DinoSnores – The National History Museum opens it doors at night, and lets you sleep within the great Hintze Hall, right underneath their prized Diplodocus skeleton if you so desire. Sometimes you hear about an event and realise you have no choice, you HAVE to go and see what it is like. For me, DinoSnores was one of those events! Read on for an after-hours adventure at the NHM
DinoSnores – Sleeping with the Dinosaurs – Titanium Adventures #1
I honestly don’t remember where I heard about DinoSnores. I think it might have been an article somewhere on “Secret London” or some such. Either way, it has been something I’ve been wanting to go along to for at least a year, and finally managed to find a date where I wasn’t in the hospital over the weekend over the day in question – DinSnores seems to be only run sporadically, and then about once a month. For example, there is now one day in October remaining for the whole of 2016.
I pitched the idea to Amy, whose eyes went wide with the photography possibilities it presented, in addition to just being a cool idea, and with that, tickets were booked!
You are required to bring your own sleeping bag and pyjamas are a requirement. The Natural History Museum has enough odd exhibits without Joe Blogs walking around in his Star Wars boxer shorts and nothing else!
We trained down from Warwick and made our way through London. It might sound daft, but I have only recently started going to London, I can see why people fall in love with the place. Now I’d never want to live in a city, but it’s certainly a great place to visit, such that I’m happy to get off the Tube a stop early just to enjoy walking and enjoying the view.
On arrival there was some mild confusion as to where we were supposed to go, being that when we arrived at the Natural History Museum, we were told the place was closing, and would couldn’t go in. There was a small amount of confusion as we explained we were supposed to be there for DinoSnores, and eventually were given a vague comment to wait on the Cromwell Road side of the Museum.
Thankfully there were two other people in the same predicament, so we decided to make camp by a locked gate and chatter away. I honestly thought there would be 20-30 people attended to the max, so I was quite surprised, as more and more people, started to from an impromptu queue behind our group also waiting to get in.
Bare in mind we were not certain that we were waiting in the right spot, particularly as we heard comments that people had been directed to another part of the museum. However, if there is one thing the British love to do, it’s queue, and given that our queue was particularly impressive by that point, we decided to chance our luck where we were.
At 6:30pm, another security guard appeared, to open a gate in the middle of the wrought iron gate, and let us move up to the Museum to form another queue, outside the main entrance. Even if you are only passing, the Natural History Museum is an AMAZING place to simply stand and look at.
There are lions, wolves, and bird statues around the tops of the building
However I was told whilst we were there, that there are also statues of Pterodactyls with the other prehistoric animals, but one of the chief engineers Sir Richard Owen was not in full agreement with Darwin, and thus insisted that prehistoric, and living animals were kept apart, in spite of the growing evidence of evolutionary links
Setting Up Camp
Upon entering to the Museum, you queue again to acknowledge your attendance, and given your camp mats – two per person as the floor of the Museum is relatively unforgiving.
As you register, you are also told your “group” or “house” for the evening’s activities. We were both placed in House Jurassic, and would be corralled into a silver band wearing group
Once you knew what you were doing, there was an hours down time to allow you to sort you sleeping area/nest for the evening, have a little wander before we are brought together for dinner
As Amy and myself were one of the first pairs into the hall, it was actually a very interesting bit of people watching, observing people looking for what the considered to be the optimal sleeping spaced in the hall.
Eschewing the opportunity to sleep right next to the diplodocus, which looked like it was also going to be one of the main thoroughfares for the evening, we decided to unpack at the bottom of the stairs, under the watchful eye of Charles Darwin
After about an hour, everyone appeared to have arrived, and we were greeted by one of our hosts for the evening, who explained the set up of the evening, where we are allowed to take drinks, and politely requested that people refrained from “doing it like they do it on the Discovery Channel”.
With that, there was the dinner gong, and we all trooped off to our three-course meal in the Museum restaurant.
The food was good in the sense of “I could have eaten that again!’ which is normally a good feeling. Starting with beef carpaccio and parmesan, followed by chicken and a potato thing – I’m not a food expert, it was potato and tasted good, okay!!
On all the tables were the programme for the evening. I think I was most interested to try the insect tasting later in the night. You might notice at the bottom, lights-out was 3am… given that sunrise was going to be a 5:43am, I suddenly realised I didn’t have enough red bull!
Dinner was also the first opportunity to really check out any if anyone has risen to the fancy dress challenge – one person clearly had! I’d have thought that the dinosaur onesies than several people were sporting would have been too hot, so I cant’ imagine how uncomfortable this was!
After dinner, we all were split into our respective groups for the evening’s entertainment. The guides were quite important at this point of the evening, as currently the wings of the museum were locked down. It would only be after midnight we had freedom to roam
Our first stop was a lecture on Hymenoptera (Wasps) from Dr Gavin Broad. Let’s be in no doubt, this is a man who really loves his wasps!
It might sound EXTRA geeky, but we basically found ourselves in a lecture on wasps… You know what? It was brilliant! Without a doubt, his passion and stories made the talk, and his discussion was pitched at just the right level for everyone in the room. Interesting, and educational, and punctuated with the right level of jokes to keep people engaged.
The evidence of wasps causing the destruction of the fairy population, whilst obviously 100% true, was a great example of this!
Plus the number of exceptionally interesting facts which played to the very geeky audience – such as the original design concept for James Cameron’s “Alien” chest burster was based on wasp larva!
Also, fun fact – wasp nests, storage structures inside which look like hexagons are NOT hexagons. They are actually circular tubes. However what happens is if you pack tubes tightly together, they get squashed slightly, to form hexagons using the maximum available space! Contributing to one of the reasons that wasp nests come in such a huge variety of shapes and sizes, they just adapt to anything!
Our next stop was a talk from Sipsmith, the Artisanal Gin Distillers, on the science of making gin. I think it’s a testament to the organisers of the night, I went into this part of the night thinking it was going to be filler, and that I likely wasn’t going to be particularly interested – Frankly I was proved how daft a pre-conception can be – as I was quite, quite wrong!
The talk began with an introduction from SipSmith (on the LEFT below), on the history of gin, and the Sipsmith distillery itself including how they were the first gin distillery to set up in London for 200yrs – the significance being London, being the home of London Gin, where apparently at one point, no gin was being produced!
After what was essentially an advert, albeit a VERY engaging advert, one of the Natural History Museum’s botanists lead us through the various ingredients which make up gin, including wonderful anecdotes down the roads of other ingredients, such as quinine and it’s role in the eradication of malaria in Europe, after it was used successfully to cure the malaria of King Charles the II in the 17th Century.
(props for the dinosaur themed clothing!)
The Natural History Museum has one of the largest herbarium collections in the world, totalling over 5 million pressed samples.
The various ingredients for gin and also the tonic were brought up for us to see, some of the samples being over 100 years old. In addition to these aged samples, raw ingredients from the near by supermarket were also brought along, so we could taste and smell the plants.
Obviously, given the opening starter from the Sipsmith distillery, there was then the option to sample their dry gin and sloe gins
I’m not a great fan of alcohol, so I left this one out, but I have it on good authority, that it was definitely gin, not paint stripper!
Our next stop on the tour around the natural history museum stand up comedy.
We were seated in an area next to the pathology/specimen library, which had some utterly mind blowing things in jars and bottles
Such as the octopus which grows a shell!
Opposite from the pathology section was a very large room where the blue whale skeleton, which will soon be replacing the diplodocus skeleton in the main hall, was being prepared
Then our comedian started. I have no usable pictures really, as I was laughing so hard I nearly cried!
Our talk was by the biologist and comedian Dr Simon Watt who set up UglyAnimals.com to champion the less aesthetically pleasing creatures. Even if you don’t go along to DinoSnore I HIGHLY advise checking out any of his shows/tours/programs, especially if you get to see one live
Check the video below for a brief taster:
FREEDOM to ROAM!
Then the locks were off, the doors were thrown open, and we were given the freedom to roam around the usual public areas of the museum
Now I’ve been to the Natural History Museum several times before, but being there at night, with the low lights, made it a very different experience!
I think the vastly reduced number of people there also made the experience. No hustle and bustle. You could just stop and enjoy the building at times as well
After touring the museum, we finally picked up courage to approach the edible insects at 2:00am. Crickets, ants, larva, pupae and worms.
The concept of eating insects was probably a little worse than the actual experience, especially as the samples didn’t look particularly insectoid…
Apart from the larvae. Both Amy and I made a point is trying to taste all the dishes, but both of us bottled out merely looking at the larvae
After very thoroughly brushing our teeth it was finally time for the ‘Snores part of the evening.
As people started to settle down for the night in Hintze Hall, a harpist started playing in the centre of the hall
I’ve never fallen asleep as anyone plays me music, let alone being lulled off to sleep by Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Harry Potter theme tunes. It was a bizarre and exceptionally relaxing highlight at the end of the evening at nearly 3am
Rachel Bundy on Twitter captured it perfectly:
— Rachel Bundy (@rachbundy) August 5, 2016
After falling asleep in the very earlier hours, I woke at about 5:40 as the sun was beginning to filter into the great hall. We’d been suggested to bring eye masks, but I’d clearly dislodged mine overnight.
Being awake then whilst most people were still dozing (and snoring, my word was one guy loud!) let me relax in my sleeping bag, and just watch the colours change as the sun shone into the hall over the next 40mins
People slowly began to stir, before shuffling out for our English breakfasts and that vital morning caffeine fix
We then shuffled out of the Museum, as the staff had a scant hour to prepare the museum for the influx of tourists. After having spent the night in the hall, it did seem oddly empty as we left again
If you have an ounce of geekery in you I highly recommend DinoSnores, and if you are a dinosaur nut especially, you need to go sooner rather than later as the great Diplodocus is soon going to be replaced by a Blue Whale skeleton in Hintze Hall as we saw. I’m sure that will still be an awesome night at the museum, but it won’t quite be DinoSnores anymore – The next DinoSnores this year will be on October 21st, so you still have some time to book!
The biggest change that I would suggest, if you are going to DinoSnores, is to book an earlier train/ride/taxi home. Even though we still had an enjoyable day in London after DinoSnores, given both of us had managed about 3 hours sleep, we were verified zombies when we finally returned home. HOWEVER, the evening at the Natural History Museum was definitely worth the of sleep deprivation, just make good use of the coffee!!
Credit for a lot of the photos on here goes to the FABULOUS Amy Shore: Check out her Instagram if you like cars and photography, her page on Word Press, and some additional #DinoSnore shots she has on her Twitter feed