I've recently released my new book, Tales from the Towers, which tells the story of how Alton Towers developed from a barren patch of land holding a small hunting lodge into the UK's most popular theme park. We're serialising select parts of the book on Theme Park Tourist, along with photos that didn't make it into the print edition. In this eighth article, you can learn about some of the hidden secrets that are dotted around the park.
The sprawling Alton Towers estate hides a number of hidden secrets. Tales from the Towers features many of these, and you can keep an eye out for them on your next visit to the park.
The Planetarium sculpture
Take a look at the sculpture located inside the Oblivion ride building. It was partially-made using the projector from the shuttered Planetarium, which was located in the central courtyard that is enclosed by the Towers. Featuring commentary from Patrick Moore, the renowned astrologer (known to many children of the 1990s as the “GamesMaster” in the Channel 4 television show), it displayed scenes of planets and stars. It was eventually closed in 1987.
The Nemesis tree
Take a look at the enormous tree that stands next to Nemesis’ station. It once stood in the middle of the flat field that acted as Alton Towers’ car park, and was carefully preserved during the construction process, which saw the huge pit that houses the coaster being excavated.
The abandoned toilet block
Here's the Swiss Cottage in the gardens, completed in 1835. This hosted a blind Welsh harper, Edward Jervis, who would play to entertain the Earl of Shrewabury's family and their visitors. It was a restaurant for many years, but now lies largely empty. See that little gap between the fence in the background and the tree? There's a poorly-maintained pathway down there...
...after a short walk and a scramble up a steep hill, this is where it leads: to an abandoned toilet block!
The toilets have seen better days. The surrounding area is a treasure trove of 1980s/1990s-era litter, including old-style pepsi cans and even the occasional cup emblazoned with the park's former mascot, Henry Hound. We found it to be occupied by snogging teenage couples when we went exploring.
Oblivion's not-so-vertical drop
Get your protractor out and align it with the "vertical" drop on Oblivion. You’ll find that it’s actually a little shy of being truly vertical, at around 87 degrees. SheiKra at Busch Gardens Tampa – another B&M Dive Machine – holds the distinction of having the first truly vertical drop. Other coasters have since surpassed this with “beyond vertical” drops.
The Chained Oak
Intrigued by the backstory to Hex - The Legend of the Towers, featuring the mysterious, cursed Chained Oak which once stood in Alton Towers' grounds?
It is still possible to visit the Chained Oak today, although the land is not owned by the park these days. Close to the service entrance of Alton Towers sits the Chained Oak Bed & Breakfast. Through a gap in a stone wall, a path leads down from the hotel’s driveway into the Barbary Gutter (following the route of the old carriageway). Walk down this for around five minutes, and you will come to the old oak tree, standing on the right at the top of a flight of time-worn steps.
Remains of Alton Abbey
Head down to Le Refuge in the gardens. Notice the classical-style columns? These were almost certainly removed from the original entrance hall to Alton Abbey, as the Towers were known before they renamed in 1832. Considered worthy of preservation, they were installed in the garden alcove instead.
Wear sunscreen at the water park
Be careful not to end up with sunburn at the Alton Towers Water Park. The roof is designed to let in ultraviolet light.
There are plenty more hidden secrets in Tales from the Towers.