The Giant Lanterns of China are back at Edinburgh Zoo and with 600 new lanterns and an extended route, this year’s event promises to be even bigger and better than before. In previous years I’ve been left awestruck by Giant pandas, Rockhopper penguins and a myriad of mythical creatures, including Scotland’s very own Nessie. This year the theme is Giant Lanterns Lost Worlds. Scotland’s only lantern festival will showcase 570 million years of wildlife in one night, giving visitors a unique opportunity to meet the strange creatures that once called this planet home.
Giant Lantern Lost Worlds – press preview
On a chilly November night my press pack plus one (my mum – whose birthday it just so happened to be) and I headed to Edinburgh Zoo to walk with dinosaurs at the Giant Lanterns Lost World press preview. Me taking my mum to the zoo as a birthday treat – talk about a parent, child role reversal.
The dawn of time
Once inside the zoo, we headed to the beginning of the lantern trail and journeyed back 3.5 billion years to ‘the dawn of time’ when tiny microbes in the ocean started springing to life.
Billions of years later, new ocean creatures appeared – some hunters, some prey.
I’m a sucker for a tunnel of light, so the ‘age of fishes’ immediately caught my eye. I charged into it like a woman possessed. It was completely mesmerising, so we went through it twice for good measure.
I may, or may not have been humming ‘Under the Sea’ from The Little Mermaid as I admired the exotic sea creatures.
When the reign of the fishes came to an end, the earliest spiders (arghhhhhh) and land based amphibians arrived. They looked familiar, unlike the giant creatures that would follow.
In no time at all we’d travelled through billions of years, but we were still a long, long way away from 2019.
The lanterns were getting larger and more impressive with each step we took. What quickly became apparent was that my knowledge of dinosaurs was zilch. I was shocked to discover how many different types there were. Far more than the handful I could name, that’s for sure.
Like the Dimetodron – a sharp-toothed hissing predator you definitely wouldn’t want to bump into.
Or the Cotylorhync, a fern eating veggiesaur.
And just like that, pouf the age of synapsids like Dimetodron and Cotylorhync was over. It had lasted 50 million years, and taken us within 250 million years of 2019.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m no Ross from Friends (dinosaur geek), but I was able to glean lots of interesting dinosaur related facts from information boards dotted around the trail. In one night I learned more about dinosaurs than I have during my entire life to date.
Comfort food and mulled wine on a cold night
Cold November nights call for comfort food, so we took a break from walking with dinosaurs and I treated the birthday girl to a slap up meal. We feasted on Scottish hot dogs with caramelised onions, fries, cheesy nachos and mulled wine from the zoo’s Jungle Food Court. The mulled wine slipped down nicely and the food was rather tasty too. We were tempted to linger indoors drinking mulled wine, but we had more dinosaurs to see and an al fresco dessert to devour too.
We had lots of fun toasting marshmallows on an open fire, while trying to avoid setting our cosy puffa jackets on fire.
One of the things I love about Edinburgh Zoo’s lantern trail is the market stalls, activity stations and food and drink stops that are dotted around the route. It means you can really make a night of it when you visit. I’m a great advocate of spending as much time as possible outdoors, even during the winter months.
Land of the Giants
Hunger satisfied we mingled with the titans of the Jurassic period next. I’ve always know that some dinosaurs were humongous. I’ve seen skeletons in New York’s, American Museum of Natural History, but with flesh (well lantern) on their bones, the true scale of the Jurassic period creatures was staggering.
They were fascinating to see and strangely beautiful. We oohed and aahed as we passed the long-necked Brachiosaurus, the three horned Triceratops and everyone’s favourite scary monster Mr T-Rex.
An asteroid strike and the arrival of some familiar(ish) faces
It takes a creative genius to make you feel empathy with lanterns, but that’s what we felt as we approached the end of the trail. The creatures seemed lifelike and were so beautifully depicted, that it was hard not to feel a little sad when they were wiped out when a giant asteroid struck the planet.
It gave us real food for thought, as the dinosaurs didn’t have a hand in their own demise. Human might though. We even got a bit philosophical, wondering what would come after humans, if they left behind a planet that was capable of sustaining any form of life.
After the asteroid strike, mammals reigned supreme and they looked just like the animals we’re familiar with today. Only they were a wee bit mutated – think sloths the size of trees. The comment of the night came from my mum when she pointed out a deer with a satellite dish on its head. I thought it looked like a butterfly myself, but a satellite dish would have been way cooler.
Giant lanterns Lost Worlds – the verdict
The two hours we spent walking with dinosaurs on the lantern trail flew by. It was such a fun and educational night. We saw all ages out enjoying it together, which was lovely.
Giant Lanterns Lost Worlds is open until 25th January 2020. It’s a must see event in Edinburgh this winter. And for me it’s the perfect alternative to the commercialised and crowded Christmas events that are held in the city centre.
We attended a complimentary press preview of the Giant Lanterns Lost Worlds, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …