I have always felt a bit sorry for Seaton. Sandwiched between quirky, trendy Lyme and the bigger, more sedate Sidmouth, Seaton has always felt (to me at least) like the poor relation.
However, not any more. There seems to be a new optimism about the place, with the Artisan Market, several new cafes and shops, the very impressive new playground and now to top it all, Seaton Jurassic.
The community of Seaton are the champions in this story; the formation of the Seaton Visitor Centre Trust led to support from the local councils and ultimately the creation of Seaton Jurassic. East Devon District Council took ownership of the project and appointed Devon Wildlife Trust as the operator, who jointly raised millions of pounds through other funders to make the centre a reality and celebrate Seaton’s position at the heart of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Coast.
The building itself is very stylish and slinky, easy to find between the Seaton Tramway and the new playground. With a large cafe selling locally & ethically produced food, the lobby is a good airy example of a fairly typical visitors centre. However, step through the exhibition doors and you’re suddenly in a whole different world.
You are suddenly transported into a wonderfully dark, authentic Victorian study, complete with specimen chests, taxidermy and shelf after shelf of books. After a briefing from a rather lovely hologram guide, you are free to explore, and solve the time travellers challenges.
I have always liked museums, but always had a sneaking suspicion that they’re hiding all the best stuff in drawers and cabinets behind closed doors. Not here! You won’t find a “Do Not Touch’ label anywhere. There are books to be opened, drawers to be investigated and samples to be handled. The trail leads you through the library, along a timeline of geology and finally to a ‘real life’ time machine. The imagination, attention to detail and production quality are fantastic, and I think children will feel a bit like they’re in Dumbledore’s library (adults may think more Darwin, but not necessarily these days!)
After your time travel experience, you are then into a rock pool, with lots of interactive ways to learn about what goes on below the tide line. Again the emphasis is on hands-on, investigative learning.
Outside is the wildlife garden – obviously being new it needs to fill out and establish itself, but it is very promising. I have made many wildlife gardens (in a former life in environmental education) and it’s great to see one which doesn’t fall into the trap of wild meaning messy, but is a ‘proper’ garden with wildlife friendly features and planting, including Ragged Robin in full flower already.
All in all, I was very impressed with the look and feel of everything. I think children will really appreciate the opportunity to discover things for themselves, and it makes a change to have something aimed primarily at families that isn’t all block colours and eye-catching graphics, but is more imaginative and immersive. A family ticket (2 adults and their children) costs £18, the same as a cinema ticket, but is valid for return visits for a whole year.
With Seaton Jurassic, the Electric Tramway, Seaton Wetlands, the beach and Axmouth Harbour, I think I may have to get back to Seaton and see what else I’ve been missing.