’ll have been repainted by then.
When I were a lad, the dinosaur trail constituted the bulk of the park’s attractions, but nowadays it’s greatly expanded, as you might imagine. There’s an indoor play area, a high ropes course, a petting zoo, a pedal go-kart racing track, and all that sort of gubbins. The old Dinosaur Park changed hands in 2006, and the current owners are keen to make it a success while maintaining the core ethos. A Good Thing, if you ask me. The park is awash with largely accurate edumacational signage (often starkly contrasting with the models positioned nearby), so kids can learn something here if they could only stop running around and screaming for a few minutes.
Oh, and there’s a small maze near the main playground that winds its way through dense bushes and seems to be a dumping ground for various disparate models. There are multiple Dimetrodon, Tanystropheus and Protoceratops clumped together, along with miscellaneous theropod bits (sometimes just heads) and, of all things, a hippo wallowing in what appears to be asphalt.
And then there’s this.
Don’t have nightmares, kids.
I really rather enjoyed ROARR! – the nostalgia element helped, of course, but there are plenty of impressively strange renditions of dinosaurs (and mammoths, and Neanderthals!) to check out, a decent selection of small animals in the little zoo, and it’s clear the owners really care for the place and the visitor experience, which is (again) heartening. A shame that part of the trail was closed, but then, they did reduce the entry price to compensate. I’d like to leave you with a couple more photos featuring Agata – one in which she’s threatened by a group of Burian Phorusrhacos clones, and another in which she’s made a nattily booted friend. Enjoy.
Oh, all right, here’s that Neanderthal family as well. They’ve been hanging around in this spot (complete with cave) since at least the early ’90s. These days, there’s a speaker nearby that plays a track of people speaking gibberish (but of course).