Coaster Kingdom

Megafobia (Oakwood)

In 1993, Britain's collection of coasters was sadly lacking. In 1994, we suddenly had three classy steel coasters to add to the list, but there was still something lacking. In 1995, Oakwood, a park which virtually none of the coaster faithful had heard of, announced the ride which would fill this enormous gap. At long last, a major woodie was to be built in Britain - albeit at one its least accessible parks!

John Wardley had been working in secret (nothing new there) to bring coaster nuts the chance to ride a modern woodie without having to travel overseas. Designs were drawn up for a relatively small scale woodie to the park's budget, and talks began with Custom Coasters International. Fortunately for us, it transpired that CCI were looking to move into the European market, and offered the park a deal whereby they would design and build a ride on a much grander scale than had originally been decided, and give the park a sizeable discount on their fee. All Oakwood had to do in return was allow CCI to bring representatives from other parks to ride the coaster, allowing them to show  potential clients what the company were capable of. Indeed, the ride can be said to have almost single handedly started the current trend toward building woodies in Europe, as without, it is unlikely that either Tonnerre De Zeus or Stampida would have been built.

The ride opened in 1996, and coaster nuts began to make the sometimes huge journeys to visit a park which few had heard of just two years before, when Nemesis and The Big One were making the headlines. Indeed, apart from the very odd name, Megafobia was declared a hit on all counts, and soon began topping the polls for top woodie.

As you enter the park, Megafobia is barely visible, yet as you walk down the hill which takes you to the ride, it majestically appears, its lift hill and first drop looking much bigger than they actually are. By now, you will probably find yourself walking very quickly, toward the large M which forms the entrance. The pathway round to the station is quite odd in that it is quite a walk, and offers no short cut gate. Even stranger is the fact that you are required to duck underneath a piece of structure containing a returning lift chain! Unfortunately, the queue has not been designed brilliantly, meaning that a lot of kids can be  seen queue jumping - although measures have been taken to limit this.

One of the nicer things about a small family run park like Oakwood is the staff. We've all been frustrated by the robotic staff at Alton Towers and the plain rude staff of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but on Megafobia, we find some of the best operators around. In fact, this reputation is really down to one man, chief operator Peter Owen, who is something of a legend among enthusiasts. What this means is that a ride on Megafobia need never be taken in a seat you don't want, or with the lap bar forced into you like medieval torture instrument, as happens on  some rides. It is this kind of friendliness to the customer, not to mention the trust that an enthusiast won't do anything stupid around a ride that sends customer satisfaction levels rocketing - I just wish that other parks could see that. The one frustrating thing about the ride's operation, though, is the park's reluctance to use two trains, meaning that queues can get frustratingly long before the coaster is run at full capacity.

The PTC trains are probably the best type around, and despite the appearance of very awkward seat belts since the Stampida accident, are incredibly comfortable, while the "Fobia one click" allows plenty of space to go flying  during the airtime. There's talk of future CCI rides not using these trains - outrageous! The train gently rolls out of the station (don't forget to slap the hands of all the operators and the other enthusiasts on the platform). Keep looking right on the lift hill, and before you will form the sight which has been photographed more often than any other part of the ride, a huge mass of track twisting around and across itself, with wood everywhere (and occasionally, the odd sheep!). The top of the lift hill isn't actually that far from the ground, as the ride is built on the side of a hill. Also, there's not much to see from here, except for fields. First time riders may notice that the train takes this turnaround very quickly compared with the Grand National, for example, and this can only mean one thing...

From the front seat, most of the first drop is spent hanging forward, waiting for the rest of the train to follow. From the back, though, it is airtime heaven, as you rocket out of your seat, making this almost like riding a stand-up coaster. A nice left turn at the bottom of the drop throws you to the second hill, over which the front has come to enjoy a strange little moment of airtime, before the chaos of the first turnaround, in which every rider is thrown to the right of the car, before being launched back into the air for the third drop. It is here that your on-board photo is taken, although, it has to be said that the pictures  would be better if they were taken a second earlier, when everyone is out of their seat.

Next is a strangely straight climb (similar to those found on the Big One), before another drop which sends the back seat riders crashing into their lap bars, and up into the next turnaround. As the front of the train levels out here, the airtime is again sensational, almost lethal for front seat riders using the combination of the one-click lap bar with no seat belt (by which I am of course referring to the days when there were no seat belts, not riders who take them off). Back seat riders are then treated to one of my favourite sections of any coaster, where a right turn slams them to the back of the car, followed immediately by another drop which flings them into the air - fantastic!

There's absolutely no sign of the ride letting up, as the whole train is subjected to phenomenal airtine over the next hill, and into yet another manic turnaround, in which every rider again has to submit to the astonishing lateral G force. Next comes a relatively gentle dip  followed by a truly evil section, in which the train rises, and makes a sharp left turn which is completely hidden from view, meaning that few riders are able to prepare for what's coming. This often means that the rider on the left finds himself taking the final turnaround almost sat on their riding partner's lap.

The train slows down quite badly as it exits this section, leaving a relatively calm section before a small final hill which again throws you all over the place, and the brake run which adopts the Euro Star approach of making you feel like you've hit a brick wall. The exit path is a real pain, as it feels more like a highland trek as you make your way around a ludicrously long pathway, presumably intended to try to keep the crowds away from the park's main ride as much as possible, and (more likely) to send you past the photo booth and the souvenir shop - a short cut path would be a God send though, as the path for repeat rides is just too long.

It really is a great ride, and has single handedly taken Oakwood from almost nowhere to one of the UK's most popular parks among coaster nuts. When  Megafobia opened, the rest of the park was, let's not mince our words, in a pretty desperate state. In fact, I'm not sure how the park survived before Megafobia opened, as I can't imagine that they had too many visitors when the Bobsleigh was the most exciting ride, (although it is a lot of fun, especially in the rain - as long as you are not prevented from running flat out by the legion of kids and grannies who always take over the ride). Now the park appears to be going from strength to strength with the installation of a SkyCoaster (albeit the most expensive and least interesting SkyCoaster in the country), and the HUSS Shot N Drop.

There are vague rumours that a steelie of some sort may find its way into the park, but there's no doubt that Megafobia will be the king of the park for many years to come, and well deserved. It's a great coaster and a real classic in its way. I wouldn't call it a classic in the same way as I did with the Big Dipper, and I can't comment of Tonnerre De Zeus, but Megafobia is one hell of a ride.

4/5 John Phillips