The Etches Collection Museum of Jurassic Marine Life is a museum focused entirely on Jurassic marine life. But not just any marine life. Jurassic marine life from the Kimmeridgian age of the Late Jurassic. And all was collected by one man – Steve Etches.
When you go to the Etches Collection, the first thing you notice as you drive into the car park is the building itself. It is very modern and looks very attractive and welcoming, with large glass windows interspaced with wood and stone. One section of the roof has solar panels. The grounds around it are adorned with plants to get you into the ‘Jurassic’ feel.
Inside, there is a gift shop on the left, and bunch of tables with fossils and a microscope. There is also a sand pit type thing where you can dig for a fossil fish. You walk up some stairs fit with huge pliosaur & plesiosaur murals that really set the scene, and emerge on the top floor. There is a bench where you can watch a looped video about Steve Etches and the collection, and the doors to the village hall – a nice wooden room with huge ammonite artwork on the walls. I think it is available to hire for schools and parties.
But that’s not even the collection yet. The true wonders of this museum are through a set of doors into the collection itself. The first thing you notice is the fossils themselves. Although they are behind glass, they are backlit so you can take photos. Each is exquisitely and painstakingly prepared, showing off the true wonders of the fossil without any loose clay getting in your way. Around the collections are notations and labels and small sketchy black diagrams – making the whole thing look like the page of a book. The collections line both walls and display a myriad of specimens – ranging from lobsters in ammonite’s shells to ichthyosaurs with the remains of their last meal visible inside their rib cage. In the middle are two display cabinets – one displaying a few bones of the only dinosaurs and pterosaurs in the museum (there aren’t many) and another showing a huge Pliosaur jaw. The jaw is really cool – only slightly less cool when you know the teeth are fake. This is the one point that I would penalise the museum for, as although the teeth are what we would think a Pliosaur like that would have, it is still slightly off-putting if the fossils have been tampered with. Still, it was awesome.
Interspaced between the collections are interactive boards on which little activities relating to the fossils can be played to learn even more about the fossils, and the animals they once were.
Above the collections projected screens showing a looped video depicting the marine life, alive as opposed to mineralised. This really gives the feeling of being in a gigantic aquarium or submarine and adds to the magic of the place. Whilst you are touring the exhibit, shoals of ammonites swim past above your heads, and plesiosaurs are hunted down by pliosaurs. The CGI is very good and doesn’t look cheap, like a lot of CGI these days. Unfortunately, my photography doesn’t do the CGI justice, so you’ll just have to imagine for the moment.
The last thing of note in the collection was at the end of the hall, where behind glass doors – is Steve Etches’ workshop! And guess what, you can see him in there working! If you’re lucky (like I was) you can even get a word with him when he packs off for the evening. When I was there he was preparing an ichthyosaur.
So here’s a nice picture of the gallery in whole.
Also, the gift shop is really worth the visit, I got a mug and an ichthyosaur rib fragment. Yes, unlike every other Jurassic Coast gift shop, they actually sell bits of ichthyosaur. Also, they have cool pterosaurs in the gift shop.
Before I go, there are several things I’d like to address. Firstly, the collection is one room. Most people, when they see the building, which also includes the village hall, believe this is London’s Natural History Museum reborn, but it’s not. It doesn’t have any towering dinosaur skeletons, nor an animatronic rex. It is just the collection of one man, and all from the Kimmeridge Clay. That is part of the collections’ beauty, they way that all the animals lived together. Secondly, most of the unsatisfied people only spend 20 minutes in the museum. To get the full experience, you need to read all the boards, look at all the fossils, play all the interactive activities, watch all the films and sit there gazing at the CGI until it loops several times. If you’re lucky, you can get a free tour by one of the staff, and the staff are amazing and very knowledgeable. Thirdly, many people don’t like the price. Yes, charging £5 a child and £8 an adult may seem pricey, but you’re buying a year long ticket. And the collection changes its fossils over time, so you can come back and go, again and again, all free of charge for a year after you bought your ticket. In the long term, it’s pretty good value for money.
If you want to find out more about The Etches Collection, visit their website. Their address is Kimmeridge, Wareham BH20 5PE, they are open from 10am-5pm seven days a week, with the exception of special events. Check out my review on TripAdvisor. If you are near the area, this is a must-see for all fossil lovers!
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