Is your family divided on how much fun you find a theme park? Would you choose a gentle spin on a carousel over those stomach twisting, mind bending, gravity defying drops from the sky that your kids favour? Or is it you that has a crush on the coasters? Perhaps you should get yourselves down to Blackpool, where the Pleasure Beach Resort offers a ride for all tastes…
Blackpool Pleasure Beach: A Nostalgia Ride
Making a Möbius Loop out of a serviette isn’t easy, especially when you are in a seaside café and the table in front of you is filled with plates of fish and chips. And when you don’t understand physics. As usual the kids are way ahead of me.
“It’s a double track that loops,” says Matthew, making his own Möbius Loop with a simple twist of his serviette.
“But we didn’t loop at any point on that coaster!” I argue.
“Oh but we did! It was disguised. Like this!”
“Ok, so big deal, you can turn a serviette into a Möbius Loop? Well ha, I can make it into a swan!”
I can’t. That was just for effect. Hoping no one asks me to make an elegant white bird out of a cheap cafe tissue that’s covered in vinegar spots, I screw it up.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach has history
Our argument isn’t about a serviette, as you may have gathered. It’s about a roller coaster. A very clever roller coaster that has been entertaining people since 1935 in Blackpool. The Grand National is one of those traditional clackety clackers, known to theme park enthusiasts as a woodie. It is one of only three Mobius Loop coasters still in existence in the world, with twin carriages that race on dual tracks in Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach. And while it may be a pensioner compared to younger rides like the Big One with its high point of 71.6 metres, it still delivers an exciting ride. Goodness knows what it would have felt like back in the 1930′s, when people didn’t drive fast cars on a regular basis.
Blackpool is an unusual theme park, although that’s not obvious at first sight. It has all the trappings of a modern attraction, with a one day pass, sponsorship deals with Aardman Animations and Nickelodeon, junk food and world class coasters. But look closer and it has more to offer. I recently had an intensive introduction to theme parks in Florida and while Blackpool doesn’t have the budget of Disney, the hulk of Universal, the colourful bricks of Legoland, or the cute dolphins of Seaworld, it does have one big thing in its favour. History.
The heritage trail
The Pleasure Beach at Blackpool gets full marks for longevity. It has been going since 1896 and the current owners have wisely resisted trying to modernise the really classic rides. If you want to follow the nostalgia trail you need to be a bit of a detective, looking out for the plaques on the walls. But once you know what you are looking for, seeking out the past is good fun.
And you get to ride on a woodie
Blackpool has five woodies. They’re not for anyone who has any trouble with their neck as your head is thrown around all over the place on some quite violent journeys and there’s a fair few humps and bumps. But they do give you a real sense of nostalgia, and yes, a bit of a thrill. Of course, roller coasters are what people go to a theme park for. Despite the recent technical difficulties, you can be sure The Smiler will be pulling them in at Alton Towers this summer. And in the past the woodies brought people flooding into Blackpool.
I’m impressed with variety of coasters Blackpool has. Many records have been broken on them. Richard Rodrigues got on the Big Dipper on 18th June 1998 and got off 3rd August 1998 after riding for 1000 hours as part of a Roller Coaster Marathon. And the Grand National once hosted the wedding of the chairman of the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain who rode as he got hitched. There are the modern ones like Infusion, refurbished and rebranded ones like the Nickelodeon Streak, water rides like the fabulous Valhalla and the ones you think you are going to fall off, like The Avalanche bobsled coaster.
But there are other delights too, like the Derby racer, a carousel where the person on the outside horse gets to cling on for dear life. The oldest attraction in the park; the Hiram Maxim Flying Machine, still uses the original mechanism and it’s simply stunning. (You can view it afterwards in the shop). It’s also a relaxing ride as the rocket shaped boats gently swing out in a circle over the park. With the creaking of the mechanics, and the wind in your face, you can close your eyes and imagine you are flying with the Victorians. Not everything is as gentle as this though; I undertake a rather alarming little horse ride with Hannah. Bone shaker is an understatement.
Mid life crisis or a bit of fun?
I generally come away from theme parks feeling sick. And with the idea that I’ve stood around in queues for a whole day with the odd ride chucked in. Today I feel different. Perhaps it’s mid life crisis stuff, or a throw back to my childhood. But Blackpool’s nostalgia trail does it for me. It is a world apart from other parks. And it isn’t what I’m expecting when I come to Blackpool. The kids enjoy it as much as I do. Cameron says it is his best day out ever. But then he says that most days.
There’s one woodie that stumps me. The Wild Mouse. I look up at the little rodent carriages, scuttling around the ancient wooden track. And I can’t do it. It just looks too terrifying. I head for The Big One instead.