What is my Favourite Dinosaur? – Part 3: The Iguanodon

What is my Favourite Dinosaur?

Part 3: The Iguanodon

A blog post by Felicity

An Iguanodon in DinoParc Rasnov.

While most people have heard of dinosaurs such as the T-Rex, the Triceratops, the Stegosaurus and one of the long-necked sauropods such as the Brachiosaurus or the Brontosaurus, I would say less than half of the people I ask on my fossil walks have heard of the Iguanodon. Of those who have heard of it, maybe half of them really know what the species looked like, or anything about it aside from its name.

 

I find this a real shame, as the Iguanodon is such an important species of dinosaur, historically speaking.

The first dinosaur ever named was the Megalosaurus. It was found in Oxfordshire, England and was named ‘Great Lizard’ in 1824. One year later, in 1825, the Iguanodon (‘Iguana Tooth’) was named. Next came the Hylaeosaurus (‘Lizard Belonging to the Forest’), which was discovered in 1832. It was these three dinosaurs that Sir Richard Owen (an English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist) studied and it was from this study in 1842 that the classification of ‘Dinosauria’ was created.

Let that sink in for a moment. It was thanks to the study of these three discoveries that we even have the term ‘dinosaur’. That, to me, is huge. These dinosaurs should be the most famous species of all. Have you heard of them? Most people haven’t.

The first dinosaur, the Megalosaurus was a carnivore. A complete skeleton of this species has never been found so exactly what this dinosaur looked like is still open for debate but we do know it was a large, bipedal carnivore. Approximately 20 foot long, 1,500 pounds, strong hindlimbs, short forelimbs and a large head filled with curved teeth. A strong, solid, muscular carnivore.

The third dinosaur, the Hylaeosaurus, was a herbivore. This dinosaur was a type of Ankylosaur dinosaur. I talked about these dinosaurs in one of my previous posts (Here) so hopefully you know from that if not from your own love and interest in dinosaurs that the ankylosaurs were the heavily armoured dinosaurs. The most famous being the ankylosaur with its armoured plated body, thorny spiked back and a huge club at the end of the tail. The Hylaeosaurus is known from partial remains so once again our knowledge is limited. It was approximately 16 foot long, armoured and sporting three long spikes/ spines on its shoulder.

Hylaeosaurus fossil in its matrix, lithograph. J. Erxleben. (Public Domain)

I deliberately left the second species, the Iguanodon, to last as that is the focus of this blog post.

The name Iguanodon means ‘Iguana tooth’. The story goes that while Gideon Mantell (an English obstetrician, geologist and Palaeontologist) was visiting a patient in Sussex in 1822, his wife Mary was taking a walk and discovered some fossilised teeth. Knowing of her husbands interest in such things she showed them to him.

Initially others in the field dismissed them as fish teeth or the incisors of a rhinoceros. Further research eventually led Mantell to the Royal College of Surgeons where he endeavoured to find a modern day comparable for these teeth amongst reptilian samples. The assistant curator there realised they resembled those of an Iguana he had recently prepared albeit twenty times longer. This gave the species its name – The Iguana Tooth.

As normal with such discoveries, there was more involved with this than I think it is necessary to go into detail with in this post. Getting the species studied and deciding on a name and getting it accepted and published… there were further specimens discovered in a number of different places and it all starts to paint a picture of what this prehistoric creature was like. It can get a bit confusing and messy when trying to explain it all though.

As more specimens were discovered and as science advanced, so this species and our understanding and perception of it evolved.

Today it is not difficult to find models of dinosaurs. I am not just talking about accurate and detailed examples of dinosaurs and their bones in museums around the world. I am talking about models in  fun/ theme park attractions and even on crazy golf courts.

Felicity at the Mighty Adventures Crazy Golf Course

I think most people have had the experience at least once of walking up to a ‘life sized’ dinosaur model and likely posing for a picture too. While it does not seem at all unusual today, this was not always the case. It was actually in 1854 that the first dinosaur sculptures in the world were unveiled.

The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. A collection of dinosaurs and other extinct animal sculptures displayed to this day in London. Designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins under the scientific direction of Sir Richard Owen. While they are completely outdated and inaccurate by todays standard, they played a huge role in fuelling the general publics interest and love of dinosaurs. Today dinosaurs are everywhere! Walk down a high street as I did this morning and you too will likely see dinosaurs. A dinosaur balloon bobbing jauntily in a card shop window. A child wearing a dinosaur adorned raincoat. A toddler in a pushchair holding onto a cuddly, plush dinosaur toy. Dinosaurs are everywhere. Before the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, this was far from the case. The discoveries were new and people didn’t really know about dinosaurs. The people that visited this park truthfully didn’t know or accurately learn much about dinosaurs either but you have to start somewhere!

The Iguanodon model in Crystal Palace Park is positioned on four limbs more like an Iguana or a crocodile. A truly reptilian position. It is not hard to guess why- the teeth resembled those of a lizard so why not the rest of the body too?

The reason why this isn’t right, or one of the reasons, is the hips. Dinosaurs have something called upright posture. The position of a dinosaurs hips are beneath the body rather than to the side like modern reptiles. If the Iguanodon was in the same hip position as modern reptiles the creature would have to dig a small trench wherever it went – the hips were too deep to stand as it was depicted. It would be unable to move. The whole thing is just terribly wrong.

Another notable mistake with the model is the horns adorning the head. They found horn like fossils and by looking at modern animals they recognised horns often go on the head. Can’t argue with that either. It was only when more complete fossil remains were found that scientists realised the species had unusually elongated thumb spikes. The size of these creatures was also widely overestimated in the early days – when you only have a few partial remains and you are comparing those partial remains to modern day creatures to give you a ‘best guess’ scenario as to what this prehistoric creature was like… when the tooth you are holding is twenty times bigger than its modern day ‘equivalent’, you’re going to estimate that the prehistoric creature was twenty times bigger also but this was often completely inaccurate. During the construction of one of the Iguanodon models a banquet for twenty people was held inside the dinosaur. Now while in reality the Iguanodon was big, no way was it big enough for that!

Crystal Palace Iguanodon Illustration, 1854 Public Domain

I do often recommend a trip to see the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs to enthusiasts on my dinosaur fossil walks. I think it is an important piece of dinosaur history and a wonderful example of how far people have come in our understanding of the past. Another place I recommend to people is the Dinosaur Museum in Brussels, Belgium.

In 1878 two mine workers in a coal mine in Bernissart accidentally hit a skeleton which they initially mistook for petrified wood. A few months later they began excavating and reconstructing the fossilised bones. At least 38 Iguanodon dinosaurs were uncovered, many of which were adults. These were the most complete specimens of this species found at that time and it was thanks to these that it was realised that the thumb spikes were just that.

In 1882 the holotype specimen became one of the first ever dinosaur skeletons mounted for display. They achieved a lifelike pose by using a series of adjustable ropes attached to scaffolding and the dinosaurs were open for public viewing a year later.

Some of the Iguanodon skeletons found at Bernissart.

In 1891 this specimen and several others were moved to the Royal Museum of Natural Sciences (part of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) where they can still be admired today. While about nine of them are displayed on standing mounts, about nineteen more are on display in the museums basement showing how the dinosaurs were positioned in the mines upon discovery. When me and Greg visited the Museum a couple of years ago, the display left me speechless (much to the amazement of those who know me!).

I have lived on the Isle of Wight for many years now, and over those years I have amassed a nice little collection of dinosaur bone fragments. Many of these treasures are from the Iguanodon and while I am thrilled every time even the smallest bone fragment is discovered by me or anyone walking with me, it is a completely different thing to stand beside not just one but many near complete Iguanodon fossil skeletons.

I step in their footprints, I stand upon their foot-casts, I hold pieces of their fossilised bones in my hands on a regular basis but I cannot really explain how I truly felt coming face to face with these giants from the past.

I heartily recommend anyone with a love of dinosaurs and of Iguanodon especially to visit this museum in Belgium. You won’t be disappointed! Likelihood is you won’t want to leave come closing time, I know I didn’t! One visit wasn’t enough for me- I fully intend to return for another look one day in the not too distant future. Maybe I will see you there!

One other note that I also really liked about this place : when me and Greg were there, the Iguanodon were mounted on a metal frame. The bones are fossilised so made of stone now. That stone is heavy so the metal frame is very strong and sturdy. The bones were modelled after a kangaroo (or wallaby and a cassowary) in their placement which means the tail runs along the ground. For all of the dinosaur footprints found around the world, to my knowledge, we have never found a tail print. Dinosaur tails were used for balance to offset the weight of the body, they didn’t touch the ground like a kangaroo, but along the way to figuring out dinosaurs and their postures, this is one of the many mistakes people made.

The museum had a sign which explained that while they know it is inaccurate today – in the 1980s palaeontologist David B. Norman figured out the problems with the posture –  it was decided that the bones are too fragile and it would therefore be difficult to change it now, so they are leaving it as is.

I found this amusing, but also another nice example of how the species has changed in our perception of it. The less amusing part was that we heard that to position a straight tail with this bend to run along the floor – some of the tail bones would need to be broken or certainly overlapped to achieve this. You would have thought that when constructing them this detail would tell you that you’ve got something wrong but that’s what they did back then!

World Wars and the Great Depression put somewhat of a halt on Iguanodon and dinosaur studies but in 1925 a new species found on the Isle of Wight (in 1914) was named Iguanodon Atherfieldensis.

This sparked off more study and research and then there was the dinosaur renaissance. This is when things started getting really interesting with theories about dinosaurs being warm blooded and related to birds more closely than with modern reptiles which led to dinosaurs completely changing not just in the scientific community but in artists portrayal too. An illustration of the Deinonychus in a lively depiction was one of the first of its kind and has become particularly iconic.

During the 1970s dinosaurs shifted from being the slow moving lizard like beasts to more lively mammal and bird like creatures. Dinosaurs were active, not slow and sluggish and now the media started to reflect this and once again dinosaurs were back to growing in popularity and fame.

The Iguanodon Atherfieldensis was actually renamed to Mantellisaurus in honour of Gideon Mantell. A smaller, more lightly built version of the original Iguanodon. As happens with some species of dinosaur, names get changed and species get reassigned to new groups. The original English ‘Iguanodon’ now have about four species linked to them (one of which being the Mantellisaurus) and the wonderful Belgium specimens are what people look to as Iguanodon (Bernissartensis).

While things kept changing for so many years since the original discoveries, we do now know that Iguanodon were large, quite bulky herbivores. They could shift from bipedal to quadrupedal. They were about 30 feet long and weighed approximately 3.4 tons. They had beak like mouths and teeth like that of the Iguana. Their arms were relatively long and their hands were stiff with the three central fingers able to bear weight. Their most distinctive features would be their large thumb spikes (potentially used to defend themselves from predators or competition amongst members of the same species but also perhaps for foraging) and their long, dextrous fifth fingers which likely helped manipulate and grasp objects when foraging for food.

The legs were strong and their feet had three toes. They had strong, stiff tails that got stiffer as tenons turned to bones over time.

The Iguanodon (and the group ‘Iguanodonts’) were among the first dinosaurs ever to be found and they are among the best known or understood of all the dinosaurs. They were one of the most diverse and widespread of herbivorous dinosaur groups during the cretaceous period. When you consider these facts, I can see why many people would choose Iguanodon as their favourite dinosaur. Hopefully you can also see why I felt it at the very least deserved its own blog post entry.

Thank you for reading,

Felicity

P.S.

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What Is My Favourite Dinosaur? – Part 2: Carnivores!

What Is My Favourite Dinosaur?

Part 2: Carnivores!

A blog post by Felicity.

A carnivore stalking the plains in one of Felicity’s paintings.

In my last post about choosing a favourite dinosaur we mainly focused on herbivore dinosaurs, the plant eating dinosaurs. This post therefore will be one for the carnivores. I mentioned in the last post that most people have heard of the Triceratops, Stegosaurus, T-Rex and one of the sauropods such as the Brachiosaurus. When you look at that list, all but one of those most famous of dinosaurs are herbivorous.

I think you also get greater variety in plant eating dinosaurs than meat eating ones when you look at their appearance. That is not to say however that you don’t get a huge amount and assortment of theropod/ carnivorous dinosaurs. They just share a lot of similar features.

The most famous of all must be the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Jurassic Park franchise does throw in an assortment of dinosaurs, many of them being carnivores and some of them being completely fictional, while others are based in reality but then have a large amount of artistic licence on top. In my last post I explained about the Dilophosaurus and Velociraptor portrayed being largely fictional, though based in reality, but the amount of times on one of my fossil trips I ask for examples of theropod dinosaurs and someone suggests Indominus Rex is quite worrying!

Jurassic Park features their version of the Velociraptor quite heavily, yet it is still the T-Rex that has always been the main carnivore people will know. It is featured in more films and is famous largely, I think, for its size. Everyone knows the T-Rex and, to be honest, I think Jurassic Park did quite a good job with this dinosaur. Don’t get me wrong, they got some things wrong here too – if you ever found yourself confronted by a living T-Rex and you thought staying still would keep you hidden, you would be a quick and easy snack as T-rex had better vision than yours or mine! If I remember correctly, in Michael Crichton’s book this handicap for T-rex was actually attributed to the amphibian DNA the scientists used to create their hybrid dinosaurs during the cloning process but this was left out of the films and just taken as a T-Rex fact. Poor Alan Grant got it so wrong and while my Mum thinks the actor Sam Neill is tasty, the film writers decided T-Rex didn’t get the chance to find out!

Where they did get T-Rex spot on was, I believe, in its movement. It was down to using CGI (new technology back then!) that they were able to work out what sort of speed a T-Rex could have realistically moved and how the muscles would have attached to the bones and how all of this worked together to create a practical, realistic movement. Before this technology I believe scientists thought T-Rex would have moved faster than they later found was possible. Wonderful to think that making a fictional movie actually helped the scientific community in this way.

A T-Rex faces off against a Sauropod at Longleat’s Festival of Light.

Anyway, I digress. In a moment we will look at carnivores but first a quick note (that I probably should have mentioned in my last post, but better late than never) about time periods.

The age of dinosaurs is split into three time periods. Triassic, Jurassic and the Cretaceous. In the Triassic, dinosaurs were just getting started and the majority were somewhat smaller than most people imagine a dinosaur to be. In the Jurassic they were getting bigger and you had more variety of species but it was really in the Cretaceous that we had the truly gigantic species we all know and marvel at. Dinosaurs actually existed for a greater time span than that which separates us from them. That is a lot of time to fit in an extraordinary variety of dinosaur species.

Going back to the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic we have the Coelophysoidae. This group contains the small, early theropods. Slender dinosaurs ranging in size from about three to twenty feet in length. The one I particularly like is the Coelophysis. A small bipedal carnivore which grew to about 9.8 feet long. The reason I like this dinosaur is because of a fun fact I learned about ten years ago which is that we have sent dinosaurs into space and Coelophysis is one of them. A Coelophysis skull from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was sent into space in 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. It was taken onto the space station Mir before being returned to Earth. We have had Coelophysis on record for over 100 years and it is so popular that it was designated the official state fossil of New Mexico in 1981!

Coelophysis on display at the Natural History Museum.

If that wasn’t enough to make this dinosaur one of your favourites there are others in this group such as the Procompsognathus, a cutie bipedal carnivore (from the Late Triassic) measuring up to 3.3 feet in length and weighing in at about 2.2 pounds. Jurassic Park Lost World shows the dinosaur Compsognathus (from the late Jurassic) while the book actually names Procompsognathus. Both species exist and, while they are not actually related, the film depiction could easily have been either dinosaur. This species is a hit with my Mum who likes the ‘cute little chirpy dinosaur’. She doesn’t seem put off by their ‘bad eating habits’.

There was an extinction event between the Triassic and Jurassic period which wiped out about 76 percent of all marine and terrestrial species. Amazingly it barely touched dinosaurs, pterosaurs, mammals and the plant life. When I first heard that fact it made me wonder and marvel at how much life there was during the Triassic that didn’t come under those groups, but sadly much of it perished. The loss of those species, however, paved the way for the dinosaurs to become the dominant species during the Jurassic period.

In my last blog post and earlier in this one I mention the Dilophosaurus. The ‘two-crested lizard’ from the Early Jurassic who featured in Jurassic Park, but in a pretty much entirely fictional manner. This dinosaur is actually in a group called the Dilophosauridae which is a stepping stone between the Coelophyoids and later theropods. There are a few dinosaurs found dating back to the Early Jurassic period but I think Dilophosaurus is one of the few that some people today have heard of.

When we look at the middle of the Jurassic Period we have the hugely important (yet not as famous as I feel it deserves to be) species Megalosaurus. This ‘Great Lizard’ was found in Oxfordshire, England, and in 1824 it was the first genus of non-avian dinosaur to be validly named. Megalosaurus (along with Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus) led to Richard Owen creating the classification of ‘Dinosauria’.

A model of Megalosaurus was created and included in the Crystal Palace Dinosaur display which greatly increased public interest in dinosaurs. Those models are still visited by the public today and while they are inaccurate and pretty much unrecognisable by today’s standards, they still played a huge part in what we know of dinosaurs today. Megalosaurus was more likely a 20 foot long, 1,500 lb bipedal carnivore. A robust, heavily muscled, large headed dinosaur equipped with long, curved teeth.

It isn’t until we reach the Late Jurassic period that we start to get a couple of the carnivore dinosaurs I have come to expect (or maybe hope) people will know.

One example is the Allosaurus. One of the first well-known theropod dinosaurs outside paleontological circles. Allosaurus was about 29 feet long with the powerful hindlimbs and comparatively delicate forelimbs, a long muscular tail and a light but robust skull filled with dozens of sharp, serrated teeth. Allosaurus is one of the dinosaurs, for people that still don’t know the species, I describe as being similar to Jurassic Park’s Velociraptor but with a hint of T-Rex thrown in.

This dinosaur was certainly at the top of the food chain during the Late Jurassic period capable of feeding on large herbivores and likely even other predators. While some palaeontologists believe group cooperation was likely for this species (again, think Jurassic Park Velociraptors working together to hunt in packs) others reckon individuals may have been aggressive towards each other. (I am in favour of both being accurate – in many animals we see today you have groups of females living together, while males hunt alone or in smaller groups and variations depending on other factors than gender such as age and food supply.)

Another fairly well-known example from the Late Jurassic is the Ceratosaurus. This 17-23 foot long theropod is classed as ‘medium sized’ by many and with very short yet fully functional forelimbs and weighing in somewhere between 922 – 1,480 lb. The body plan, like Allosaurus, is typical of the larger theropod dinosaurs. Ceratosaurus had a large head with deep jaws that supported proportionally very long, blade like teeth. What makes this dinosaur stand out for me though is the prominent ridge like horn on the midline of the snout, a pair of horns over the eyes and a row of small skin bones running down the middle of the dinosaur’s neck, back and tail. More of these skin bones (osteoderms) were present at currently unknown positions on the animal’s body. This dinosaur not only had impressive teeth, he was spikey too. His face could certainly make a statement!

Moving now to the Early Cretaceous and people (particularly the youngster ‘dinosaur enthusiasts’ on my tours) start to recognise even more carnivore names. A notable one for me would be the Deinonychus. This is one of the dinosaurs that Jurassic Park’s Velociraptor was based on, but what makes it noteworthy for me is because it is due to the study of this species in the 1960s which led to the ‘dinosaur renaissance’ and started the debate questioning if dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded. For appearance I tell people to imagine the Velociraptor, make him about 11 foot long, 160-220 lbs and likely covered in feathers. The name means ‘Terrible Claw’ too, so don’t forget those large sickle-shaped talons on the second toe of each hind foot.

Felicity’s painting of a Baryonyx at lunch.

Another species I particularly like from the Early Cretaceous is the Baryonyx. The first fossil skeleton from this species was found in 1983 in Surrey, England but this species remains are also found on the Isle of Wight. Sadly, most people today have heard of Spinosaurus (also featured in the Jurassic Park franchise) but not always Baryonyx. Spinosaurus didn’t come along till the Late Cretaceous so a while after the Baryonyx, but both are types of Spinosaurid.

The Baryonyx holotype specimen is one of the most complete theropod skeletons from the UK and the most complete example of a Spinosaurid. For this species I tell people to imagine a standard carnivore body shape and make it 30 foot long with a crocodile face and ‘heavy claws’, which this dinosaur used to hook fish from rivers and streams and add a frill or fin along the length of its back. Bayonyx was the first theropod found to eat fish – evidenced by the remains of fish scales in the stomach region of the holotype specimen. There is also the possibility that Baryonyx hunted other dinosaurs or at least scavenged the remains as bones of a juvenile Iguanodon were also present in the stomach region.

I think the Baryonyx is a fascinating species as it may have also lived a semiaquatic lifestyle coexisting with crocodiles, turtles, fish, pterosaurs and with other dinosaurs. In recent years two new Spinosaurid dinosaurs have also been discovered on the Isle of Wight. One is named ‘Ceratosuchops Inferodios’ meaning ‘Horned Crocodile-Faced Hell Heron’ – quite the name! Imagine Baryonyx but with low horns and bumps ornamenting the brow region.

The next species is the ‘Riparovenator Milnerae’ which means ‘Milner’s Riverbank Hunter’ in honour of Angela Milner, esteemed British Palaeontologist who recently passed away and who studied and named the Baryonyx. The study of these two new species alongside Baryonyx suggests the Spinosaurid species may have first evolved in Europe before dispersing into Asia, Africa and South America.

At some point I will likely write a blog post about the other species found on the Isle of Wight as not only do we have the dinosaurs paving the way for Spinosaurus but we also have the ancestors of the T-Rex and the genuine Velociraptor found here, but only people interested or involved in palaeontology seem to really know about them, so they are less likely to be your favourite, and so don’t really belong in this post!

One last fabulous example of an Early Cretaceous Spinosaurid dinosaur would be the ‘Irritator’.

That’s right, a dinosaur has been named ‘Irratator’! Considering all the long, crazy, amazing and creative names out there for dinosaurs – I really like that someone decided to go with this. The reason is a bit of a shame – it involved fossil poachers illegally hunting where they shouldn’t have been and fossil collectors who didn’t really know what they were doing messing with the skull (filling parts of it with car body filler for example) to make it look more complete and therefore valuable but making a right mess of it! The skull was mistaken for a pterosaur for a while before actual experts got their hands on it and then had a long and difficult process of undoing the damage and figuring out what it was they actually had. The name comes from this and the irritation they felt at discovering that the snout had been artificially elongated. I think they were being polite by leaving it at Irritator!

Another famous and certainly impressive carnivore from the early Cretaceous is the Carcharodontosaurus. These were some of the longest and heaviest carnivorous dinosaurs we are aware of today. Their estimated size ranges from 39-45 feet in length and weighing in between 6.2- 15.1 tons. They had enormous jaws with long, serrated teeth up to eight inches long. Their skulls alone were 4-5 feet long. While not as famous as the T-Rex, this dinosaur could certainly rival and maybe even best it in terms of size! The largest theropod skull currently on record is 6.4 feet long and belongs to another species in the Carcharodontosaurid group, the Giganotosaurus but that species comes along later in the Late Cretaceous.

Another famous carnivore from this time period is the Utahraptor. This dinosaur was found the year that Jurassic Park came out and gave scientific credence to the large raptors in the movies. Really it should have been the Utahraptors rather than the Velociraptors that featured and shot to fame as a result. These dinosaurs were 23 feet long making them twice the size of the aforementioned Deinonychus (the other main inspiration for the fictitious version of the Velociraptor) and sporting the large, curved claws on their second toes. These dinosaurs were powerful, relatively thickly built –  with some believed to have weighed in at approximately 1,100 lb they were comparable in weight to a polar bear!

Going in the other direction from the large Utahraptor, but along related lines, would be the Microraptor. This dinosaur is in the same ‘Dromaesaurid’ group as the Utahraptor and also found in the Early Cretaceous but instead of in Utah this one is found in China. At 2-3.9 feet long and an estimated weight of only 2.2 lbs you wouldn’t necessarily put these two dinosaurs in the same group. The thing they did have in common was a covering of feathers. It is now believed that many species of carnivorous dinosaur had feathers. What makes this species interesting and beautiful to me is that this one is a genus of small, four winged dinosaurs. While people usually know the Archaeopteryx for its importance as the ‘first bird’, well preserved fossils from Microraptor also give key evidence in helping us to understand the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and modern-day birds. While many scientists speculated that it used its four limbs to glide, recent research suggested they were capable of powered flight as well. While it is virtually impossible to picture the Utahraptor flying it is very easy to imagine the Microraptor taking to the air.

The mid-late cretaceous has a wonderful range of dinosaurs and thankfully at least some of them are relatively well known.

One species I feel a bit sorry for is the Oviraptor. Estimated at only 5.2 feet long and likely weighing in at 73-88 lb this dinosaur was rather small and feathered. Oviraptor was actually toothless and instead had a horny beak most similar to that of a parrot or turtle. This fact, along with the fact that the holotype for the species was found with a nest thought to belong to Protoceratops, led people to believe that the species was ovivarous meaning it had an egg-based diet. A later theory emerged that the jaws were actually strong enough to break mollusc and clam shells.

It was later argued that the jaws were more likely used for shearing surfaces suggesting leaves entered into this dinosaur’s diet. When the fragmented remains of a lizard were found in the holotype specimens body cavity it was then thought that Oviraptor was at least partially carnivorous, most likely this dinosaur was an omnivore but favouring a diet that incorporated nuts and seeds.

Regardless of what this dinosaur actually ate, the reason I feel sorry for it is the mistaken identity or intention of this dinosaur. Oviraptor means ‘Egg Thief’ and it was originally thought that this dinosaur would steal and consume the eggs of other dinosaurs, when in fact we now know that this dinosaur was actually either tending its own nest or laying its own eggs rather than stealing the eggs of others. Imagine an Ostrich doing the same. . . now make it a dinosaur who actually looked pretty similar. That was the Oviraptor. To forever have a name that made you out to be the ‘bad guy’ when you were just nesting seems so unfair. Is that reason enough to have this as a favourite dinosaur though?

Sometimes extreme security measures are needed to protect eggs…

Speaking of Ostriches, another dinosaur from the late cretaceous who greatly resembled an Ostrich is the Gallimimus, which also starred in the Jurassic Park film. Though it was only on screen for one scene it was of good scientific importance. In the film you see the T-Rex hunting a herd of Gallimimus and the protagonist compares the Gallimimus to a flock of birds in the way they move and change direction. This feels important to me as dinosaurs were once heavily compared to lizards and crocodiles where the better comparison lies with modern day birds. This scene helped to shift that perception in the public’s minds. Gallimimus was about 20 foot long and weighed 970 lb. A beaked dinosaur sporting feathers. The name means ‘Chicken Mimic’ due to similarities between the vertebrae in the neck but I think overall ostrich mimic would fit better.

 

While we are talking bird- like dinosaurs perhaps it is, at last, time to look at the Velociraptor. The real one rather than the Steven Spielberg one. The name means ‘Swift Seizer’ and while it was related to the Deinonychus in that it was also a Dromoaeosaur, the Velociraptor was smaller. Like the Deinonychus, the Velociraptor was bipedal, covered in feathers and had the classic enlarged sickle- shaped claw on the hindfeet. Velociraptor had a different skull shape though. Long and low with an upturned snout. This dinosaur was turkey sized and weighing about 33lb but don’t let their size fool you – one of the most famous fossils we have of this species is one preserved mid-combat with a Protoceratops. The Velociraptor may have been much smaller than the ones portrayed on the big screen but they were still deadly.

 

Over the years we have discovered that a lot of carnivores had feathers. This is not true for all of them though as evidenced by the Carnotaurus. Though the species was known from a single well preserved skeleton it is one of the best understood theropods from the southern hemisphere and has some interesting and quite unique features. This dinosaur was about 25 feet long and estimated to weigh at least 1.35 tons. This dinosaur was lightly built, it had small vestigial forelimbs and long slender hind limbs. It was well adapted for running and was likely one of the fastest large theropods. The head was short snouted but a very deep skull sat atop the muscular neck. What makes this species distinctive is the thick horns above the eyes – a feature unseen in other carnivores. This skeleton was so well preserved it had extensive skin impressions, showing a mosaic of small, non-overlapping scales interrupted by large bumps along the sides of the dinosaur. It is theorised that the horns on the brow and the strength of the neck aided in combat with rivals as the species would have been able to exchange head blows and ram each other head-on. This dinosaur’s brain suggests that its sense of smell was better developed compared to hearing and sight.

Felicity hides from a hungry Carnotaurus.

As we move towards the latter part of the Cretaceous and the end of the time of dinosaurs, we have some of the notable ones we already mentioned in passing such as the Spinosaurus and the Giganotosaurus. While T-Rex has always been considered the largest theropod dinosaur of all time, it now has company at the top. Many now believe Spinosaurus to be the largest terrestrial carnivore dinosaur but the others of a similarly gigantic size are the Giganotosaurus, the Carcharodontosaurus and of course good old Tyrannosaurus. Spinosaurus estimates put this species at 49-52 feet and weighing in at 6.4-7.5 tons. That was one big crocodile faced dinosaur! Giganotosaurus the ‘Giant Southern Lizard’ meanwhile looks more like a T-Rex with a slightly more raptor shaped face and estimates put this giant at 39-43 feet long and weighing in at 4.2 – 13.8 tons. Carcharadontosaurus meanwhile we already know is estimated to have been 39 – 45 feet long and weighing in at 6.2 – 15.1 tons.

I guess that brings us to conclude with the Tyrannosaurus, the King of Dinosaurs! The T-Rex was the last known member of the Tyrannosaurids and among the last non-avian dinosaurs to exist before the extinction event that wiped out dinosaur kind. There are other well known dinosaurs in the Tyrannosaurid group such as the Albertosaurus (interesting species for the fact that 26 individuals were discovered at one site providing evidence of pack behaviour) and the Tarbosaurus (known for the unique locking mechanism in its lower jaw and the smallest forelimbs relative to body size of any Tyrannosaurid) but none so famous as the T-Rex. The Tyrannosaurids were bipedal carnivores with gigantic skulls balanced by a long, heavy tail. The forearms always look short and silly compared to the rest of the animal, but they were unusually powerful in the T-Rex. It is estimated that T-Rex could exceed 40.7 feet long and weigh in at 8.4- 14 tons. While a select few theropods may have rivalled or exceeded T-Rex’s size, the species still had the strongest bite force among all terrestrial animals as well as the largest teeth of any carnivorous dinosaur yet found. The King was likely an apex predator and the largest in its environment. This dinosaur would have been able to prey upon Hadrosaurs, young Ceratopsians and Ankylosaurs and probably even Sauropod long neck dinosaurs, but did it?

Staying still won’t work with the T-Rex… Time to run!

A massive beast, yet one of the longest debates in palaeontology was questioning if the T-Rex was an apex predator or purely a scavenger. Today it is largely accepted that both are true. This species has some almost complete skeleton specimens and one example even yielded soft tissues and proteins. So much fossil material from this species has been found that extensive research into the dinosaur has been conducted. We are not about to create a real version of Jurassic Park any time soon, but some amazing studies have been conducted to better understand the world these dinosaurs inhabited and what part they played in that world.

With so many amazing carnivores listed and so many more I haven’t mentioned, how can I pick a favourite!? Can you? If you have a favourite carnivore dinosaur, please let me know in the comments below.

In my next post I will take a look at the Iguanodon.

Thank you for reading,

Felicity

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

What is my Favourite Dinosaur? – Part 1: Herbivores

What is my Favourite Dinosaur?

Part 1: Herbivores

A blog post by Felicity

In June 2020, after our trip to Romania (where we filmed Romania : Seeking Dracula’s Castle), I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Dinosaurs: Yes Please’. That post touches a little on my background and why dinosaurs are still so appealing to me and of such significance in my life, but in this post I want to deal with a very important dinosaur related question.

I am frequently asked: ‘What is your favourite Dinosaur?’

Usually it is asked by people joining me on one of my Island Gems fossil hunting trips but most recently it was asked by a friend and the newest addition to our fossil guide team. This is always a difficult question for me as I genuinely don’t feel I really have a favourite.

Like most children I loved dinosaurs. I believe today there are many films and programmes involving dinosaurs which are suitable for children. I don’t remember much choice from my youth but the films I do remember are the ‘Land Before Time’ films. The first film dates back to 1988 and they are still being made to this day.

Most adults, unless they’ve relearnt the names due to their own child’s interest, can only name a handful of dinosaurs. These tend to be Triceratops, Stegosaurus, T-Rex and one of the sauropods.

Interestingly, when it comes to the sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs), the names people know vary. Some people know the Brachiosaurus, some know Brontosaurus and some say Diplodocus.

Thanks to Jurassic Park a lot of people also know the name of the carnivore Velociraptor, but what they picture is the fictitious Steven Spielberg dinosaur rather than the turkey sized fossil the name is actually linked to. Before anyone gets upset- don’t worry- there are plenty of real dinosaurs similar to Jurassic Parks velociraptor but they have other names such as Deinonychus, Utahraptor or Allosaurus to name but a few.

Inaccurate Velociraptors But Very Accurate Retriever!

The animated ‘Land Before Time’ film franchise includes many of these dinosaurs. The main characters are Littlefoot the brave main protagonist Apatosaurus/ Brontosaurus (in my previous blog post about dinosaurs I believe I explain briefly about some of the issues with dinosaur species being mixed up!), Cera the boisterous triceratops, Ducky the happy-go-lucky, optimistic Saurolophus, Spike the gentle giant Stegosaurus, Petrie the nervous Pteranodon and there is often a scary ‘Sharptooth’ T-Rex keeping everyone on their toes somewhere in the story.

As a child my family likened me to Ducky the Saurolophus. I mentioned this to my sister just now and she said ‘Friendly, sweet, talks to anyone, likes swimming and splashing in puddles… still holds true’. I have to say I have always had a soft spot for the species.

In 1993 Steven Spielberg created Jurassic Park based on the Michael Crichton book of the same name. I was only aged three when the film was released and though it was not a child-friendly film, I was that obsessed with dinosaurs I was allowed to watch the film when it was later released on video (or possibly when it was shown on tv) and I was hooked! I remember I was at my Nans house when I first watched it, surrounded by family so likely at Christmas in approximately 1995 or 96 I would guess. I was so keen that my family gifted me a set of dinosaur toys, some of which had removable parts so you could look at the organs and bones inside the dinosaurs. They were great, not just because they were cool but because they also acted as a bedroom guard against my sister for a short time (as she found them too gruesome to get close to!).

Felicity Meets A Dilophosaurus

The film portrays a dinosaur called the Dilophosaurus. A frilled dinosaur with venomous spit. To quote the film, ‘A beautiful but deadly addition to Jurassic Park’.

I particularly liked the sound that these dinosaurs make in the film, playful chirrups and chirps. I found them adorable (until they spit) and beautiful when they open and shake their frills. A beautiful frilled-lizard dinosaur. I was also given a toy of this species which had a button to pop open the frills. I am a herbivore and saw carnivores as a bit mean but I liked this dinosaur and it became one of my favourites.

Sadly, this portrayal of Dilophosaurus was also somewhat inaccurate. Where the film made velociraptor bigger than reality, it made Dilophosaurus smaller. In the film they looked to be about 6 foot long at most, whereas in reality they would have been about 23 feet long!

The impressive neck frill resembling that of some modern lizards is also inaccurate for this dinosaur though it did have a pair of longitudinal arched crests on its skull, likely enlarged by keratin. Lastly the venomous spit that made this dinosaur so formidable and memorable in this film was also fictional. While some dinosaurs would have had a poisonous bite similar to that of a Komodo Dragon (due to grooves in the teeth and poor hygiene rather than any toxin or venom) to my knowledge no dinosaur actually had venom.

As I got older and learned more about dinosaurs it became harder to choose a favourite, rather than easier. They all have incredible features or adaptations.

Some of the armoured dinosaurs for example (picture the ankylosaurs – the armoured tanks covered in spikes with a club at the end of their tail) even had armoured bony plates on their eye lids. The vegetation they had to eat was often sharp, so they needed this to protect their eyes (although scans of their skulls suggest it was their sense of smell they relied on most). The downside is that the thick armour on their skull didn’t leave a lot of space for their brains. The herbivore dinosaurs weren’t graced with brain power, that went more to the carnivores, but it didn’t stop there from being an incredible array of herbivore species.

When you consider that something like 700 species of dinosaurs have been named and more being discovered each year, it seems somewhat unfair to expect me to have a favourite, especially with such diversity to choose from.

Do you go for one of the long-necked sauropods? If so, which one?

Do you go for the largest such as the Patagotitan or the Argentinosaurus which are estimated to have been 122-131 feet long and weighing in at approximately 77-110 tons, or do you agree with Greg and go for one of the smallest Sauropods such as the Europasaurus or (Greg’s favourite) the Magyarosaurus. These were approximately 20 feet long and weighed about the same as a modern day cow or, at most, 1 ton (Greg likes the Magyarosaurus due to it being the biggest dinosaur found in Romania but one of the smallest sauropods found in the world!).

Magyarosaurus In Romania

Do you go for the famous three-horned Triceratops, or do you delve a little deeper and discover that Triceratops is just one member of the Ceratopsian family and that this group has so many cool dinosaurs such as the Styracosaurus, with its incredible display of long face and frill horns, or the Protoceratops, who is all frill and no horn!? Do you go for Diabloceratops for its wicked name (which means ‘Devil horned-face’) and its scary appearance, or do you choose Pachyrhinosaurus for the fact it’s kind of an amalgamation of the Pachycephalosaur (another awesome dinosaur), a rhino and a Triceratops? Added to that, some of the Ceratopsian group are actually bipedal and look nothing like a Triceratops or what most of us picture when we think of the Ceratopsian group – do you choose one of those just to confuse everyone?

Tricera-choo!

 

As we mentioned them perhaps you could pick Pachycephalosaurs as your favourite. The thick-headed lizard who also makes an appearance in the Jurassic Park franchise. The domed headed dinosaur that head-butts things and had a skull roof measuring 22cm / 9 inches thick! There are a few in this group you could choose as your favourite dinosaur but one that stands out to me is the Dracorex Hogwartsia. Yep, you heard me, the Dragon King of Hogwarts. For any of you Harry Potter fans, we may have found your dinosaur!

Do you prefer the Hadrosaurid family of duck billed dinosaurs? My sweet Saurolophus Ducky from Land Before Time. The one in this group I always think of is the lovely Parasaurolophus. A dinosaur that could be both bipedal and quadrupedal and with the cranial crest protruding from the rear of its head and made up of the premaxilla and nasal bones. Often depicted as ‘honking’ through that skull crest. Another one I rather like is Corythosaurus whose name means helmet lizard. You get the idea with this group I think, a lot of rather fantastic cranial crests!

Or you could go for the armoured dinosaurs we mentioned earlier – Ankylosaurs for example. About 25 feet long, quadrupedal and weighing about 8 tons. Covered in bony armoured plates, decorated with spikes and sporting a club tail. If we were talking a game of dinosaur robot wars this is a pretty scary opponent!

A less intimidating member of this group would be Minmi who would have only been about 9 feet long and weighing in at 660 pounds. This ankylosaur had long limbs compared to others in its group and it is thought that it did so in order to move quickly to hide under vegetation when a large predator was nearby.

Minmi, unlike other Ankylosaurians, had horizontal bone plates. One of my favourites in this group however is the Polacanthus. The name means ‘many thorns’ and it was an early example of a Ankylosaurian dinosaur. The reason this one is special to me from this group is because it is found on the Isle of Wight, and in fact the type species Polacanthus Foxii was found on the Isle of Wight in 1865. There are not many fossil remains of this dinosaur, but I am fortunate enough to say that Greg and I each have a fossil plate from this species, something we both treasure (though Greg (and I) were somewhat horrified when someone on one of his tours dropped the fossil and it broke!).

Another armoured dinosaur but so different in appearance to the ankylosaurs would be the more famous Stegosaurus. This quadrupedal dinosaur with its distinctive kite-shaped upright plates protruding from their back and a tail sporting vicious spikes is understandably a memorable species to behold. While most people agree that the spikes were likely used for defence the back plates are more of a puzzle and subject to some debate. Most these days seem to think those plates were either for display (attracting a mate or a territorial display) or for thermoregulation. Maybe both. Stegosaurus was approximately 29 feet long and weighed in at up to 7 tons. Once again Stegosaurus is just the most famous member of the Stegosaurid genus or group.

Kentrosaurus is an earlier, more primitive member of the group and this dinosaur was only 15 foot in length and weighed about 1.1 tons. This dinosaur also had the plates along its back merging into tail spikes but this dinosaur also sported shoulder spikes and, in my opinion, though smaller, had a far pricklier appearance than the Stegosaurus. A few members of the Stegosaurid group seemed to sport impressive shoulder spikes but the classic Stegosaurus did not.

The list goes on and on. These are just the main groups of herbivorous dinosaurs I picture when someone asks me to list some plant-eating dinosaurs or describe what herbivore dinosaurs are like. When they are all so different, how can you easily explain them to someone, or select a favourite amongst them.

When my new guide asked me this question, he seemed a little shocked that I didn’t go straight for the Iguanodon. Iguanodon, after all, is the most common dinosaur found on the Isle of Wight and it is basically thanks to this species that I have a job as a fossil hunting tour guide. While I may not outright give it the credit as my favourite dinosaur, I will do it the honour of giving it it’s own blog post soon. Before that, of course, we haven’t even touched on the carnivore groups – so for those of you who want a meat eating predator as your favourite dinosaur, we will look at those in my next blog.

If you would like to let me know which is your favourite herbivore, please leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading,

 

Felicity.

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

A World In Miniature

A World In Miniature

A blog post by Greg

Bekonscot Model Village, Buckinghamshire, UK

In late-March 2020, our world suddenly shrunk. We went from a life of touring shows around the UK, and building up our travel documentary making around the world, and found ourselves, along with most of the world, in lockdown.

I am actually writing this blog on the 23rd March 2022, exactly two years after the UK officially entered our first lockdown of the pandemic, and it has certainly been a strange two years for everyone!

I am currently booking shows and making plans for my first ‘full season’ of shows since before the pandemic, which is particularly exciting as my ‘Greg Chapman’s Magic Show‘ series has recently been released to stream free on Plex TV and Tubi TV, and as it joins our travel documentaries ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle‘ and ‘Turkey: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities‘ on there, and our marine wildlife charity documentary ‘Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland‘ has recently been released on Prime Video, this year’s shows also give us the opportunity to really share our videos with my live audiences for the first full season, a real chance for us to grow what we do!

One of the big things I look at each year for my shows are what I call my ‘tentpole shows’ for the school summer holidays, as I try to book up a series of shows a few days a week running through those weeks to allow me to really enjoy settling into a venue. In the past these have been at Sudeley Castle and the Black Country Living Museum.

Last summer, and this summer, as the world opens up and gets bigger again, I have kept my world small for these ‘tentpole shows’, performing at a little village in Buckinghamshire, UK. Of course, when I say a small village, I mean a really small village – ‘Bekonscot Model Village & Railway‘ – a beautiful slice of English charm and eccentricity!

You may have been to a model village somewhere around the world – there are wonderful examples in the UK and abroad, and Felicity and I have visited a few of them, including Mini-Europe, a tourist attraction containing miniature versions of buildings and monuments from countries throughout Europe.

A miniature Brussels in Brussels.

When writing about places we’ve been in this blog, we usually focus on places which we have visited on our travels, so why am I focussing this blog post on Bekonscot rather than Mini-Europe?

The simple answer is that Mini-Europe may not exist if it wasn’t for Bekonscot Model Village and a man named Ronald Callingham. This is because Bekonscot lays claim to being the first model village in the world, and the inspiration for so many others, and Ronald Callingham was the man who came up with the idea as something a little different for his back garden back in the 1920s – certainly makes a change from a gnome with a fishing rod sat by a pond!

The story goes that Mr Callingham’s indoor model railway had grown a little too large, and that Mrs Callingham had reached breaking point with it, and that in 1928 she told her husband, in no uncertain terms, that either the railway or her was going to leave the house. Being a sensible man, Mr Callingham realised that it was time for the railway to leave the house, but being a clever man he saw the loophole in his wife’s ultimatum, and instead of getting rid of his model railway altogether, he merely moved it into the garden.

Of course, now that the model railway was in the garden, it gave him even more space to expand, and the model village was born! A swimming pool, only dug out the year before, was repurposed to become a lake in his new village of Bekonscot (apparently an amalgam of Beaconsfield where his current house was, and Ascot, where he had lived before).

The Lake at Bekonscot

I really enjoy this origin story of the world’s first model village, because of the sense of whimsy to it – the fact that it wasn’t built as a business, but ‘just because’.

Trust me, I would not have been a professional juggler if I didn’t have a lot of appreciation of doing things ‘just because’!

Although it is now a tourist attraction, and since it was first opened in 1929 it has had many visitors, including hosting Queen Elizabeth back on her 8th birthday (when she was still Princess Elizabeth) and a number of times since, the village started as a way for Ronald Callingham to continue the fun of expanding his model railway and village, and so the whole model village right up until today is filled with a sense of fun – from the funny (and, I will admit, often delightfully groanworthy) names of the shops, such as ‘Sam & Ella’s meat shop’, the meercats peeking their heads up in the zoo, and the poor fire department who have to put out the same fire several times a day!

When I arrived for my first day of performing at Beconscot – actually back in February 2020, shortly before we set off to Romania to film our documentary about Vlad III Dracula and the first lockdown – I remember what stuck me most about the village was the sense of fun – a sense which goes back to its origins.

One of my favourite parts of the whole village, which may mean more or less to you depending on your age, a model of Enid Blyton’s Beaconsfield home, complete with Noddy and the Famous Five at play in the garden.

I am a big reader, and I always have been, but my earliest memory of a specific book was the day that my father lent me his copy of the Enid Blyton book ‘The Boy Next Door’, which I read many times in my youth, along with the ‘Mystery’ books, ‘The Famous Five’, ‘The Secret Seven’, the ‘Adventure’ books and the ‘Circus’ books. I’m sure that reading all of these instilled some of the early thoughts of adventure, searching for answers and even juggling which have become cornerstones of my life now. To see this house in the village filled me with a sense of joy and nostalgia, which really is the sense which fills the whole model village!

Performing at Bekonscot in summer 2021

I know this has been a slightly different blog post – being about a place we have visited less than a hundred miles from our home instead of in another country on our adventures. So often we miss talking about, or even getting around to visiting those places which are closer to home because we are so busy writing about our adventures, so I decided it was time to put this right – do let us know in the comments if you’d like to hear more about some of the places I work at in the UK – and do let us know if you have a favourite model village to visit!

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

 

Timing Is Everything

Timing Is Everything

A blog post by Greg

A number of things have come together to inspire this blog post. The first of these is a song that I heard for the first time the other morning by a country singer named Trace Adkins called ‘Timing Is Everything’. The second is a photograph that I saw on Instagram the other day which was taken by someone who was one of the last people to visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris before the devastating fire in 2019. The third is the recent loss of a close friend and mentor to me as a performer, who I got to meet and work with due to a well timed email. Finally, and on a lighter note, we’ve been watching a series called The Umbrella Academy, which deals a lot with the ideas on time travel and of minor changes to the past having major effects on the present and future.

These four things, floating around together in my mind, have culminated, as I sit down this morning to write our weekly blog, in thoughts about how much timing can have an influence on life, and the extent to which timing has shaped our travels and our lives in ways we wouldn’t expect. The fact that Felicity and I are even working on travelling around the world together making documentaries as husband and wife at this point in time may really all be a matter of timing!

If an Italian minister hadn’t altered the tax laws making my touring in Italy a lot less profitable in 2013, I wouldn’t have taken a part time job in a shop for a few months next door to where Felicity and her sister worked. Had it happened a year later, the shop, Island Gems, would have moved to it’s current location across the island in Godshill and perhaps we wouldn’t have met then!

Even had we met a year later, and the timeline of our life together had run the same, it would have put our honeymoon in Mexico into early 2020, and the rise of Covid 19 may have stopped the honeymoon happening anything like it did. It was the filming we did on that honeymoon which inspired our move into travel and wildlife documentary making, so who knows what would have happened without it!

With thoughts about timing being everything in mind, I thought that I would share some of my favourite moments from our travels together so far which really have come about not as the result of careful long term planning, but by moments which have happened leading to unforeseen wonderful results!

As I’ve already mentioned our honeymoon in Mexico (which became the basis of our first travel documentary, ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty‘), I ought to begin with the major change in plans which came just a few weeks before the adventure began.

Felicity and I had been learning to dive in the run up to the honeymoon because we had intended to have a number of diving based experiences while we were in the country. Unfortunately I had unknowingly picked up an ear infection while doing an open water session in a very cold lake in January, and while driving up and down the hilly road to Penzance for a show at the Acorn Theatre my ear started to hurt, a pain which intensified during my straitjacket escape that evening, and the pain became unbearable within a day requiring a trip to A&E where I was informed that the infection had built up pressure and perforated my eardrum.

You can probably see why this hurt more with a perforated eardrum!

My immediate panic was that this would affect our upcoming flights, but although it would likely be uncomfortable I was told that these would be alright – but I couldn’t put the ear under the increased pressure which would come with diving, and so that had to be ruled out for the honeymoon.

This was obviously upsetting as we had been planning the dives for a long time, but we managed to swap plans to activities where we could snorkel instead of diving, and this was when we managed to book up to snorkel with Whale Sharks in La Paz. You can read all about that experience in one of Felicity’s previous blog posts HERE! It remains, to this day, one of the most magical experiences of our adventures, swimming gently alongside these gentle giants of the sea with their beautiful starry sky like patterns, and if I hadn’t got an infection, and then had the hilly drive to Penzance and blown my eardrum just weeks before we were due to fly, we wouldn’t have done it while we were in Mexico!

In fact, that was a double whammy of timings with that particular day in Mexico, because when I had changed to the whale sharks because of my ear problem that was all we had planned to do that day.

While we were on Isla Mujeres, however, just a few days before we were due to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, we decided to go for a walk to try to find a quiet area of beach away from the bustling crowds. We didn’t realise as we left the main town just how far we would have to walk, and had forgotten to bring a drink with us, and began looking for somewhere to get a drink. We finally found a place, but when they bought a drink it had ice cubes in it.

Public service announcement – and we can’t say this enough – don’t drink the water in Mexico! Most people know this, but do be particularly careful to use bottled water when cleaning teeth, and remember that ice cubes are often made with tap water. We knew all this, but on this one occasion we just quickly scooped the ice out of the glass and still drank the drink.

It was the only time we made that mistake, but once was enough!

I don’t need to go into the details of Montezuma’s Revenge which hit us both hard, but suffice to say that we were both out of commission for a few days, and had to rearrange things once again. We managed to make our flight across the country, and from a hotel bed in Cabo San Jose, between frequent trips to the bathroom, I worked to reschedule what we could (we both agreed that perhaps bouncing around the water on a jet-ski as we had planned may be a step too far!).

When it came to moving the date for the whale shark snorkelling, I was told that we could move the date, but the only space which they had available was on a day which combined snorkelling with whale sharks with snorkelling with sealions, so that if we moved we’d have to swim with sealions as well. Of course we took the opportunity, and getting to be in the water with these playful creatures in the wild was another experience we are so happy to have had, and all thanks to having ice in a glass for a few seconds!

Let us leap forward to Turkey, where we had flown to Denizli specifically because Felicity had seen images of the incredible Cotton Castles at Pammukale, an incredible travertine formation topped by the Ancient Greek city of Hierapolis, and wanted to see these natural wonders in real life. So we set off from our hotel up to the city of Hierapolis early in the morning and got to the top of the Cotton Castles where we saw… nothing.

Yes… That mist is where the Cotton Castles should be!

A thick mist was in the air, so thick that we could barely see a lot of the structures of the ancient city, let alone see the wonders of the travertines, and it looked like we had got the timing wrong on this one, and so we had a look around as much of the ruins as we could see and made our way back into town to the hotel. We decided our best bet for the afternoon would be to drive out of town, and picked a local ruin site called ‘Laodicea’. 

As we got to the end of the road which our hotel was on, however, I made a decision, instead of turning right to go straight to the ruins of Laodicea to instead turn left and have one more attempt to see the Cotton Castles through the mist from their base at the edge of the town, and as we drove towards them we discovered that the mist had lifted and they were now clearly visible! Because we’d decided to take that extra five minutes to go past them at that time of day we got to see the Cotton Castles which we were in the area for, and they were so worth seeing! I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that they aren’t made of snow when I look back on the video footage of us on them!

Not only did we get to see the Cotton Castles, however, but as we had now talked about visiting Laodicea we now decided that we would do that the following morning on our way out of town instead, and that meant that we happened to be there as a couple of the archaeologists were working on reassembling a column.

We were there at the right time again, as when they saw our interest the two of them invited us in to have a look around the excavations which they were partway through – something which we hadn’t expected, and which you can read more about in my blog post HERE.

I feel like I could go on all day giving examples of this, but as a performer I know the ‘rule of three’, so perhaps just one more example before I wrap up this blog post – but I would be very interested to hear any examples you have of ‘timing is everything’ moments on your travels in the comments below!

I’m going to leap ahead to our most recent documentary, ‘Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland‘, in which we partnered with the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit to film a documentary about their work. On arrival the weather wasn’t great, but luckily we managed to get out on their research boat within a few days of arrival to get some footage of the team at work, and then we would have to content ourselves with working with the team around their base for the remainder of our time with them.

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am going to give away part of our newest documentary now… if you want to go and watch the documentary to avoid this minor spoiler then go and have a watch (links at the bottom of this page) and then come back to this blog!

On the last day we were in Scotland, one of the team, Betty, happened to be walking along the harbour wall just at the right time to see some dolphins in the bay there. This led to a big scramble as some of the team grabbed binoculars to watch what they were doing, and other members of the team hurried to prepare the equipment ready for if the dolphins started to head towards where the team’s boat was in its harbour.

They did.

At the last moment, when we thought that we wouldn’t be back out on the boat to see the dolphins again, one of the team being out on the sea wall and looking in the right direction at just the right moment meant that we got to head out and see these amazing creatures out in the sea once again, and that is an experience always to be cherished!

So much of our adventures are carefully planned as we have to get filming permissions and make sure that we get all of the shots which we need to put the documentaries together, but sometimes it is great when things just happen in the moment, and then timing is everything.

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

A Nun, An Actor, and A Pregnant Teacher Walk Into Venice…

A Nun, An Actor, and A Pregnant Teacher Walk Into Venice…

A blog post by Greg

Yes, apparently I was once young, short-haired and clean shaven!

Back when I was spending most of the year touring shows in schools in Italy (for more on that, read my previous post HERE), I would usually sit down towards the end of each season with my director and friend Rupert to discuss what I would be doing with Action Theatre the following year, deciding which shows I wanted to do, when I would be out in Italy, and any other points we needed to discuss.

I remember, one year, Rupert asking me if there was anything in particular that I would like to do the following season. After a moment’s pause I had the answer to his question.

“I’d like to do a show in Venice,” I told him, going on to make it clear that I meant actually in the ‘islands and canals’ part of Venice, rather than in Mestre on the ‘mainland’ where I had performed plenty of times before.

I don’t know what it was about the idea of performing in Venice that appealed to me, but I knew I wanted to. I had only visited the city once before for a few days, and had enjoyed my time there, but I was also fairly certain that performing in Venice would have a story to it, and I wasn’t wrong!

Rupert readily agreed, and the fabulous team in the office were set the task, amongst all of the other jobs that they had to do, of fulfilling this actor’s whim and booking me a show in Venice, and they did. They found a school that wanted not just one one-man show, but three, and I was on my way.

By the time the following season rolled around I had almost forgotten mentioning this idea until I sat down to look at my schedule at the start of the season and found the date in Venice on there. It was only at that point that I began to consider the logistics of performing a show in Venice.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the islands of Venice have many narrow streets and lots of canals. They do not, however, allow cars on the islands of Venice, except in the car parks on the first island, connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Three different shows meant three different sets, costumes and props, plus a small sound system, would have to be moved from the car in the carpark to the school deep in the heart of Venice, and staring at the schedule I realised this for the first time and raised it with the team there. The people in the Action Theatre office are, I’m sure, far too nice to have taken any pleasure in pointing out that you should be careful what you wish for, but that they had booked the show and it was my job to try and figure out how to make it work.

By the time I set off for Venice I still hadn’t quite figured out the logistics, however I had been told by the English Teacher at the school that I could unload my set the afternoon before the shows to save trying to get my kit through to the school in the morning before the first show began, and that she would meet me in the carpark with some help to carry the kit to the school. I envisioned a team of parents, or perhaps older students, who might help to make this an easy task.

In my Italy touring days, before I met Felicity, I had a slightly older travel companion…

What met me in the carpark, however, was not a team of assistants waiting to help me transport all of the kit. Two people were waiting there, a nun, and the English Teacher. To make it even more interesting, the English Teacher was quite heavily pregnant…

I’m not sure what level of kit they were expecting, but I’m pretty sure it was not what I had with me. I started to figure out which pieces of kit were the lightest and settling on a large but lightweight wooden cactus (I was far more worried about the teacher lifting heavy things while pregnant than she seemed to be, but I wanted to avoid her having to carry the heaviest bits), while the nun picked up the sound system.

This was back in the days when my Italian was very utilitarian – I could have the basic conversations needed to get into a school, but could easily get lost when the conversation moved further afield – and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I had learned Italian in Torino and the Venetian accent was very different. The nun, however, was absolutely lovely, and chatted away to me with a big smile on her face while I loaded myself up like a pack mule with everything I could carry (as somebody who has always had more brute strength than athletic ability, I have always preferred to carry more in fewer trips wherever possible).

Our journey began, looking like the oddest reimagining of the ‘three wise men’ in the Nativity, as we followed each other through narrow streets clutching our gifts of a sound system, a wooden cactus, and everything else!

Venice, you may not realise, is full of flights of stairs, up and down from bridges crossing over the canals. It is also full of very narrow streets, and more than once all of the bags on my back got completely jammed between buildings and I found myself stuck until a shove from the nun got me moving again. Then there are the narrow walkways beside the canals where, if you have a number of heavy bags poorly arranged on your back, you are at constant risk of falling in, and I must admit that I came close to losing the entire show under the waters of Venice more than once.

It was, however, a journey filled with laughter. The nun and I chatted away to each other, barely understanding a word that the other was saying, with the teacher in the middle understanding most of what was said, and occasionally translating, which made it even funnier as it became apparent that there was very little crossover in what the nun and I were talking about.

Finally we made it to the school, and I was all happy with a feeling of ‘mission accomplished’, until the teacher pointed out that we’d have to get all of the kit back to the car the following day after the shows!

Still, for that day we were done, and I was taken to where I would be staying for the night, not in a hotel or bed and breakfast, but with the family of one of the students from the primary school.

I rarely stayed with ‘families’ when touring in Italy, it was generally easier to stay at a hotel or a bed and breakfast, purely because with five hour long shows a day some days, plus up to six hours driving, it wasn’t always easy to summon up the enthusiasm to be friendly and chatty on arrival at someone’s house, especially when they had an overexcited seven year old wanting to talk to the ‘English actor’.

On the rare occasion that I stayed with a family, however, it was nice to get a local perspective on things. They usually made good, homecooked, local food for dinner and would talk about life there. I learned that the daughter of the family may, when she grows up, have to leave Venice, as house prices there were pushing the younger people out. The father, from Brescia, told me that while he was accepted as a local, he would never be seen as truly Venetian, something which I sympathised with having moved to the Isle of Wight where I happily call myself an Islander, but will always be distinct from a ‘Caulkhead’ who was born there.

He also spoke about his home area of Brescia, and said that everyone in Brescia was grumpy and short tempered. I must sat that during my time in Italy I never found that to be the case, and I did a fair number of shows around Brescia, however by pure chance the other team of actors in the company at that time told me when I saw them the following weekend that they had been to a town where the people in the local bar had been quite rude to them, and when I asked them where they’d been they replied:

“Brescia.”

The next morning I woke up and looked out of the window at a canal with the rain coming down, and was glad we had moved the kit the day before, and that the weather forecast suggested that the sun would be back out before we had to transport it back.

I went down to the family, and the father asked if I had an umbrella, to which I replied in the negative.

“But… you are English!” the little girl said, sounding as though she’d just met Father Christmas and that he hadn’t had any presents.

This was one of the enduring stereotypes which I always found was believed to be true of all English people. We always carry an umbrella, because it always rains in England. Once when we were writing a new show, I inserted into the plot the fact that a bat had been accidentally killed with an umbrella. The director questioned how we would alibi the fact that we had an umbrella on sunny days, and I just told him:

“We are English!”

The father, proving the lie to his suggestion that people from Brescia are rude, handed me an umbrella, and then told me about the ‘dance of the umbrella’.

“I don’t know why we use them here,” he told me. “The streets are so narrow, and people are passing each other. You both move your umbrella to one side, then the other. The umbrella is always that way, or this way, never over your head. You are just as wet as you would be without, but we feel better because we have an umbrella!”

We got to the school, and I performed the shows, and all went very well. After the show I packed up my kit, and was ready to begin the process of carrying it back through the streets when the teacher came in.

“Are you ready to go?” she asked, looking far happier than I might expect from someone about to carry all of that equipment back through the streets.

I nodded.

With a smile, she went over and opened the back door to the hall where I had performed which opened straight onto the canal, where a small boat was waiting.

She explained that after we had carried the kit in the day before she had phoned one of the parents, who had said that, as long as the children enjoyed the shows, that he would bring his boat to take me back to the carpark. So we loaded all of our kit into the boat, and I climbed onboard, asking where I should sit.

He told me that I could sit where I want or, if I wanted, I could stand up front.

I have visited Venice a few times now, and I have travelled around in the crowded Vaporetti, the large water buses which take you around the city. I have been in gondola’s twice, once on my own, and once with Felicity, and enjoyed it both times (though obviously it was better with Felicity!). These are the ways that tourists travel around Venice.

However, if you want to feel a bit special as a young actor, try standing on the prow of a boat containing all the kit for your shows, as you are driven down the Grand Canal in Venice, passing the jealous gazes of all those people squeezed into the vaporetti and standing on the shores and bridges!

Thanks to the team at Action Theatre, a nun, a teacher, a boat owning Venetian parent, and a friendly Brescian, I had performed in Venice in a way that had exceeded all my expectations!

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

Dracula’s Grave… Or Is It?

Dracula’s Grave… Or Is It?

A blog post by Greg

Sat here in early-March 2022, as we are busily planning our upcoming travel documentaries and some more wildlife based documentaries, it seems very difficult to comprehend that it was two years ago that Felicity and I were in Romania filming ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ (to watch the documentary, see the links at the bottom of this post).

In some ways, with everything that has happened with the pandemic, it seems like so much longer ago than that. Yet at the same time, as it was our last travel documentary and our last trip abroad, it still feels so fresh that is seems it couldn’t possibly be that long ago that we finished our search for significant places in the life of Vlad Dracula III of Wallachia by visiting his grave site at the Snagov Monastery in Transylvania.

It was the end of a confusing journey, and one which has continued for me throughout the edit, and right up until today. Just the other night I was being interviewed by the ‘Winging It Podcast’ all about our travels and our documentaries, and even after all this time I couldn’t give a clear point of view on whether I think of Vlad Dracula III as more of a ‘folk hero’ or as a ‘historical villain’ (to get an overview of Dracula’s life, have a read of Felicity’s blog post HERE). In very simple terms, in brutal times Vlad used brutal means to protect his country. Of course, then the questions become just how brutal was he, was he more brutal than others of his time, and were these actions justified in order to protect his country? These are questions we struggle with throughout the documentary, and I still do today.

Parking up on the streets near Snagov, we then crossed the bridge over onto the small island which holds the monastery, wondering what we would find inside, how clearly marked the grave of Vlad Dracula would be.

The island itself was very picturesque, and, in keeping with what we had found so far in Romania, a few dogs ran over to greet us as we arrived.

Sat almost in the centre of the small island in the middle of the lake was the main monastery itself, an ornate chapel, with the door at the front open and a young girl waiting to welcome people on the way in. We were asked on the way in not to film inside the monastery, but that we could pay a few Euros on top of the entrance fee to get a permit to photograph the inside, which is why there is no filmed footage of us inside the monastery in the documentary, and we had to do the ‘pieces to camera’ on the outside, using still photography to show the interior.

The entrance room of the chapel at the Snagov Monastery.

On entering the monastery we were greeted with an entrance room ahead of the main chapel area. This was the room where we paid for our entrance tickets and photography permit, but also the room where our question was answered about how Vlad Dracula, Vlad the Impaler as he is often called, would be presented in this particular monastery.

We may have been struggling with the ethical dilemma that Vlad III could present, but here there was no question, no debate. In Snagov Monastery, Vlad III of Wallachia is a hero. A display filled one wall, with pictures, writing and articles about Vlad, all clearly presenting him as the Romanian folk hero that we had heard about throughout our journey. We were about to visit the grave of a hero, and as we walked through into the main room of the chapel this was confirmed.

We found ourselves in an intricately decorated chapel, with a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and artwork (I want to say ‘frescoes’ from the time I spent studying art history as a minor segment of my history degree, but I will honestly admit that I really would struggle to tell the difference between a fresco and any other method of wall painting). This was not a humble country church, it was a church which suggested royalty to me.

A blue strip of carpet ran down the centre of the room, leading towards the main focus of the room, a rectangle of concrete on the floor, with a picture of Vlad’s head at one end, and a candle. The grave of Vlad Dracula.

From the entrance hall to this room, although this was a monastery and therefore the chapel was clearly dedicated to the Christian God, I think that it was also fair to say that this was a shrine for Vlad III.

I have said many times that when we create our travel videos, I always feel like there are more ‘characters’ on the journey than just Felicity and I. Very often this is the country, and certainly Romania had been a third character in this documentary. More than that, however, we had travelled with Vlad III along with us each step of the way. We had visited the place of his birth. We had been to the venues of his triumphs and failures, we had been to places where he had taken brutal action against his enemies. We had struggled with the morality of his worst actions, and felt sorry for him for his upbringing and losses along the way.

Regardless of our mixed views on his actions, I felt that it was right to be here at Vlad’s grave to pay our respects to our historical travel companion for our time in Romania, and I am very glad that, although it wasn’t a castle, we took the time to visit his grave.

Our search for Dracula’s Castle, and the true man lurking beneath the muddle of history and legend, ended knelt beside the last resting place of Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia.

Except, of course, being Vlad Dracula, it isn’t quite as simple as that.

For starters, it is quite possible that Vlad’s head was not buried with his body.

After he was killed in an ambush (or possibly killed by some of his own people if you believe a different version of events, his head was, according to stories, taken to the Ottoman rulers in Constantinople. According to the stories which put his body at Snagov, some monks recovered his body and returned it to be buried in their monastery).

We were, therefore, likely paying our respects to Dracula’s body, but not his head, the location of which, according to these stories, would be unknown.

Except, of course, it isn’t even that simple. Some of the places we visited to try to find Dracula’s Castle, in particular in Bran Castle and in Corvin Castle, we felt the actual presence slip through our fingers in favour of legends and stories, with no hard evidence of Dracula’s presence there at all.

Surely, however, here at the grave of Dracula, there was some proof beyond local folklore that we were genuinely at the last resting place of Vlad III. Perhaps the grave had even been excavated at some point by archaeologists to prove, once and for all, that this was Dracula’s grave.

The good news is that such an excavation was carried out by the archaeologist Dinu V Rosetti. The bad news is that although he found bones under the supposed grave site, they were not human, and not of the right era.

“Under closer examination I found here a pre-historic pit, ceramics and … many bones of animals.”

Of course, the tradition couldn’t go that easily, and alternative suggestions for why no body was found in the grave were offered. With so many people knowing the location of Vlad III’s grave there was the risk that it could become the target of his enemies intending to desecrate his body, and so the monks dug it back up and moved it elsewhere. A body found in a wooden coffin with fragments of a purple veil and silver buttons has been offered as possibly being the body of Vlad moved to a new location, although other evidence points away from this.

What we end up with, whether because Vlad was never in the grave, or because he was moved, is a symbolic grave, more of a memorial than a last resting place.

It is fitting, considering the blend of legend, folklore and history which had made up our journey through Vlad’s life, that even at his grave we are left not being sure whether we have visited his true grave, or merely a grave crafted from local tradition. Like much about Vlad III, unless more information comes to light in the future, you will have to decide what you believe is most likely to be true.

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

Always Learning – Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Become An Instagrammer!

Always Learning

– Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Become An Instagrammer!

A blog post by Greg

The year was 2003, probably May, definitely a weekday, and at around eleven in the morning (I know this, because it would have been morning break), in ‘F Block’, outside the ‘Design Technology’ classroom, when my head of Sixth Form was discussing the fact that I would soon be leaving Sixth Form, the same school I had attended since I had been eleven. For seven years of my life I had trod the corridors, wandered the playgrounds and fields, performed on the stage, studied in the library, and visited those strange boxes known as ‘classrooms’.

I was talking to the Head of Sixth Form, Mr Berry, and my long suffering ex-GCSE electronics teacher Mr Gooding about the approaching exams and leaving the school, when Mr Berry posed a very interesting question.

“Are you going to miss the school?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll miss this place,” I replied quick as a flash, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Are you being sarcastic?” he asked.

There was a long pause. I thought about the question, weighing up everything, considering my answer carefully.

“Only half sarcastic,” I told him.

This caused much laughter between the two teachers, before Mr Berry told me that if I were to write an autobiography one day I would have to call it ‘Only Half Sarcastic’.

I often think of that conversation, and of the chain of thought that led up to it, because I think it was one of the most (potentially only) truly profound things that I said as a teenager. I knew what I was going to miss about the school, I was going to miss having the time to focus on learning.

Not, I will be honest, in the classrooms (with the exception of seven years of Drama and Theatre Studies lessons with Mrs Burford, who is one of the six people that I generally credit for me being the performer I am today). This is not the fault of the teachers, it is just that I am not very good at being ‘taught’. I have always preferred to seek out information and learn myself. I read the course books, but never did my homework. I mostly chatted with my friends in class, or tried to find in the textbooks what the teachers were talking about, but rarely actually listened to the teachers. Lunchtimes would usually find me in the drama studio rehearsing or in the library poring over books while chatting with friends. The whole day could be spent learning, interrupted only by people telling me to stop reading the book because they were trying to teach me!

I really enjoy learning, and it is how I approach most things in the business side of my life. When I started out as an actor I studied everything I could find about acting, from Stanislavski’s ‘An Actor Prepares’ to Michael Caine’s ‘Acting On Camera’. When I started to learn magic it was by reading as many magic books as I could, and my real association began when I was allowed to borrow books from my director’s magic library in Italy.

When I started on filmmaking, and to this day, I read books on the subject (I have just started re-reading a book about field sound recording to help improve our next videos), and this was also when YouTube tutorial videos started becoming a useful guide on every topic, even though it may take time to work through many videos to find the points of interest you need (which is why books will always be my first choice).

When Felicity and I started to make our documentaries I started studying independent film marketing and distribution, and this really did require a lot of YouTube videos as the situation is constantly changing in both of these areas, and so I still watch several videos a week looking for new techniques and ideas as we continue to learn the best ways to get our films seen by large numbers of people.

The reason that all this is on my mind today is that I have recently started learning something new, and something I hadn’t expected to be learning. I am now spending a lot of my time learning how to become an Instagram ‘Influencer’, much as I had no desire to be known by that term! I am a traveller, an entertainer, a magician and a filmmaker. At 37 years old can I really be an Instagrammer? Why would I?

The why is quite simple. To help us with our other projects. Some of the people we are trying to work with to make our travel and nature based documentaries want to know how big a reach we have, how useful we will be to them from a promotional standpoint, beyond our interest in how many people watch our documentaries. The metric which has been brought up a few times now is the number of followers we have on Instagram, and our ‘engagement rate’ on there – we haven’t actually had any other social media platforms mentioned to us – which means that we need an Instagram following!

For those of you who don’t really know what Instagram is (my hand would have been up a month ago) it is a social media platform built around images – mainly photos but short videos and graphics as well. Yes, there is writing there in the form of ‘captions’ for each photograph, but on the whole it is image based – a bonus for us as with the travel and nature documentaries what we do is also heavily image based, although more with videos than photographs, but we have an abundance of behind the scenes photographs and can always pull stills from the documentaries!

Instagram currently has 1,130,000,000 users (according to a quick google search), of which we need tens of thousands to follow us in order to be considered at the ‘influencer’ level for the type of places which we want to work with. 91% of users (approximately – these are all the best numbers I can find in a quick google search) have fewer than 10,000 followers, and more than half have fewer than 1,000 followers (including us at the time of writing this blog, although we’re closing in on that first 1,000!) This means that we have to get ourselves into the  9% of users (in fact, it is more like the top 5% to get the numbers we are looking at!). Plus we have to make sure we keep the followers engaged – it is no good getting 10,000 followers who aren’t interested in our posts!

How can we possibly go from nowhere to being in the top 5% of users on the platform? It feels almost like standing at the bottom of a sheer and ridiculously high mountain and needing to climb to the top!

Well, to push the analogy a little, if I were at the bottom of that mountain the first thing I would do would be to find somebody who knew a lot about mountain climbing and ask them for advice about where to start. I would also go to my friends and see if there was anyone who could point me in the right direction.

So that is what I am doing now. I am seeking out videos and articles about Instagram, trying to find out who seems to know what they are talking about, and who can provide the tips we need. I am making notes of good ideas and trying them out, I am seeing what advice is suggested by multiple people.

I also went to our friends and asked them for help, which gave us our first few hundred followers (by the way, if you have an Instagram account, now would be the perfect time to follow us at www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity).

Of course, the majority of people on Instagram are using it for fun, to connect with people and subjects that interest them, and to follow businesses that they like. It is also a joy to engage with other people on Instagram, to see photographs from fellow travellers, and to be able to read and share thoughts on different places. I must say, having always heard how negative social media is, and having seen some of it over the past year on Twitter and Facebook, it is refreshing to go onto Instagram and (because of what we do), see a feed filled with far off places, incredible creatures and, because they seem popular, beautiful sunsets.

Learning how to become an ‘influencer’ was never something I had any interest in, it was never a goal. It still isn’t a goal as such, it is a subset of our main goal of seeing the world and sharing our adventures through videos, this blog, and now through photographs on Instagram as well.

To me though, it feels so nice to be starting to learn something new. Of course there is crossover with what we have learned about YouTube, but the rules are all different! So each day I am reading, watching, learning and hopefully that will keep us moving steadily in the right direction.

Now I’m off to find out what I should be doing with a ‘reel’ or what I’m doing wrong with my ‘stories’, or some other little hint that will help us grow, and help me to learn!

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

 

Not As Boring As I Thought!

Not As Boring As I Thought!

A blog post by Greg

I think that by far one of my favourite reviews of one of my live shows came from a young child who came up to me at the end of a school performance with a great big smile on her face and offered the now immortal words:

“You know, that wasn’t as boring as I thought it would be!”

I, of course, descended into laughter at the horrified look on the teacher’s face, and immediately asked if I could use the quote on my next poster – I thought that “Greg Chapman: Not As Boring As You Think” would be a great poster line, although, as I write it now, I wonder if it would be better served as the title of a show!

For the record, I think that the child had really enjoyed the show, which is why her double-edged compliment was so funny to me. Taking a step back, for a moment, it is actually a very useful review to receive, because it was nice, friendly, delivered in good spirit, and unintentionally helpful! Hidden inside the comment was an important message, and, as a person who likes words and tries hard to listen to the words people actually say, I started to deconstruct the sentence as I packed up my kit.

Other children had said lovely things – ‘great magic’, ‘I really liked your show’, ‘you are the best live entertainer of your generation and perhaps of all time you incredible genius’ (I may have made the last one up) – but their words, though lovely to hear, weren’t as interesting to me as that one child with her backhanded compliment.

The heart of the sentence which mattered to me was ‘I thought that was going to be boring’.

What an interesting sentiment to consider taking into a show, and one which is important to consider. As it was a school show, I am absolutely fine with the students going in thinking like that, expecting a boring lecture or presentation and then being pleasantly surprised with the fact that my show goes in a very different direction to what they might expect.

When selling the show to the teachers initially, however, or when selling a show to a theatre or selling tickets for an event, the last thing I would want is to give the impression in the marketing materials that the show was going to be boring – nobody is going to buy a ticket for a boring looking show in the hopes that they will be surprised by it!

So reviews, to me, were always useful when there was something that I could take away from them, something that we could build on, and the same is very much true of our videos. Take, for example, this review on the Prime Video page for our ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ documentary:

Looked at objectively, this is a fantastic review – four stars for our first documentary on Prime Video, where Planet Earth, for example, averages 4.5 stars, we’re very happy with (our average is also 4.5 stars, but, I will be the first to admit, over significantly fewer reviews!).

There is, however, half a sentence of criticism hidden amongst the compliments, the words:

“Yes the sound quality is a bit poor at times, and at other times the exposure is less than ideal.”

There are several ways to deal with criticism like this. The first is the way in which I have seen far too many performers and artists react to it, which is to get angry about it and to decide that the person dishing out the criticism must be wrong because they dared give one piece of criticism in an otherwise lovely review, and not even a bad piece of criticism!

The second is to get upset. I will admit that at times I have become upset about reviews, but never one like this. I will get upset by a review that is fundamentally unfair or deliberately rude (for example, one accusing us of Xenophobia against Turkish people because we dared mention that Vlad had learned his torture methods while held prisoner by the Ottoman Sultan!), but even then I am slowly learning to let those flow like water off a duck’s back, especially as more and more people leave good reviews to drown out the few like that.

The third way, and the way that I endeavour to read any constructively intended review (and it is important to only care about those that are actually intended constructively), is to listen to the points made, both good and bad, and see if I can agree with them and whether they matter to us.

In the review I have included above, for example, I was very pleased to read that for this person our enthusiasm had come through in the video, as this is something that I try really hard to ensure comes through in the final edit.

The comments about sound and exposure were also fair and useful, and gave us something to focus on with the technical side of things. In fact, looking through the reviews we have on that project, sound was mentioned a couple of times, which means that we needed to make that a big focus. As a result we have invested in new sound equipment, including wireless microphone units and lapel microphones, and a new studio microphone for the voiceovers, and I have spent a lot more time studying sound recording and reading books on the subject, and have notes on another couple of pieces I want to complete our kit to make sure that on our next travel documentary the sound takes a big leap forward! We are also looking at upgrading our camera when finances allow to allow us more control over things like exposure!

This, artistically is where reviews are most useful, taking those that are clearly meant in a positive and constructive manner, and getting to the bottom of what useful facts they contain to help us to improve with each passing video.

There is, however, another way that reviews help not only us, but every filmmaker, author, creator and small business owner that you know, and that is the dual points of ‘algorithms’ and ‘crowd authority’.

Basically, we need reviews! It is something that I am heavily focused on at the moment with the recent release of ‘Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland‘, as I try to encourage those people who have watched the documentary on Prime Video to leave it a review there, and I would also encourage you to leave reviews for any other creative whose work you have enjoyed!

The first part of this is the algorithms, the clever secret method by which places like Prime Video, Amazon, Google, YouTube and other search based sites decide when to recommend your work, and how high to rank you in search results. The exact algorithms are usually highly guarded secrets, but we know that engagement is key for most of them, so for our videos it would be a case of how many people have bought the documentary before, have those people then watched it all the way through, and then have they taken the extra effort to leave a review? An honest review is the icing on the cake, the thing that few people will get around to, and so really shows that somebody has engaged with the content, and so it will really help boost the work, and get it to show higher in searches and recommendations.

As important as this, if not more, is the concept of crowd authority.

Imagine, if you will, that you want to buy, for example, a new hat. A very nice hat, one which will keep the sun out of your eyes when it is too bright, but which will also keep your head warm in the cold. It is loose fitting enough that it doesn’t give you a headache, but even the strongest winds won’t blow it off. You are after the pinnacle of hats! Wait a minute… where was I going with this?

I remember.

You have found two potential hats on an internet market place which look remarkably similar. They both fit all of your requirements, and unbelievably are exactly the same price. You look at every detail and they are exactly the same, and both get a review rating of 5 stars!

With a closer look, you see that one of the hats only has two reviews, however, while the other hat has over a thousand reviews. Which one do you buy?

Unless you are being deliberately obtuse, I would expect that most people will say the one with over a thousand reviews, and this is borne out in everything I have learned about reviews, and crowd authority. The more reviews are on something, the more people you can see have liked it, and therefore the higher the chances that the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is correct in telling you that it is a good product and, providing it is what you are looking for, worth buying.

The same is true of our documentaries on Amazon. While they are just launching and Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland has, at the time of writing, only two reviews, people who don’t know us are less likely to take the step of buying it than they will when it has ten, fifty or a hundred reviews.

That is why we are now setting ourselves a goal on a new release of 100 reviews in the first month! It will be a difficult push to get there, but will really make a big difference to the documentaries going forward, and so it is really worth it!

Now my plea to you! If you have seen any of our documentaries, please go and leave them a review, particularly if you have watched ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ and ‘Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland’ on Prime Video.

More than that though, if you have a book you have read recently, or a video you’ve watched, or a place you’ve stayed, or something you’ve bought online that you really like, then please go and leave it a review! Two minutes of your time can mean the world to a creator! While you’re at it, you can also leave a comment here to let us know what you like about our blogs, and if there are any subjects you’d like us to talk about!

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg

 

Teaming Up With The Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit

Teaming Up With The Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit

A blog post by Greg

Hopefully by now it is no secret that Felicity and I spent a couple of weeks in September 2021 with the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit in Scotland filming a two part documentary, about the work that they do to study and assist dolphins, whales and porpoises in and around the Moray Firth (and of course the research that they do goes on to assist cetaceans, which covers all three of these, around the world).

As I write this blog, we are pleased to say that the documentary is now available to purchase on Amazon’s Prime Video in the UK (HERE) and the USA (HERE), and that we are continuing to donate half of anything that Felicity and I make through streaming and sales from this documentary to the CRRU to help them keep up the great work that they do. I thought that this means that it is the perfect time for me to share a little bit about the CRRU and our involvement with them.

Back in 2018 Felicity and I decided to start ‘Curios Aquatica‘, which Felicity has written a whole blog post about which you can read to find out more about what that involved. Part of our aim, however, in trying to help to save the seas and the creatures which live in them, was to fundraise for marine charities. The first year we selected the Marine Conservation Society UK, and raised some money for them, however when we reached the second year we decided we wanted to find a smaller charity, one which we could get to know a little more closely, and where we would be able to see (and share with our supporters) what the money was going to help.

We looked into a number of charities, and then we found the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit. Felicity is very interested in cetaceans, you may have read her previous blog post about them, which was why we had visited the whales of Magdalena Bay while we were in Mexico, fulfilling a dream that Felicity had held onto since she was a young teenager. We looked into the charity, and very quickly agreed that this was the charity for us to support, and so we began turning our fundraising towards them.

While we were planning our videos, it suddenly occurred to us that making a documentary about the work that the Cetacean Research and Rescue team were doing would be perfect. We could donate some of the income from the video to support the charity (we have actually decided to donate half of everything that Felicity and I received as a result of streaming sales to the charity), and also hopefully show the work that they do and encourage others to get involved and to do what they can to help support these wonderful creatures, and the seas and oceans in general.

So I sent an email to Dr Kevin Robinson, the lead researcher and director of the CRRU, with a fairly modest proposal. Would he, we asked, be willing to allow us to come up to Scotland, find a hotel locally, and visit them for a couple of days to do some interviews, film some of what they get up to, and create a documentary, and we waited for his response, expecting either a polite ‘we’re too busy to have someone getting under our feet filming’, or allowing us to come up as we suggested.

This was not, however, what happened. Dr Kevin arranged a video conference with us (this was during the pandemic, while we had all of our video equipment set up in the ‘Mercave’ for online shows), and made a counter suggestion. He was incredibly supportive of our idea to come and make a documentary, but suggested that if we were to really be able to present the team and their work from a place of understanding, then we should be part of the team. This meant joining one of their research teams (they have several over the summer – find out more about how you can get involved here) and spending ten days living with them, working with them, going out on the boat with them, and generally getting a real ‘inside look’ at what they do.

Of course we leapt at the chance… and then the waiting began until the pandemic was over, and we could find a space on a team (we did not want to take a place away from a research student, and there are limited spaces on the boat for each team).

Then in September 2021 things came together, and we found ourselves travelling north from the Isle of Wight all the way up to Aberdeenshire in Scotland, and a small village on the coast of the Moray Firth called Gardenstown, and driving carefully along the sea wall there (barely wider than our van) to the CRRU base.

I don’t want to go too far into our experiences with the CRRU, we are really proud of the two-part documentary we have made, and are really pleased with the way it tells the story and presents the work that the team do, so we would prefer you watch that to find out all the details. I just want to share with you some of the feelings behind this documentary and why it is a little different in style to our others.

To briefly explain what the CRRU does, I can’t do better than quote from their website.

The CRRU is a marine conservation charity dedicated to the study, conservation and understanding of UK whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) in northeast Scotland through scientific research, environmental education and the provision of a voluntary veterinary rescue service for marine wildlife in distress.

This gives a big overview of what the team do, and to give you a little more of an idea of what to expect from the documentary it seems a good time to include the trailer for you to take a look!

This was a very different documentary for us, because it was important to us to take a slight step backwards from the ‘limelight’. In our travel documentaries we are the presenters and the storytellers, we are taking you on a journey with us, and the main focus of the films, whether the background is Turkey, Romania, Mexico or the Isle of Man, is us on our journey showing you around and sharing our thoughts.

Obviously that is an element of the Scotland documentary, but we were also arriving as part of a team, and a team that we wanted to learn from, and whose knowledge we wanted to share with everyone else. Also, if there was one of us who really deserved to be there, it was Felicity, who (and she will question this, but it is my blog post) knows a lot about cetaceans. She has had a huge interest in them all of her life, and has read books, watched documentaries, and continues to learn about them as much as she can. I would say (because I am not modest like she is, I am a performer with a performer’s ego) that I know more than the average person about cetaceans, and I did even before we visited the CRRU. What I know, however, I learned by osmosis from Felicity, and I know how little I know in comparison to her.

I know filmmaking better than Felicity, I don’t think she will question that. When we make our documentaries I am the one who understands the kit best, and it is me that ‘sees’ the story (see my previous post about choosing our destinations) and puts together the first rough edit to show this story. While we are filming our travel documentaries we are generally equal in the amount of time we spend filming and presenting on camera, but on this occasion I knew that wasn’t going to give us the best results. In order to capture the team, and to allow Felicity to really experience being a full part of the team, we would each be best playing to our strengths. So although you will see both of us on camera, you’ll notice that my pieces are more about the film and the story, pieces to camera, updates, etc, whereas Felicity is part of the team, getting involved with taking identification photographs, discussing aspects of the work with the team, and learning how to do various jobs involved in being part of a research and rescue team.

We also had a lot more characters in these documentaries. While our travel documentaries usually feature us as the main characters, and I like to think of the country we are in as the third main character (and in Romania it felt like Vlad Dracula was a recurring character throughout), with any other people who feature in the films appearing almost like ‘guest’ performers, some of them stealing the show for a moment such as Marco the wonderful guide in Palenque!

In this documentary, however, there is an ensemble cast, and we had to make sure that we put focus on the whole team otherwise the film would not have worked. Dr Kevin, obviously, would be a main feature, but the whole team had their own areas of expertise, and we are so grateful to all of them for throwing themselves into working with us as much as we tried to throw ourselves into working with them. For the first time in one of our documentaries we also had other camera people for a couple of shots, particularly the drone shots and at some of the underwater shots, which were filmed by other members of the team.

This will, therefore, always be a special documentary for me because it is something so different from what we have done before, and likely from what we will do again. In general our documentaries will still be about us on our travels, and will be an equal blend of Greg and Felicity, and with us leading you on a journey and taking you into our world. However, on this occasion, it was fantastic to be part of a team working together to help the cetaceans of the Moray Firth, and also to make a two part documentary!

We hope you enjoy the documentary – if you do, please leave it a review on IMDB and/or Amazon!

Happy adventuring, and please, take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please leave a comment and say ‘hello’!

For information on all of our projects, visit: www.gregandfelicityadventures.com

Follow us on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gregandfelicity

Like us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GregandFelicityAdventures

There are various places you can watch our documentaries and series!

Seeking Cetaceans In Scotland: A two-part documentary about the work of the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit as they work to help whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Moray Firth in Scotland:

Free in the USA on Tubi TV at:

https://tubitv.com/movies/678018/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

Free Worldwide on PlexTV at:

https://watch.plex.tv/movie/seeking-cetaceans-in-scotland

With a library card on the Hoopla service where applicable:

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/15313766

Free in the USA on Xumo at:

https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991731/free-documentaries?v=XM00ILOFXCKLUC&p=74071

Buy it without ads Amazon’s Prime Video at:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09RVWVFCV

USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09RVWJGY1

(Greg and Felicity are donating half of our streaming income on this documentary to support the CRRU).

Available to buy on DVD (with £5 from each donated to the charity): https://ko-fi.com/s/73e469d114

ROMANIA: SEEKING DRACULA’S CASTLE: Our travel documentary looking into the history, legend and castles connected to Vlad Dracula III, sometimes known as Vlad the Impaler, and a journey around Romania:

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/romania-seeking-draculas-castle

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579192/romania-seeking-dracula-s-castle

Prime Video (From £1.99, no Ads) (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B08RDPZP14

Prime Video (From $1.99, no Ads) (USA): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RDJR4F2

TURKEY: FAIRY CHIMNEYS AND UNDERGROUND CITIES: A travel documentary across Turkey, from the Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities of Cappadocia to the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus and Hierapolis:

Prime Video UK (From £2.49, no Ads): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KKSZLRW

Prime Video USA (From $1.99, no Ads): https://www.amazon.com/Turkey-Fairy-Chimneys-Underground-Cities/dp/B09KK6VDJB

Free Worldwide on Plex: https://watch.plex.tv/movie/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Free (USA) on Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/579225/turkey-fairy-chimneys-and-underground-cities

Greg Chapman’s Magic Show: An eight-part series of magic and entertainment with Greg:

Free in the USA on Tubi at: https://tubitv.com/series/300008713/greg-chapman-s-magic-show

Free worldwide on Plex:  https://watch.plex.tv/show/greg-chapmans-magic-show/season/1

Available to buy on DVD: https://ko-fi.com/s/7c1bc10a08

Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty: Filmed on our honeymoon in Mexico in 2019, our first travel documentary took us through the ancient sites of Teotihuacan, Uxmal, El Tajin, Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul, and then on to see the whales of Magdalena Bay, whale sharks of La Paz, and more.

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yfMpD868MHU

The Isle of Man: Railways, Castles and Seals: Our second travel documentary took us to the Isle of Man!

Watch free on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uCpUa6XEkbg