Coaster Kingdom

Menhir Express (Parc Asterix)

Standing stones, or menhirs, are an archaeological phenomenon. Each stone weighs around five tons, yet historical sites such as Stone Henge prove that despite not having low-back lorries and JCBs, the ancients managed to create many wonders of the world.

So how did these people move such objects? The Gaelic park just north of Paris, Parc Asterix, likes to think that a courier company in the dark ages specialised in moving such stones through channels of water. Menhir Express shuns away from the old-school log flume (brought about by a similar concept of moving logs along rivers) and was one of the first flume rides to actually have an original theme.

And so the park managed to continue the quality of theming into one of the best themed rides in the park, Menhir Express.

As a ride, Hopkins, a French manufacturer who is probably the market leader in getting you wet whilst you’re still fully clothed, crafted Menhir Express. During the manufacture of it, though, a fire at a neighbouring factory damaged parts of Menhir Express causing a moderate delay in the delivery of the ride.

On the side of a rich-blue lake, a wooden framed thatched building house what has to be the most impressive flume stations this side of Islands of Adventure. Towards the back of the lake, one lift disappears into the distance, whilst supported by a rather rickety wooden latticework of supports the final steep drop hits the lake with perfectly engineered precision.

The queue starts up a staircase outside this golden-brown building, before crossing a long covered balcony walkway along the front.

To your left, through some windows you look down on a themed gift shop selling little more than the usual collection of branded merchandise. Hanging from the ceiling, gift-wrapped menhir stones await delivery to various locations.

The queue soon goes inside and passes through a storeroom with wooden crates and boxes labelled up with addresses, before going downstairs and  around the edge of the lake into which the final drop splashes down. The station is large and well designed. After queuing its length, you then approach the line of ‘rocks’ in which you will soon be riding.

The boats are well themed, all appearing to be standing stones with wood tied around the bottom to help float this most atypical conveyance. Each is a slightly different shade of brown, beige or grey.

The boats are what you would expect on a normal log flume, comfortably seating four or five adults on a bench, separated halfway with a seat back. Once seated, the boat approaches  the end of the conveyor before dipping down into the dark blue water.

After turning slightly to the left, you begin the first lift that runs in the opposite direction parallel to the final drop. This lift is about 35-foot tall, and once you are at the top, you hit the first run of water.

Meandering quickly at tree height, you slalom violently through the woodland that resides behind the main portion of the ride. As you weave throughout the oak trees, you do so a fair rate, and with a leftwards bend, the water will rebound off the side and slosh into your boat, something you rarely expect on a log flume.

You approach a wooden building, which you soon enter. You slow slightly, and before your eyes can reacquaint to the darkness, you are hastily thrown into a smooth and prompt downward drop, and just as you expect a splash of water, you’re smoothly pulled back up into a roller coaster-style camel back before dropping once again into the water.

Breath taken, you go outside, this time at ground level, before going into another building. As you do so, a revolving tunnel envelops the boat, and as it turns you really start to wonder whether it is the boat listing to the side. As you leave this stunning feature, you turn to the right under a long tunnel of water created by fountains before going  outside once again.

No sooner are you outside you begin an ascent up to the final drop. You can see boats to your right on the initial stretch before the roller coaster drop and as you get to the top, you turn to the right before you are thrown into a sharp, single downward drop.

You lean forwards as the drop steepens before you pull out, skim the water for what seems an eternity before the boat slows and pushes a wave of water out the sides and sloshing back into the boat.

With legs soaked, the boat turns the final 180-degree turn back into the station. You leave to the left hand side, have a chance to be humiliated by the binding on-ride photos before you exit via the shop you saw from the queue line.

From the queue, the ride may look no more spectacular than a well themed log flume. The roller coaster-style drop soon dismisses this initial thought, and the revolving tunnel and fountain tunnel just go to strengthen the fact that this goes way beyond the customary drop-or-two.

The coaster-style drop is nice and smooth, and because the enclosure is darkened, you have no idea that you will soon be encountering an impressive bunny-hop before even reaching the water.

The revolving tunnel is somewhat unreliable, but when it works it seems to work very well, as instinct leads you to lean in the opposite direction of rotation, which does actually tilt the boat.

The fountains just add to the experience, and the final drop is nice and steep, inducing a nice stomach-in-the-mouth feeling, skimming the water before getting you reasonably wet.

The theming around the rides’ circuit itself is unsurprisingly lacking, but then there is little that can be themed. The station area, the pool that it is built behind, and the queue really set the plot to a tee and it is rather pleasing to the eye, too.

Parc Asterix have not only brought an exciting, no-dead-spots ride to the park, but a well themed experience that further enforces the parks’ continually impressive arsenal of rides and attractions.

4/5 Marcus Sheen