Steeplechase (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
Pleasure Beach is famous for its collection of old fashioned and unusual rides.
The Flying Machine, the Whip and the Turtle Chase all fit the former
category, while the Steeplechase is a shining example of a ride that screams the
story begins in the golden age of Coney Island in New York.
parks were all the rage, and with several parks close together, the competition
was fierce to build the next big crowd puller.
One of these was Steeplechase Park, which offered visitors the chance to
mount carousel type horses and race around the park.
Sadly, the park closed, as did most of the other parks at Coney Island,
and the ride was lost. Surely the world would never see its like again?
pick up the story in the mid-1970s, a time where British parks rarely built new
roller coasters, other than the occasional off-the-shelf model.
the death of Leonard Thompson, Blackpool Pleasure Beach had fallen under the
control of his son Geoffrey, who was keen to introduce unique attractions to
complement the fine set of coasters he had inherited.
In co-operation with Arrow Dynamics of Utah, the Steeplechase park idea
was reborn, using a three-lane track, and a figure of 8 layout which would wind
its way through the space between the main turnarounds of the Roller Coaster and
Big Dipper. The ride opened in 1977
and, opening day being full of BPB's typical British humour.
VIPs dressed as if it were Ladies Day at Ascot, and the ride was opened
not by the top boy band of the week (as later rides would be) but by Grand
National winner Red Rum, whose hoof print from that day is still on display near
the ride's exit.
the modern day, then. The entrance
to the ride sits opposite that of the Big One, and is very well hidden, as the
pay box is quite a way from the gargantuan sign which obstructs the view of the
station. It may be worth spending
some time in the gym before trying to ride, otherwise you'll never get through
the cramped turnstile. If you
achieve this feat of contortion, you'll often find that the queue is bigger than
you ever expected. This is partly
because of the low throughput of the ride, and partly because the huge sign for
the ride completely blocks your view of the queue, which people often
join, unaware of
how long the wait will be, and unable to leave thanks to the turnstile!
The stairway leads to a bridge over the brake run, and branches off to
the three loading platforms.
fibreglass steed holds two people, one behind the other, and passengers are held
in place by nothing more than a seatbelt. One
neat touch is that the front grab rail is quite low down, forcing you to adopt
the jockey position, and allowing the back rider a better view.
Take my advice - don't even think about riding without gripping the grab
rail for all you are worth!
competitors line up at the end of the station and are released together down a
slight dip which itself is enough of a jolt to make you worry about what is
coming next! Youíll need to get
used to the fact that the riding position is very exposed, and a long way above
the track Ė you really donít feel too safe!
After the first small lift hill, you will find that the area isn't that
badly themed by BPB's standards. The
ride takes up far more room than you would guess from outside, filling its own
chunk of land, and overflows on top of the Chinese Puzzle Maze and Big Dipper.
The first half of the ride features a series of "jumps" and
turns. There are no real drops as
such, as the ride meanders along gradually losing height to maintain the speed.
The highlight is the long turn over the maze, partly because of the sense
of lunacy that comes from racing directly over peoples' heads - On busy days it
isn't unusual for people in the maze to wave or even ask for directions!
the tracks sink to ground level, you approach the second lift hill.
About half way up, you cross the bottom of the first lift, and on busy
days, more people wave you past as they begin their race.
The second half of the ride is a real anti-climax.
It consists of little more than a long left hand bend leading to the
brake run, over the courses of the Go-Karts and Big Dipper.
If the timing is right, it is frightening how close Big Dipper riders
come to burying their heads in your wheels at one point!
Without the great finale of the Grand National or Big One, the tracks
gently toward the brake run, where the horses come to a halt with the kind of
force which can only be compared to being hit head on a by a speeding truck.
To make it worse, the brake run comes long before the actual loading
platform, and gives no warning that the ride is about to simulate what a jockey
goes through when he's thrown off his horse at Beecher's Brook!
time I ride the Steeplechase, I change my opinion of it.
On the positive side, it is a unique ride, and it is very commendable
that the park built a custom designed ride at a time when an off-the-shelf ride
seemed a good short-term bet. The
ride has a very distinct character, and although it doesn't deliver massive
thrills, that doesn't matter so much in a park where there are already more
white knuckle rides than anywhere else in the country, and where it isn't
marketed as the star attraction.
the other hand, it isn't the most effortless ride in the world, and can feel
like a bit of an assault on your person. This
may be very realistic (I canít imagine riding a real racehorse is too comfy
after all), but the sharp turns and jumps can become too much before long.
there are more basic concerns. As with the Grand National, the ride is at its
best when you are racing against friends, yet the queue splits off too early,
making it extremely difficult to organise ensure that donít end up racing
total strangers. Furthermore, it
isnít uncommon to see one lane left unused adding to the frustration of
knowing that the race could be made more exciting.
It seems strange that BPB lose out on the potential benefits of really
racing the ride when they are so (justifiably) boastful of the fact that the
Grand National is always run as a real racing coaster.
So how do you sum up such a strange ride? Well, itís great fun if you are in the mood, but can be a bit of an ordeal if you arenít. Too rough for repeat rides, but that matters less in a park with so many other quality rides on which to spend your time. Perhaps the space could be better used, but itís hard to imagine visiting the park without the occasional ride on the Steeplechase. If it was at another park and treated as the star attraction, it would get a thumbs-down but at BPB it becomes a good example of a ĎMight as well rideí coaster.
2/5 John Phillips