Travel: Where tyrannosaurus rex lurks in Norfolk

One of the world's largest collections of roaring, life-size dinosaur models fires the imagination of Emma Haughton's children
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The Independent Culture
IT IS alarming to come across an iguanodon lurking in the bracken, and glimpse a huge, emu-like phororhacos perched precariously in the branches of a sweet chestnut. Norfolk doesn't quite feel the same after a visit to the Lost World Dinosaur Adventure Park in Lenwade.

A visitor attraction that appears to be riding on the back of a blockbuster movie might not sound appealing, but the park itself actually predates the Spielberg sequel (it only fairly recently changed its name) and it doesn't labour the connection.

The dinosaur trail, however, looping its way through several acres of attractive woodland, does give you the uncanny feeling that you have wandered on to a film set. One of the world's largest collections of life-sized dinosaur models is cunningly concealed behind trees and in dense undergrowth, and your walk is accompanied by various roars, squawks, primeval croaks and the occasional bloodcurdling screech, which considerably add to the atmosphere. Round one bend you are suddenly confronted by an enormous green-grey brachiosaurus - 22.5m long - its tiny head perched up in the tree line atop a huge, sinewy neck.

Some of the dinosaur models, it has to be said, are a bit cutesy, more Flintstones than The Lost World; others are so convincing that you half expect them to amble off into the undergrowth, or leap out of the bushes to grab you by the throat.

We had come with our three sons aged between seven and two. The two adults of the party were, by turns, amused and intrigued, but it was seven- year-old Joshua who was particularly impressed. "There were lots of noises and roaring and loads of big dinosaurs - I felt like I was going through Jurassic Park," he said as if star-struck.

"There was one dinosaur that was 12m high with a long, long neck. It might have been a diplodocus, I'm not sure. My favourite dinosaur, though, has always been the Tyrannosaurus rex, because it's really cool and scary."

Much of the scariness, though, is down to the sound effects that are played out along the dinosaur trail. Among the bursts of woodland birdsong the roar of prehistoric beasts might sound out of place, but it all adds to the jungly atmosphere. "I know how they made the dinosaur noises," five-year-old Flan commented. "It's because there are dinosaurs trapped in the models. They get a key and let them out in the evening when everyone has gone, because they don't want to stand up all night."

Whatever the truth, The Lost World Dinosaur Park is just as concerned with education as entertainment. At the Education Centre each life-sized model is accompanied by a comprehensive display giving details of the species, its lifestyle and habitat. The Centre is absorbing and thorough, with a wealth of information and objects illustrating the various prehistoric periods, the dinosaurs that thrived during them, and possible causes of their extinction. And there are some good lateral touches such as the display of a bee trapped in a piece of amber, which then looks at the problems inherent in reconstructing dinosaurs from fossilised DNA. It is a very clever way of drawing the kids into the more scientific aspect of the park - and sustaining their interest.

There is also a Neanderthal trail, which runs along much the same theme as the dinosaur trail, although evolution has moved on a few million years and the dramatic interest is provided by mammoths, tigers and the various families of our straggly-looking predecesors.

Having absorbed all they can, children can lose themselves in the woodland maze, avoiding the prehistoric tar pits and dinosaur nests, and then work off any remaining energy in a large and imaginative adventure playground. Joshua loved it.

"And I really liked the crazy golf," he said. "It was fun, because it had lots of little passageways for the balls to go. I liked the maze, too. You had to walk around and find the right way to go."

But what lived on far longer than the crazy golf were the hours of fun we had afterwards just trying to pronounce names of some of the improbable creatures that once stalked the planet. Hylaeosarus, huayangosaurus, dromiceiomimus, micropachycephalosaurus, eusterpto- spondylustrue - Joshua and Flan had them all sussed.

Lost World (01603 870245) is at Lenwade, nine miles from Norwich off the A1067. Open Friday-Sunday (10am-4pm) until 3 November. Admission: adults pounds 3.95, children pounds 3.25, under-threes go free. Cash or cheque only.