I’ve been wondering recently where my love of rides and rollercoasters came from. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy them. So I thought I’d take a little trip back down memory lane and talk about ‘the rides that made me’. Many of these rides are consigned to the great scrapheap in the sky, and some are still around in one form or another. So let’s dive into some little bit of ride history and talk about the rides that made me.
1. The Ladybird / Rattlesnake – Pleasurewood Hills (1986-2016)
The Ladybird was the first ever rollercoaster I remember riding. We used to visit Pleasurewood Hills a lot when I was little, and it’s likely I rode this during its opening year! I don’t remember much about the ride itself. Just the bright red ladybird themed carriages, and then in the later iteration, the rattlesnake themed carriages (and a large fibreglass snake!). I felt incredibly grown up being allowed on a roller coaster, all the rides I’d gone on previously were simple kiddie rides. The Ladybird felt like it went at hundreds of miles an hour to little old me. It was only just over 20mph according to the entry on RCDB. It’s pretty sad to see it rotting away now – it was an incredibly fun little ride.
While we’re talking about Pleasurewood Hills, that leads me to.
Image from Unofficial Pleasurewood Hills.
2. The Tempest – Pleasurewood Hills (1990-1995)
The Tempest was probably my first ever inverted ride. It was best described as a pirate ship that goes upside-down. From memory, it was located close to the Ladybird. It had restraints similar to what you’d find on Rameses Revenge at Chessington but without the ‘over the shoulder’ part. It squished you in tightly before spinning you upside down. I think the ride cycle involved a ‘hold’ in the upside down position, which as a nine-year-old was pretty damned scary. I vividly remember the sound of people’s small change clattering into the cage that surrounded the boat as the ride went upside down.
I vaguely remember the ride leaving the park in 1995, which was when I stopped going. It moved to Camelot as ‘Excalibur’ and was operating until 2000.
Image from Unofficial Pleasurewood Hills.
3. The 5th Dimension – Chessington World of Adventures (1987-1993)
The 5th Dimension was one of my first ever dark rides. I remember being completely blown away by it. From the garish 80’s queue line that played a short (Hitachi sponsored) pre-show from a VHS tape to the wacky storyline of being shrunk and sent through the TV screen. The first time I saw Zappomatic on his roller-skates I genuinely thought he was a REAL robot. The way he moved and spoke was utterly convincing to me. I remember going on it in 1989 or 1990 during one of my first trips to Chessington.
The way the trains moved through to the different scenes, I genuinely thought that we were battling the dreaded Gorg. I hammered the ‘laser’ buttons on the car as if my life depended on it.
If you have any kind of memory about The 5th Dimension, I would recommend the watching the video below. The cool kids at the British Theme Park Archive have produced a stellar documentary about the ride and its troubled history.
4. Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks – Chessington World of Adventures (1990-2005)
I vividly remember being at Chessington in 1989 and looking at a hoarding that surrounded what we know now as the ‘Wild Woods’ (formally ‘Transylvania’) at Chessington. It advertised two new attractions – the Vampire and Professor Burps’s Bubbleworks. We returned the following year to ride them both. I remember stepping into Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks for the first time. I was awestruck. From the music in the station to the massive posters advertising Professor Burp’s drinks. There was so much to take in, even the sweet fruity smell in the air. This was before we’d even got ON the ride.
You were whisked around the ride seeing how Professor Burp made his fizzy wares. It was a ride I just wanted to go on, again and again. You’d often spot something you’d missed previously. Plus the fountain finale was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The way the strobe lighting flashed made the water look like it was going backwards.
Sadly over the years, much like with the 5th Dimension, the ride wasn’t very well looked after and the complex animatronics stuttered and jerked around. Whilst the ride system is still there today for The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure, Professor Burp’s charms are long gone.
There is a magnificent documentary by the British Theme Park Archive about the history of Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks below –
5. The Vampire – Chessington World of Adventures (1990- )
Whilst The Vampire is still very much alive at Chessington, it’s a shade of its former self. When it opened in 1990 it had bat shaped carriages that were suspended under the track. Each ‘Bat’ held 4 riders. The queue-line went through castle gates to a fog-filled underpass beneath the coaster track into a graveyard canopy with Gothic tombs and dark passageway into the station. The station was adorned by chandeliers with the centrepiece of a massive pipe organ and the organist playing the Vampire theme. The animatronic organist was timed to the music, so it really looked like it was thumping out the Phantom of the Opera-esque theme.
The Vampire was my first ever ‘suspended’ coaster. I loved the theatre of it all, from the queue line to the station, and finally the ride itself. I loved how it swooped into the cave and flew above ‘Transylvania’.
In 2002 the ‘Bat’ cars were removed and the ride was altered to accept some Vekoma trains. The original ride manufacturer (Arrow Dynamics) had gone out of business and it was proving impossible to keep the ride running reliably. The ride lost some of its charms, and in the years since has largely been neglected. The impressive theming has been stripped out, the organist shudders around and a horrible rip from an audio cassette plays a badly looped, abridge version of the iconic Vampire theme in the station. Whilst the ride is still there – the original iteration was undoubtedly the best.
6. Thunder Looper – Alton Towers (1990-1996)
Thunder Looper was my first inverted (and indeed launch) roller coaster. I remember it very vividly at Alton Towers in the ‘Thunder Valley’ area of the park (it stood where Blade currently lives in Forbidden Valley). It was a fairly short ride with a steep incline at either end of the track. The train would launch (0-60mph in around 2 seconds), do a loop-the-loop and go up the steep track, then go backwards around the loop and back up the incline, to the go forwards into the station. It was wickedly simple, but SO much fun. I remember that I met the 1.4m height restriction, but my sister didn’t – she had to stand with my Mum and watch me and Dad on it! It didn’t have over the shoulder restraints, just a simple lap bar that held you in. It really added to the experience – I was terrified I’d fall out!
I think I only went on it a few times – we didn’t go to Alton Towers very much while I was growing up. It left the park in 1996 because it exceeded the tree height at Alton, and therefore broke the planning laws in the UK. It moved to Brazil where it is still running today!
The Thunder Looper image is from Towers Times.
Throughout the years I’ve managed to go on countless rides and rollercoasters around the UK and indeed the world. I was really lucky as a child to travel to so many of the UK’s theme parks and cut my teeth on such awesome rides. Without that and my fun and fearless parents, I don’t think I’d be the ride geek I am today. It’s been really fun thinking about the rides that set me along this path.
What rides from your childhood were the ones that made you? Drop me a comment below!