My usual posts about our trips tend to be garden or farm focused, but I’m straying away from that theme just this once to talk about our recent day out for our dinosaur mad preschooler’s birthday treat!
Henry turned 4 in August and for months before this he’d been telling anyone who was interested that he’d be going to a dinosaur park for his birthday. Still being relatively new to living in the West Country, I called out to other mums on Facebook to ask if there was anything in the area that would vaguely meet his expectations, and I was swamped with recommendations for Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park.
Combe Martin is situated just outside of Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast, about an hour and a half away from us but we felt it was worth the trip for Henrysaurus.
I booked our tickets online in advance and we set off early in order to beat the queues, and I’m glad I did! We arrived not long after the gates were open, and our first stop (excuse the pun) was the Dino Express, as we figured it would get busy later in the day.
We expected this miniature train ride to take us around the dinosaur section of the park, but in fact it was more like a mini theme park attraction, telling a story with a rather soggy ending… I won’t spoil it for you but let’s say you need the rain covers that are provided when you set off on the short journey!
Next we visited the animatronic dinosaurs which came to life every hour on the hour, in a mini Jurassic Park style setting. Henry and Seb were a little wary at first as we’d warned them that the dinos would move, but once they were confident that they weren’t going to get swallowed up by prehistoric lizard, they thoroughly enjoyed the 10 minute show.
Then we set off through the Domain of the Dinosaurs, a walk that takes you down through the valley, spotting various dinos along the way. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that the whole park is located on quite a steep hill, and you’re very aware as you’re walking into the valley that what goes down, has got to come up again (including a 2 year old’s little legs).
The Domain of the Dinosaurs was definitely the highlight of the visit for us, as the boys got to spot dinosaurs within the natural environment surrounding them. Henry has a passion for remembering the names of different species, so he was excited to spot several dinosaurs that he recognised (and many that we didn’t know!)
The gigantic Triceratops that’s situated towards the end of the trail was quite literally breathtaking, and although not actual sized, really gave us a feel of how magnificent the dinosaurs must have been.
Once we’d had our fill of dinosaurs, we ate our lunch in one of the allocated picnic areas and headed off to check out the rest of the animals in the wildlife park. We discovered that Combe Martin doesn’t have the largest range of animals on site, and although we enjoyed seeing the lemurs, the penguins and the meercats, the boys weren’t too bothered about the rest of the inhabitants such as wolves and snakes.
Other attractions at the park included Tomb of the Pharaohs, which to be honest was a bit scary for our 4 and 2 year olds but would be good fun for older children who have an interest in ancient Egypt, as it’s very well presented and filled with facts and information!
There’s also a very small dinosaur museum situated behind the gift shop, which we didn’t even know about until right at the end of our visit when we were waiting for Daddy to get the car! It includes a replica of a dinosaur skeleton and a tiny cinema where you can watch a film about dinosaurs.
We didn’t visit the Critter Cavern or the Botanical Gardens as we didn’t think the boys would be interested in these areas, and we’d already filled our day out with lots of dinosaur action!
Finally, we ended our visit in the obligatory Dinosaurus Soft Play area… Let’s be honest, what kid is going to resist that? As far as soft play centres go, this one ranked quite highly with us. It’s a spacious area with plenty of seating, and the apparatus itself is huge! There’s also the biggest ball pool the boys have ever experienced. Signs request that an adult accompanies each child into the play zone and I’d agree with this, as it’s a maze of tunnels, nets, slides and bridges, and Sebastian could have easily got lost! I think they could beef up the dinosaur theme in there, as it just consisted of a few pictures on the walls, but the boys weren’t complaining.
In summary, I’d say if you are visiting the park for the dinosaur day out, you won’t be disappointed. The animatronic dinosaurs were just enough to fascinate our young boys without scaring them – when we planned the trip I was a bit concerned that it would be the fastest visit ever, if the dinosaurs were too ferocious! I really hope they continue to extend their range of dino exhibits and attractions, as it’s a win for kids and adults alike – we had 5 grown ups in our party who loved it as much as the boys! I’d say if you want to see a wide range of (non prehistoric) animals, head to another zoo or safari park. Come to Combe for the dinosaurs! (that could be their new strapline, maybe I’ll pitch it to them.)
Our tips for visiting Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park:
- Get there early to avoid the queues.
- Wear sturdy footwear that you can tackle sloping paths in.
- Take a picnic, there are plenty of places to stop and eat and it saves time and money going to one of the food outlets.
- Plan your route and your lunch break before you venture into the park. We ended up backtracking up the hill to have our picnic lunch when we were half way around the park trail!
- At the end of your trip get your allocated driver to retrieve the car and pick you up in the disabled car park next to the gift shop. This is advised by the park staff, as the hill back up to the main car parks is very steep for tired little legs!
If you’re on holiday in the West Country and looking for other ideas, check out our review of Barleymows, and also head to The Down To Earth Parent blog, which is packed with ideas of child friendly parks, pubs, soft play centres, walks and days out!