National, Pleasure Beach Blackpool
strange to think that here at the beginning of the 21st century, with
technology allowing for more and more sophisticated thrill rides, that
some of our best coasters were thrilling people before the war. The
Grand National is one of those rides. Designed by Charles Paige, the
Grand National opened somewhere in the mid-to-late 1930s (most people
agree on 1935), and replaced the park's Scenic Railway coaster. After
this the history of the ride is far less eventful than that of its
brother, the Big Dipper. Only the Belle Vue Bobs in Manchester
challenged the ride for the title of "Britain's Best Woodie".
When the Bobs was demolished in 1970, the National the title to itself,
although it has now been challenged by the new pretender, Megafobia.
hidden from the view for virtually all of its life by the park's Fun
House and now Valhalla, the Nash has always seemed to be forgotten by
the public, who don't fancy handing over their cash for a ride they
can't see. This is quite ironic, as part of the appeal of a racing
coaster to park owners is the fact that it doubles a ride's capacity,
while the Grand National seems to struggle to find enough punters to
fill its trains. Hopefully, with the increasing use of wristbands,
people will be
to give the ride a try. While it is often ignored by the public, the
ride has a very strong following among coaster fans who know all too
well that the public are wrong to think that Pleasure Beach Blackpool is
only about the Big One and Valhalla, and that a rummage around the park
is needed to discover the true gems.
station was designed by Jospeh Emberton, architect of many of the
Pleasure Beach building during the 20s and 30s. The classic white tower
has seen a few changes over the years, but was restored to its original
look in 1991, only to be dwarfed by the turnaround of The Big One, which
does seem to belittle the ride in every sense of the word. The first
thing you notice when you arrive in the station is that it is horribly
cramped. When there is a queue, the crowding on the platform is
ridiculous. This lack of room means that choosing your seat is out.
Usually, however, there's no crowd to fight through, and with some
careful timing, you can pass through the turnstile to find a totally
empty set of gates.
trains are of the same design as the Big Dipper, although with only
three benches to a car. Early in the 1998 season, a car was removed from
each train, leaving only 18 seats per train. This no doubt shocked some
enthusiasts, but in truth the back car gave a ride which was rough
beyond the point of enjoyment, and as such I haven't mourned their
the lap bars are checked by the staff, the trains are away. They leave
roughly a second apart, which theoretically makes up for the fact that
one train has a slightly longer track, due to being on the outside of
more corners. The trains turn away from each other, and out of sight
toward the lift hill. Usually they arrive together, leading to the
traditional round of joining hands as they make their way up the lift(s).
passing under the "THEY'RE OFF" sign, the trains turn to the
left and toward the famous double first drop.
drop is great fun, and the extra dip gives a nice bit of airtime,
coupled with a moment of silence from the wheels as they part company
with the track. Climbing up toward "Beecher's Brook", the
trains turn right, ending up facing directly toward the top of the first
drop. There are three such turns as the ride progresses, designed to
enhance the thrill of racing as the trains constantly change position,
the train on the inside of the turn rapidly gains ground on its
opponent. Traditionally, these turns would be the scene of hand slapping
between enthusiasts who have split themselves between the two trains.
Beecher's, the trains head over "Valentine's" and into the
left handed second turnaround. Front seat riders are given a major dose
of airtime rising into this turn, while back seaters will have been
given their fix on the previous drop. The next diagonal section (i.e.
crossing the middle of the figure 8 ride) is the reason that for me not
missing the four car trains. After a good drop, the track heads into
another hill, the crown of which is directly underneath Valentine's.
Here, riders in that fourth car would be subjected to such a jolt that
even as a "prepared" rider, I found it difficult not to feel
as if my legs had been snapped in two. The drop out of this is another
although this time, the second is too small to really
here, the trains rise into the final main turnaround, which is directly
underneath the first, the structure of which enhances the feeling of
speed, and into the back straight. A nice little series of dips keeps
the interest up, although the final dip of this section is one to watch
out for! A final 90-degree right turn brings you toward the station.
Nothing of any real note happens here, although this is where riders in
the leading can savour their victory. Some brakes ruin what could have
a spectacular dive under one of the park's main walkways and up into the
station. Famously, the trains finish the ride having swapped sides, and
it is surprising how many people find this baffling. A hint to any of
you who still don't know: It happened even before the lift hill!
a time, the Grand National suffered a major problem in that the racing
aspect was lost due to the fact that one train was hopelessly slower
than the other. This has since been improved, and the ride is back to
its full glory. For maximum enjoyment split your group between the two
trains, and you can enjoy racing your friends, as the trains jockey for
position the turns, and take drops side by side. It really is an
immensely enjoyable experience.
biggest criticism of the ride is that the area where the real action
takes place looks pretty shambolic. PBB has never gone in for
Nemesis-style "staging" for its rides, but to have a classic
coaster running through what looks like a scrap yard is a little sad.
Take your eye off the other train, and you are likely to see old
signposts, bits of long gone rides, barbed wire fences, and all sorts of
junk lying around. Surely there's somewhere better to put this rubbish!
is it Britain's best woodie? Well, it's close but I'd say no. At its
best, I'd rank it about level with Megafobia, but my personal favourite
has to be PBB's Big Dipper - I'm perfectly aware, though, that I'm in a
minority! It is though, hard to rate a racing coaster against a
"normal" one, as the Nash may have a slightly less exciting
layout, but is perfect for creating the atmosphere of a big race, you
only have to listen to people exiting the ride to know that, as comments
are invariably of the "We would have beaten you if..." style.
another classic ride for PBB, and while it doesn't quite have the
relentlessness of the Big Dipper or Megafobia, it's an absolute classic
and one of the best coasters in the country.
▪ The racing aspect
A historic ride
such as the double-down first drop
A very social ride due
to the racing element
▪ Frequently has off
days meaning poor racing
▪ Takes place over a Pleasure Beach Blackpool
▪ Many people find the
Grand National rough