Coaster Kingdom

Roller Coaster (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)

One 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.  

The 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.

If 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.

Riding 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 run.

The 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.

What 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!)  

The 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