Trip to Alton towers theme park (10th June 2010)
Alton Towers is one of the few must visit places in the UK for thrills and fun, well for at least a theme park fanatic like me at least. It is a theme park and resort located in Staffordshire, England and is the second most visited theme park in the United Kingdom attracting 2.8 million visitors per year. It’s currently celebrating it’s 30th active year as a theme park, but the grounds, like most spots in the united kingdom has much of a long lush history which very much brought the area to what it is known today.

We arrived right on opening time, hoping to make the most out of our day. Brought tickets at half price (£15) thanks to summer discount coupons I’ve saved from Tescos and WHSmith, this really saved us quite a bunch. The park’s monorail can also be found here at the entrance, passing over the entrance serving guests to and fro from the hotels via a theme park scenic route within the park itself. Remnants of the iconic corkscrew coaster are proudly displayed by the ticketing booths before the park gantry entrances.

Upon entering the park you will be greeted by a grand arcade walk which dips downhill, passing by garden and a fountain walk with retail stores lining both sides. Guest services were excellent as well, they had no problems with us depositing our large backpacks and were very helpful in facilitating our early entrance to the park. The park is decked with a new coaster for the year- 13. For a roller coaster and thrill freak like myself it will be another ride to simply throw your arms up over the drops or bunny hops. Airtime baby! There is no roller coaster too scary!

The towers
Say cheese!
We are here?

Holistically, the park is demarcated with various sectors, consisting of many themed areas each with their own set of rides to go with the sector setting.. You can make out the castle over the lake just off the entrance of the park, where Alton towers got it’s name from. Alton Towers got it’s name as a hunting lodge, known as Alveton Lodge (or Alverton), which is the ancient name for Alton. It is based north of the village of Alton in Staffordshire, which is approximately 26 km east of Stoke-on-Trent, in the grounds of a semi-ruined gothic revival country.

Historically, the estate dates back to before 1000 BC, when an iron age fort, known as Bunbury Hill was built in the area. In 700 AD, the estate became the site of a fortress for the Saxon king Ceolred of Mercia. A castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest, much of the gardens and castle structure still stands around today.

It was not until the 1100s, where the estate passed to Bertram de Verdun, as a reward for his work in the Crusades. In 1318, the estate passed by marriage to Thomas de Furnival, when he married Joan de Verdun and further passed again in 1406, to Sir John Talbot, when he married Maud, the eldest daughter of Lord Furnival. He became the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1442, a title that had been resurrected after being forfeited by the third earl in 1102. The old castle was destroyed during the English Civil War, explaining some vast places within the castle grounds itself which all seem out of place.

After 1980, Alton Towers began its evolution into a theme park with the installation of The Corkscrew rollercoaster (the first in the world by Vekoma), Pirate Ship and the Alpine Bob sled ride. Till then the park has been one of UK’s premiere theme parks with world class rides. We got to the park after dropping off the station at Uttoxeter followed by a theme park shuttle service right to the park itself. The shuttle serves the park regularly with a 20 minute ride right to the park’s entrance, it passes through the nearby country side and highlands on it’s journey. Presently, the park has many coasters to boot as well, home to 8 roller coasters, which is enough to make any thriller seeker drool in anticipation. There seem to be no roller coaster in the park which is too scary. 😛

a walk in the park
What ride?

Here are few highlights of roller coaster I particular enjoy riding. There is a fine mix of coasters to suit all rider tastes and interest, scattered all around the theme park itself. Generally I am not a fan of family (kiddie) coasters given the stark contrast to the more hardcore ones which deserves our limited time in the park. The more thrilling and menacing the ride, the better. Call me crazy, but I’ve ever rode a coaster 20 times in a roll back-to-back just to get a good on-ride photo :3 That intamin coaster has 4 inversions in it’s course, comprising of a barrel roll, a huge loop and 2 corkscrews. We started out riding tamer coasters such as the sonic spinball and ending with world renowned favorites in the such as Air and Nemesis. The damage list are as follows:

Sonic spin ball coaster
It’s full name is The Sonic Spinball whizzer in Adventure Land. It’s essentially a wild mouse coaster with free rotating cars with 2 seated on each side. Built by Maurer Söhne and sponsored by SEGA Adventure Land, the ride is a traditional gravity based coaster featuring a rather efficiently smooth chainless wheeled hill lift.

Got rings?
a crazy mild mouse
This drop has some serious airtime!

There are several security cameras dotted all around the rides, particularly the hill lift area to maintain on-ride safety. They are so sharp that they even spotted my attempt to sneak an onboard camera to record the ride, jamming our hill climb right on the top until the camera is kept. My bad. Once at the top, the crazy mild mouse is set loose with free spinning gondolas! There is no telling how your ride will go depending on the different kinds of experiences you get at different points of rotation of the gondolas and how you take turns and drops depending on your orientation (rotation is free determined by the weight distribution of passengers). There is no 2 particular ride which will be the same as the other, offering a different experience with each go.

Next at the X-sector part of the park, we have Oblivion. The X-sector, as the name suggest is the futuristic tech section part of the park. Many mechanical workings and pipe sticks out of the ground and walls in this area, complete with electrical and wire fences which gives the place a rather “lock down” feel as compared to a high security environment or a high tech research laboratory. There are few eateries around here including a KFC. An arcade as well as few iconic flat rides such as submission and enterprise reside here too. There are 6 trains in operation at all times in the ride cycle, each seating 16 passengers in two 8 person rows.

Oblivion is the world’s first vertical drop roller coaster, built in 1998 by Bolliger and Mabillard in Switzerland and designed by Tom Sargeant and Ingenieur Büro Stengel GmbH amidst a large publicity campaign. The ride is considered a high intensity thrill ride, has a height restriction of 1.4 metres and a requirement that all rider’s be snugly fitted into their seats. With a maximum speed of 110 kph, it is the third fastest roller coaster in the UK.

Vertical drop!
See the Shaun?

The use of multiple gantry gates for multiple train boarding and alighting offers a remarkably fast moving queue for the ride, with it’s short waiting time a highlight. Well this is not that I’ve actually taken time to appreciate the fast walk through the queue lines and missing the ride background story! Word has it that the Lord of Darkness, who lives in the underground tunnel under the ride tells you that the ride is perfectly safe, while his alter ego, the Lord of Light, warns riders that they might die, especially detailing how a ride car has gone missing, fueling rumours that cars have fallen into the pit and have never ever been recovered. The Lord of Darkness leaves the last video with mocking, booming laughter, just as riders board the ride.

Riders have a full view of the drop when they leave the station, building the suspense with a traditional hill climb over to the top and slowly approaching the drop. Just as you can feel the car go off the edge the down, a reverse chain lift momentarily catches the ride, giving the ride an anti-climax (which often send riders already screaming), then suddenly the car is released and allowed to plummet free fall into the tunnel below, Airtime is really good on this ride. Had been sometime I’ve experience near sensation of free fall from a coaster. Riders rush through a darkened underground tunnel, with echos of the the coaster tunneling through it before engulfing with sunlight over few bends and a brake run on the end. The run is very short and could be better for a longer end run, in place of a small circular circuit, but the drop is the highlight anyway.

Not too far off X-sector is the dark forest. Though at first sight, there is actually not much of a dark forest in sight except for a while open space with many food stalls and arcades dotted around a wide walkway. The skyride cable cars serving the forbidden valley can be found hovering overhead here. The dark forest is also an entrance to a children’s play area, known as the “Wobble world” with lots of toadstoody buildings and children rides located there. Right in front of the Dark forest entrance stands Rita.

Rita, also known The Queen of Speed, is a hydrlaic rum cable launched Intamin AG accelerator coaster. It accelerates to 100 km/h in approximately 2.2 seconds and was a new attraction for the 2005 season. It is said that Rita actually stands for ‘Alton Towers – Intamin Rocket’ abbreviated backwards. The ride spotted an extremely long queue, with a waiting time over an hour snaking through endless turns in the wait area, offering rather brisk sales to the food stalls strategically located mid-queue. The train and tracks runs overhead the queue area, which is protected and covered by netting.

Rita speed coaster
Loading entrance
A station pass

The on-ride camera catches your faces on the acceleration phase, which is indicated in a drag racer style 3 tier traffic light system before the hydraulics take over. The track route, typical of an accelerator, features no hill climb and an incline straight into a series of high speed curves and overly-banked turns- a trademark of Intamin track designs. The train of 8 cars negotiates high speed corners, speed drops and bunny hills located as a station by-pass before then reaching the brake run parallel with the station.

Not too far off Rita is a shaded woods area sits, the park’s newest attraction, Th13teen. I’ve heard all the hype of 13 since last year, but I found the park’s It’s touted as the world’s first vertical drop coaster. You can’t exactly see the ride at all, besides the station and a short track leading out of it behind it and into the woods. The ride is well hidden generally from anyone on the pavements. With the except of the hill climb peeking over the trees, you can’t even see of hear it at the queue lines, it is that silent.

“If you go down to the woods today, You’d better not go alone” Touted as the world’s first vertical free fall drop roller coaster, the ride is a replacement for Corkscrew, which resided at Alton Towers for 28 years between 1980 and 2008. After the aging Corkscrew rollercoaster was decommissioned and removed, a large site lay empty in what was then the Ug Land section of the park. John Wardley and others worked to create the idea for a new rollercoaster with a replanted woody forest that would fill this area. The queue area of the ride brings you through a series of shaded areas in the wood with some abandoned campers, and crashed vehicles/van scattered all around, reaffirming the bad lunch the woods possibly bring to uninvited travelers. But in the definition of a dark creepy wood, the forest theming of the ride is rather sparse in my opinion, particular for a ride which could better be riden at night.

13 Coaster Entrance
Inside the station
Train departing station

Similarly built by intamin, the ride is a traditional coaster at the start, with a heavily themed darkened station creepily lit with vines intertwined along all it’s walls. The car leaves the station right into a conventional chain hill climb, with an instant dip bringing you around the forest through many airtime hills and banked turns, I really dig the airtime of the bunny hops on this part of the ride. The ride runs so close to some of the trees in some point, you could almost reach out and slap them as you pass along. It will be not long where the train enters a second lift hill, which shortly leads into Thirteen’s dark crypt. This is where Thirteen’s surprise element takes place. Here, hydraulics that holds the train up inside the crypt jolts down suddenly at 2 intervals of the freefall drop, complimented by sudden lighting effects and air blast before throwing riders into a calmly concrete lined tunnel and propelled backwards through a reverse helix into the open. The train transitions forward again via a switch track into the station. Surprisingly, on Friday 13 August 2010, the ride was temporarily renamed ‘Fourteen’ throughout instead of initial intentions of closing due to bad luck. It’s a humorous publicity stunt seeing the ride renamed with quick signs lasting only for that day.

Skipping the skyride and a short walk through the gardens and the gloomy wood brought us to the Forbidden valley area of the park. Personally this area is one of the main highlights and the best places in the park. It is home too to few of my favorite roller coasters I’ve ridden in the world.

Alton towers is known to be a pioneer in a series of coasters. Air is the world’s first B&M flying roller coaster introduced in March 2002 at a cost of £12 million. It is essentially a steel flying roller coaster located in the Forbidden Valley built by the Swiss manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard. Guests ride in a prone position and experience the feeling of flight by ‘flying’ close to the ground, under footpaths and gliding narrowly past objects such as trees and rocks. However, the ride is known to be plagued with problems where recently introductions and improvements made it more reliable. Apparently that’s true to a small extent, as the ride was broken when I was there. It was not long for about an hour where the engineer’s finally fixed the problem and brought empty trains out for test runs. That was where the rides started called back at us to ride.

Post-repair test run
Gravity taking over
The bugged hillclimb

While most riders will shiver at the thought of riding a new repaired ride, roller coasters are actually one of the most safest engineering marvels in the world, with an excellent track record worldwide (and being an avid roller coaster tycoon fan has nothing to do with it) being one of the first few to ride it after the repairs was a no-brainer for me. Guess the introduction of additional mechanisms for the flying position does add more considerable problems for failure, only that all roller coasters are designed to fail safely and often in a locked position, so riders will always have problems of being lock-in and not unlocked and being thrown off rides.

Going with the modern light air theme, soothing modern music is piped through to the loading bay, adding to the serene setting of the ride with its light colours and concept of flying. After taking a seat and lowering the restraints, a retractable floor lowers, the station is illuminated with blue lights and the seats then rotate 90° backward leaving the passengers facing the ground, as seen in this video I took:

Once on board, the train goes up a conventional hill lift before going down it’s first drop and rising up to a 180 degree turn. It follows the drops down in to a large drop to ground level. The unique prone position allows the coaster to exert more Gs on the riders back, which is usually not safely achievable while seated due to spine compression. This allows large G twists and large upward turns switching riders between flying (prone) or lying position, giving the illusion of flight through air. The ride flies through small ravines and a 360 degree barrel roll before hitting the brake run and re-enters one of Air’s two stations.

Not too far off from Air lies one of the biggest and meanest beast ever to reside in Alton towers. The sights of alien technology, giant guns and blood everywhere is a daunting sign of what lies ahead in the Forbidden valley. There are theories, and then there is the legend that beneath the ground at Alton Towers something strange and horrible lurked: A creature put on the Earth 2 million years ago. The creature was disturbed during maintenance work on one of the other rides in Forbidden Valley. The creature, angry at being discovered, caused havoc, ripping up trees and buildings sending them hurtling skyward. A security silence fell over Alton Towers as historians, archaeologists and the Ministry of Defence nervously began some serious investigations. What they discovered was Nemesis. It had to be controlled – 250 tonnes of steel and 200 men pinned down Nemesis. The steel holding down the monster, was twisted and bent into unusual shapes – the steel was the roller coaster track thrill seekers ride today.

Built at a cost of £10 million and located in the forbidden valley of the park, Nemesis is Europe’s first inverted roller coaster and is still one of the most popular rides in the park and worldwide despite running for over sixteen years since its opening. It is ranked as one of the best coasters in the world by many polls. places it as the 3rd best roller coaster in the world. For me, it is my most favourite roller coaster I’ve been on to date.

love the ground cling
up the loop!

Maybe I just have a soft spot for Bolliger & Mabillard inverted roller coasters. The ride is Europe’s first inverted roller coaster located at Alton Towers, England, featuring a maximum G force of 4G It started with a concept by John Wardley and designed by Werner Stengel. The ride features very extensive theming and one of the best I’ve seen on a single ride to date. Blood waterfalls run down the slopes of the ride painting the wounds, pain and suffering the enslaved creature is having within the grounds. Even the station modeled after the alien with large beady eyes poking around. The tracks of the coaster are painted with a weathered look, given the ride a rather abandoned look. The ride is dug into the ground given aerial height restrictions for aviation. But this allows for tight dashes and tunnels into the ground which really adds to the thrill of the ride, particularly how the ground simply just rushes under your feet considering how close the ride clings to the ground.

Upon leaving the station, the train makes a right turn towards the lift hill, shrouded with vegetation and is not totally visible by observers. At the top of the hill, the train makes the trademark’s B&M post hill climb sub-dip before making a 180 degrees left bank towards the first drop. The train then descends down the drop into the first inversion, a right-handed corkscrew. A right-handed, 270-degree downward spiral follows, with 90 degree banking and a tight radius, maximum G-force of the ride is experienced here. Then the train rises up into the second inversion, a zero-g (barrel) roll, followed by a 180-degree right-handed stall turn into a vertical loop, the third inversion. After a left stall turn, the ride makes the final inversion, another right-handed corkscrew before passing through an underground tunnel, 180-degree turn and hitting the brake run towards the station.

I simply can’t stop going on repeated rides on this coaster.

Throughout the park, I will like to make particular mentions to other rides which are worthy of mentioning, namely flat rides.

Various flat rides
There are 2 such rides in the X-sector, namely Submission and Enterprise. Submission is a heavily themed Chance inverter on a dual side-by-side config. Enterprise is of course the classic as it has always been. In the forbidden valley, we have the pirate ship the blade and the fountain top spin, Ripsaw. In the “country” part of the park, we have Runaway mine train and the congo river rapids as notables.

Enterprise and submission
Ripsaw topspin
the blade! Shinng!

Rather interesting ones will have to be Hex, which is a vekoma mad house, what’s really amazing (besides the really cheesy ride background story) is that though riders on the ride are given the impression that they are being thrown around and spinning around, the gondola riders are seated in hardly swivels more than 15 degrees on either end, it’s a big drum encasing the whole ride which spins very rapidly (thanks to powerful hydraulic motors) which gives the impression of an upside down sensation.

The ride inside can be rather disorientating at times. Humorously I remembered entering the ride knowing that the door I entered from had a fire escape sign lit above the door with an arrow pointing downwards to the door located below it.. Halfway through the ride, I remembered seeing that exit arrow pointing upwards!

Overall, Alton towers is an excellent theme park. It has a rather good feel of a mix of thrill and family rides and good locations which are synonymous with various Disneylands I’ve visited all around the world. The park is rather large too (about 2km walking distance from one end of the park to another) and comparable to most decent sized theme parks as opposed to much smaller Thorpe Park, which have yet to visit. It will be better if the park have the monorail extended to serve the park internally as transport too.

golf woot!
Shops by the walk

Notable miscellaneous items includes random musings around the park- the big grass patch in front of the towers is home to the Golf challenge, which has a hole right on a small island in the middle of the central lake, requiring players to hit a hole in one over the water, the place might also be used for external events, and possibly pony rides, considering the amount of dung grossly littered all over the pavements on our visit.

The park map is not exactly as accurate as we expected it to be, it shows a rough location of where the rides are but when it comes to details of the actual pathways around the route, but that didn’t stop us from getting lost at some point trying to get to the forbidden valley from the dark wood without taking the skyride. Maybe as most Roller coaster tycoon (RCT) players will suggest, more signage will be a good thing. few really nicely themed gardens, the park deco and greenery are commendable as well, particularly few nice themed garden areas from the Hex Towers, known as “the gardens”, which is not too far from the gloomy wood. There are quite a different variety of trees which all look excellent in spring and over summer.

The park has recent new introductions such as the aquatic section, which seemed rather out of place and hidden behind the Pirate’s cove. Interesting pirates show are regularly performed at the Mutiny bay chow area. This is the Mutiny bay site with battle (water) galleons all decked with the Ayeeee! pirates theming.

Alton towers is a great world class park. It may not be the perfect park, but it does have the bells and whistles of the making of one, with excellent roller coasters to boot too!

Read on to the Alton towers waterpark and Splash landings hotel.

:: Alton Towers, Staffordshire, England navigation ::

More photos in the Alton towers trip album


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