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Big One (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
1988, the UK interest in roller coasters has necessitated one of the largest
clubs of ‘enthusiasts’ outside America. Whilst back then there were plenty
of reasons to become interested in roller coasters (mostly thanks to
Blackpool’s classic wooden coaster arsenal), there was rarely anything to get
excited about in terms of new rides.
we paced the floorboards, over the other side of the pond, Americans were
breaking world records like it was going out of fashion. Cedar Point in Ohio has
long made a habit of breaking records, and in 1989 it was the first park to
breach the 200ft height record with Magnum XL-200.
we pined for such rides here on her majesty’s shores here in old Blighty. As
America left us for dust, we wondered whether we’d ever see such a record
breaker here seeing that our tallest coaster then was Alton Towers’ Thunder
the UK, the parks that had the financial clout for such a front page roller
coaster were confined by unforgiving planning restrictions, and as already one
of the most compact parks in the world, it would have been easy to rule
Blackpool Pleasure Beach out of the equation owing to the space available to
tip-toeing around one of the most unforgiving and awkward construction sites in
history, a deep blue mountain of steel slowly rose up from the Pleasure Beach,
topped by a thread of red track using every opportunity to climb not only over
Blackpool’s historical rides, but in the case of the Big Dipper and Roller
Coaster, through them.
only did the mile-long track have to tread carefully, but even the station had
to adopt almost a cylindrical shape in order to fit above the park Monorail and
the Pleasure Beach Express railway lines that run below this rotund building.
1994, amid much fanfare, the Pepsi Max Big One opened as the tallest, fastest
and steepest roller coaster in the world.
1994, the record for the tallest coaster has led the life of a nomad and a
veritable globetrotter. As well as calling in on his friends at Cedar Point
(Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster), he has also called in at Japan
(Steel Dragon 2000) and also on a European level with Europa Park’s Silver
Star, which supersedes the Big One as Europe’s tallest roller coaster.
is well documented that roller coasters play an important part in ones psyche.
Much of the thrill and apprehension associated with roller coasters is actually
psychological. Bearing this in mind, as the ride edges itself into your line of
sight as you approach Blackpool from 15 miles away, the sight alone is enough to
drive you barmy.
day, the inky blue structure reaches high into the sky above Blackpool alongside
the 500ft tall Blackpool Tower, whilst by night it is hard not to fall in love
with the beautiful sight of the ride lighting up the night sky, delivering
initial impact like no other British coaster can muster.
the park, the Big One completely envelopes the park, but forms an ever-present
backdrop that easily blends into the background much like the sky. Every minute
or so the ride reminds you of its presence as a train laden with people
cartwheels through the sky, over your head before diving out of view. The Big
One makes its presence known like no other.
considering the space restrictions, the layout of the station area is
impeccable. The wooden barrel-like station has track wrapped around it in the
form of the turn into a giant can of Pepsi (“other soft drinks are
available”) with the lifthill disappearing skywards. The main finale is hardly
candid, either, with the train exploding out of an underground tunnel into the
final brake run.
you pass between the now-disused cylindrical cash kiosks, you climb a gradual
ramp up to the station, squeeze through the turnstile into the station before
you enter the first of three station-length switch back queues.
accidental or deliberate, the way the first drop is framed in the window at the
opposite end of the station is an absolutely sublime touch, with the inside of
the wood panelled station whitewashed and lit brightly in white. At night, the
station roof is trimmed with chaser lights which electrically dart from one end
of the station roof to the other.
platform isn’t the largest in the world, and frankly isn’t that
accommodating to those who are picky about where they sit. With 200ft of height
at its advantage, where you sit has great impact on the ride you’ll have, but
sadly you do not have the luxury of being too choosy.
trains are good looking with a sharp nose, fronted by two headlights, liveried
in silver with red, amber and blue stripes running the length of the train. Each
train is five cars long, each seating three pairs of riders secured with an
individual lap bar and seatbelt each.
trains aren’t the best upholstered in the world. The bucket seats are not the
most forgiving once the ride curls down a near-vertical corkscrew towards the
Irish Sea, and the lap bars mean that not much space is afforded for you to
shuffle sideways into your seat. As time has taken its toll on the fibreglass
shell of the train, the floor is patched up with lumps of plyboard which as well
as looking fairly unpresentable, does not represent the most comfortable surface
to place your feet on.
a wailing claxon sounds, the train rolls from the station, dipping sharply down
and into a 180-degree bend sweeping around the base of the station into the
centre of the oversized fizzy pop can.
away, the train smoothly engages on the lift hill before it begins its first of
many triumphant skyward climbs. I must admit, I love this lift hill for a number
of reasons. The fact that it is 200ft tall goes a long way to help, and the
obvious tension built upon this fact in the train is – even ten years on –
quite immense. Furtherance to this, the view whereever you look is amazing. To
the right, the Pleasure Beach mapped out below you, to your left, the Irish Sea
coastline stretching away into the distance.
you pass a forest of weathervanes and aircraft warning beacons at the top of
this towering structure, the track warps out of view as the train curls
downwards affording an amazing - if brief view of the promenade below before the
train is quite literally wrenched to the right, curling around a precarious
curve whilst it dives towards the roofs of the buildings below. As you reseat
yourself after this fairly brash drop, you’re soon climbing up a strangely
flat hill parallel to the promenade before you sharply top out, dropping back
down and following the front parade of shops and restaurants before sweeping to
the right and climbing into the ride’s main turnaround.
train suddenly, and unnervingly tilts sharply to the right as it runs over the
Grand National station, the plaza in front of it and the arcade below.
the train regains an upright stance, you head towards the track entering the
turn around, just about squeezing beneath the track offering the first of many
head choppers as you head into the return leg of the ride.
you climb another triangular hill in the shadow of the first hill out of the
first drop, you drop down towards the Log Flume lake, pitching to the left as
you do before climbing back out into another hill which is still cast in the
shadows of the first hill before the coaster takes on an almost serpentine
nature, pitching first to the left as it drops, bottoming out by pulling to the
right and ducking underneath the lift structure.
climb sends the train once again banking to the left as it tops out, before
heading towards the structure of the Big Dipper and then climbing up towards the
front seat riders here will invariably get a healthy, although often painful
bout of airtime as the train sharply straightens out for the brakes, and sadly
the brakes make their unreserved presence known by taking a lot of the speed out
of the train.
comes the helix which offers a strange sensation as the train slowly ambles
around this undulating, banked track which runs over a scene from the Pleasure
Beach Express before climbing up into another trademark triangular hill,
dropping through the structure of the Roller Coaster before out of nowhere, the
train curls into a sharp downward sweep, burrowing through a deep tunnel and
then exploding out into daylight, heading skywards, careering out the way of the
corner of the station roof just in time before the final brakes stop the train.
a decade on, the Big One is still regarded as one of the most famous and iconic
roller coasters in Britain. It has featured on television, adverts and films,
and still is a psychological challenge for the public to conquer.
can a ride that has had such a lukewarm reception from enthusiasts exhibit so
much staying power?
ride is a one of a kind, not only nationally, but globally too. Say what you
will about Arrow megacoasters and their triangular-topped hills and jerky
transitions, but they offer a unique sensation, and one that is particularly
befitting of the Pleasure Beach.
the setting of the Big One is absolutely note-perfect. There are few things with
more mystique than a night time ride on the Big One, with the broody Irish Sea
below, the promenade famously lit up with the Blackpool Illuminations and the
Pleasure Beach twinkling away as if gold at the end of the rainbow.
the Big One is remarkable in places, whilst a lost opportunity in others.
first drop has become famous the world over thanks to a 200ft corkscrewing
65-degree dive downwards at speeds approaching 75mph. Within the first few
seasons, the first drop was re-modelled by Allot and Lomax meaning that the drop
was cantilevered away from the main structure meaning it was smoother, faster
and tighter. Also, the second highlight of the ride, the turnaround, was
improved by making the turn tighter which in turn added to the effect of hanging
off the side of the structure.
on the first half of the ride, there is little to make your jaws drop, but
nevertheless, the sensation of speed wherever you sit in the train is pretty
much unequalled within the UK.
mid-course brake run completely destroys any pacing that the ride has up until
that point rendering the following helix as a pointless intrusion before from
nowhere the ride wakes up for an absolutely superb finale.
the ride lacks airtime, is jerky and ferocious, it is a perfectly complementing
ride to the rest of Blackpool’s line-up. If airtime is what you want,
Blackpool has one of the best selections of powerful gravity defying rides
elsewhere, so it seems futile to compete against them.
Whilst many people grieve for the unfulfilled potential of the Big One when comparing it against rides like Expedition Ge-Force, it’s continued popularity further enforces the fact that despite it being dethroned by peoples’ access to bigger and better rides, it very much has the fizz it did ten years ago.
3/5 Marcus Sheen