Roller Coaster (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
of the most endearing things about Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the fact that by
exploring the park, you find some absolutely classic rides hidden away in little
corners of the park. Rides that would be the star attraction at many major parks
are left like hidden treasure for anybody adventurous enough to stray from the
modern crowd-pullers like The Big One and Valhalla.
Roller Coaster was born out of the remains of the Velvet Coaster, a very gentle
wooden coaster, taking riders around an oval track full of shallow drops. The
Velvet Coaster opened in 1909, but had to be demolished in the early 1930s, when
it began to get in the way of Blackpool Council's road building plans. In true
Blackpool Pleasure Beach fashion, the lift hill was retained, and a new out and
back track was built, making use of the fact that technology now allowed much
bigger and steeper drops than before. The rebuilding of the coaster was
supervised by Charles Paige, as was much of the other coaster building work at
Blackpool Pleasure Beach in that decade.
The ride is essentially an L shaped out and back, with
the drops running along the back of the park, with the turnaround situated
roughly between the Space Invader and Revolution entrance. As with the Big
Dipper, the ride has a strange entrance, mainly because the station is at ground
level, but has been shadowed by the walkway built over Watson Road in the 1970s,
which runs through the middle of the park. As such, the entrance is a long way
above the station and requires riders to negotiate a pretty dangerous circular
staircase. The station is like a scene from any American movie depicting the
quaint traditional amusement park. The wooden floor, the faded strip lighting,
the manual brakes - it's all there. There's even a total lack of gates or even
barriers to the loading platform. The only reminder that you are in the 21st
Century is the pretty dire Blackpool Pleasure Beach radio station playing a
constant stream of adverts interspersed with the occasional piece of music.
you hate uncomfortable coaster trains with unnecessary restraints, you will love
these. They have become famous, particularly among American coaster fans, for
the fact that they have no restraints whatsoever - just watch the faces of first
time riders when the train departs and they realise they're not held in! The
seats are deep and comfortable, again a real throwback to the old days of
coastering. The only negative point is that there isn't much legroom but so
what? The ride rarely has big queues, so take a double seat each and sprawl
yourself across the train. Not many coasters let you ride sideways, so why not
make the most of the opportunity? The train varies between three and four cars,
but the back seat is always the place to be.
at night, the back seat offers a spectacular view of the Southern section of the
park, while the top of the lift is one of the few places where the Grand
National is clearly visible. A 90-degree right turn and you're heading down the
first drop, a gentle starter, the second gives a nice little pop of airtime in
the back. The third drop is the highlight, a twist to the right narrowly
squeezing past the Space Invader and almost diving into the beer garden of the
King Cotton pub. After a long fast turnaround, you're into a bunny hop section,
squashed between the structure of the first drops and the park's perimeter wall.
Finally, the train pops up into a tunnel, through an occasionally used trim
brake. A final left-hand turn is then before you race out into the brake
Roller Coaster, is what every family ride should be. Not too rough for children
or people put off by bigger coasters, exciting enough for seasoned riders to
ride and ride again without getting bored. A taste of nostalgia for coaster
buffs and older riders and a glimpse of real living history for youngster used
to theme park steelies.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach don't seem to appreciate is the fact that they have a
real stepladder for gradually easing people into the pleasures of coastering.
For those terrified of bigger coasters, they can ride the Zipper Dipper, move on
to the Roller Coaster, onto the Big Dipper and Grand National, and progressing -
if you call it that - to the Big One (although there would need to be several
more steps before reaching their ferocious Wild Mouse!)
Roller Coaster is pretty much perfect. It might not be the most intense coaster
in the world, but it's not meant to be. It's a gentle, but very entertaining,
throwback to the golden age of coasters, made more special by the fact that the
park trusts us to ride a coaster with no restraints without messing about. What
more can I say, it does its job to perfection and occupies a niche which no
other coaster in the country fulfils.
4/5 John Phillips