Coaster Kingdom


Wild Mouse, Pleasure Beach Blackpool

Listen to Blackpool Pleasure Beach's publicity department and you'll be told that the park is home to the most terrifying roller coaster the planet has to offer, a ride so extreme that it will strike fear into even the most seasoned coaster rider and reduce them to a blubbing, quivering wreck.  Ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm that this claim is 100% correct.

wildmouse_001.jpg (68827 bytes)Well, more or less.  You see, when the park or the media make this claim, it is invariably The Big One which is the subject of their attention.  The ride which REALLY terrifies coaster enthusiasts is a woodie, was built way back in 1955, and sits just over the other side of the park.  Visually, it doesn't exactly hijack the attention, but just sits in the background, quiet as a mouse...

The Wild Mouse is easily the smallest of BPB's "adult" coasters, in fact it would not be difficult for first time visitors to mistake it for a family ride.  The track is all packed into more-or-less a cube, bar one turn which pops out over the (rarely used) queue pen.  The height and speed stats are pretty unimpressive, and the drops are tiddlers compared to most of the park's coasters.  So, I hear you ask, what is it about this ride which has sends shivers down the spines of so many people?

Let's begin at the beginning.  Assuming that you can negotiate the entrance, through a turnstile the width of your average cat flap, your carriage awaits.  This is real comic book Soapbox Derby stuff, as the cars look like they were originally made out of an old crate.  The front of the car is decorated with a mouse face, and each has its individual name painted on (there's no Mickey, unsurprisingly).  Beyond the facade, it may not be obvious to first-timers that, as with most Wild Mouse rides, the wheels are positioned towards the rear of the car, creating the illusion that you are about to fly off the track at every turn.

wildmouse_005.jpg (73392 bytes)Unlike recent steel versions of the ride, passengers sit one in front of the other, Log Flume style, which is never a very comfy way to ride.  To make matters worse, you rarely ride alone, as the operators will insist you pair up - if you don't have a riding partner, they'll find you one from the queue.  Little thought is applied in the process, and I suspect that if two Sumo wrestlers were in the queue, they would be forced to squeeze in together (any protests made to the staff are ignored).  You are "held in" by a seat belt although, given that the cars are about as roomy as a Corn Flake packet, it's quite redundant - after all, it's difficult enough to leave the car after the ride, never mind during it!

From the station, two 90 degree turns lead to the lift hill.  The usual sign, "Do Not Stand Up" takes on new meaning half way up, as a piece of track actually passes so close to your head that you could easily reach up and have your fingers removed by another car.  At the top comes the first of many "near miss" turns, as the car nearly ploughs straight into the turret of the nearby Ghost Train.  Time to take in the view of the southern half of the park before the ride really gets going.

If you're unlucky, the car will slow slightly just before you turn into the first drop, due to the recently installed trim brakes dotted around the circuit.  These are not used too often, fortunately, though there seems to no obvious logic dictating whether they are in use on any given occasion.  Even if the brakes are on, the car really launches itself into the steep first drop, the proximity of the structure giving a real feeling of speed.  From here on the ride becomes a tangled mess, relentlessly charging through the most extreme coaster track around.

wildmouse_003.jpg (85948 bytes)Highlights are legion, first is the zig-zag section, common to all Wild Mice, where the car darts forward and backward, gathering speed as it goes.  Later in the ride, you will encounter two utterly manic drops, both well hidden among the structure, followed by the aforementioned turnaround over the heads of the crowd, which gives the surreal impression that you really have "burst" out of the ride's structure for a moment.  Best of all, you are left charging straight towards the lift hill, only for a right-left chicane to throw you aside at the last moment - as you recover from that, a last hidden dip throws you into the air, followed by another "near-miss" as you head for a wall, only to turn away at the absolute last moment - all this in a matter of a few seconds, and all taken at an absolutely insane speed.  One final turn and you head back to the station.

Unbelievable stuff.  You know a ride is pushing its limits when every turn results in the inside wheels lifting noticeably from the track!

The ride's exit is strangely understated, just a narrow dimly lit passage back to the park's main walkway without any of the pomp and fanfare which greet you as you exit most modern rides.  No photo stall, no souvenir shop, you are just popped back into civilisation as if nothing has happened.  It always leaves me feeling that the mouse has chewed me up and spat me out - turning and looking at the ride again, it's still hard to believe that such a mild looking ride could be so intense.  The mouse faces on the front of the cars still seem so innocent, you feel as if you've woken from a bad dream!

wildmouse_004.jpg (84649 bytes)Enough of the poetics.  There are several reactions people have when they walk away from this ride.  Most people would refuse to contemplate taking a second ride immediately, but their reasons are varied.  Some will be shaken up by the experience, especially those who were taken in by the ride's unassuming appearance.  Others are simply thankful that they CAN walk away, and wouldn't risk their health by riding again.  This was especially true before the ride's recent maintenance work, when the ride was intolerably rough, to the extent that riders were being viciously thrown up and down in their seat even at the bottom of drops.  Thankfully the ride is much smoother now, and only throws you around where it is supposed to!

Personally, I wouldn't ride twice in a row either, but that isn't a criticism.  Rides are meant to be an experience, a story in itself, and that's exactly what the Wild Mouse is.  You wouldn't finish watching a film at the cinema and immediately join the queue for the next showing, so why should we value rides where we get off wanting to run straight back to the entrance?  To borrow a phrase from another BPB ride, you "live the adventure" when you ride the Wild Mouse.  It packs real drama into a couple of minutes, it has a good beginning, middle and end, plus a sense of danger missing from so many rides.  Amusement parks promise us extreme experiences, but this small woodie effortlessly belittles so many of their offerings.

I'm aware that I'm praising the ride for exactly the things for which many people would criticise.   To those who hate the ride, I'd say that we shouldn't forget that BPB was never designed as a park with a single centrepiece ride, as Oakwood is centred around Megafobia, for example.  In other words, Megafobia was designed for people to endlessly re-ride, the Wild Mouse is not.  You might only ride the Mouse once but BPB has more than enough on offer to occupy the rest of your time, so why not set aside two minutes for real old-fashioned extreme riding in between the more "comfortable" rides?

Another thing we tend to forget is that the Wild Mouse was the first major ride to be built at the park after World War II, as the park tried to re-establish itself after years of great hardship.  Commissioning a ride in the grandiose style of the Big Dipper or Grand National was definitely not an option, and in the end both the design and construction work was done entirely in-house.  Despite these handicaps, a great coaster was born, one which we're still enjoying almost 50 years later.  It just proves that the secret of building great rides is not to just throw money at it, or to chase meaningless records and "world-first" claims.  You just need a ride which offers genuine thrills, spills, and excitement.

The Wild Mouse format has been copied many times.  The fact that they need not be particularly tall, or use large amounts of space, makes them attractive prospects for parks on a low budget, or afflicted by space or height restrictions.  Similarly they are popular among travelling showmen who can offer a thrilling coaster while keeping ground space and transport problems to a minimum.  Mack and Maurer produce high quality off-the-shelf Mice for parks and fairs, while Arrow used the Mouse format to kick-start their comeback.  In-house designs also exist in locations all around the world.

Probably the most outstanding modern mouse was at Alton Towers from 1988 to 1991.  This one-off Vekoma ride packed a real punch, but met with objections both from local residents and riders who did not expect such ferocity.  It also suffered (like most Mice) from capacity problems, a major drawback in such a busy park as Alton Towers, and thus its fate was sealed.  It was dismantled after the 1991 season and rebuilt at Idlewilde park in the states, where it remains to this day.

The good thing about BPB is that it is a living museum of the amusement industry, with rides from practically every period of the last century.  More importantly, they are all presented "in context" - while you have very modern rides like The Big One and Valhalla which adhere to the modern definition of a "Theme Park Ride", old rides are kept just the designers intended.

To compare the Wild Mouse and the Big One is to compare two very different eras and two very different philosophies of coaster building.  While the Wild Mouse almost echoes to the sound of the designer saying "Make the ride extreme, if it's too much for people, they don't have to ride it",  The Big One's shallow hills and re-profiled (i.e., sanitised) first drop perfectly demonstrate the philosophy of "if the people can't handle it, tame it down for them".  There are enough rides around for people who want nice comfy roller coasters, but the Wild Mouse at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is an extreme ride, catering for extreme ride lovers.

It might feel like two minutes of receiving non-stop body blows from a cricket bat, but a trip to Blackpool wouldn't be complete without facing up to the Mouse.  It's very rough and ready, but for me it's the very best ride of its kind.

JP Undated

Good points:

▪ A unique ride
▪ Very, very forceful, both in terms of laterals and airtime
▪ Takes up very little space 

Bad points:

▪ People may find it rough
▪ Low capacity
▪ Brakes can sometimes ruin the ride



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