Here in the UK, we’re very lucky to have many different types of coasters. The Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach has just celebrated its 90th Birthday and Alton Towers continues to provide us with record and ground breaking roller coasters, with The Smiler being the latest scream machine to be pulling in the punters.
However, between The Smiler and The Big Dipper, there is one genre of rollercoaster missing: A NEW wooden coaster. Oakwood Park in Pembrokeshire is extremely lucky to have the John Wardley designed Megafobia, that opened in 1996 but, other than that, there are no other newer wooden beasts in this country of which we can be proud! And, dear reader, we’re never going to see one at a major UK park. And I am going to explain why.
We have to first realise that attractions at major parks are not built for the likes of you or me - and by that I mean “Coaster Enthusiasts”. They are built for the general public; for those who don’t have annual passes, for those who visit parks spontaneously, for those who don’t care whether it’s a Vekoma or a B&M Hyper, an out and back style, or a compact twister! They care about the look, the gimmick and - in some cases - the fear factor.
John Wardley has made it very clear that Merlin will simply not build a wooden coaster because there’s no way to market one. Sadly, I completely understand this. If your neighbour (assuming your neighbour isn’t a rampant rollercoaster nut) was faced with riding a wooden coaster, or a new B&M with lovely padded restraints and smooth turns - he or she will undeniably choose the B&M. Lee Conway, an attraction producer from Yorkshire, says "The public perception of wooden coasters in the UK have been tarnished slightly by the older wooden roller coasters at Blackpool; the general public think they’re simply unsafe, wooden, a fire hazard, loud and rickety!"
The counter argument to this is to look at what the US is doing with their hugely successful “iron horse” treatments on rides such as The Iron Rattler (at Six Flags Fiesta Texas) and The Texas Giant (at Six Flags Over Texas) and new builds such as Outlaw Run (at Silver Dollar City) and Goliath at (Six Flags Great America). These rides are hugely successful at all the parks and it does beg the question “Why aren’t the UK folk as excited about these rides?”. I proposed this question to Robert Coker, from Thrillride.com, who said that the wooden rollercoaster is such a part of US history and that they still hold the patent for the original design!
At one point there were over 1500 wooden coasters in the US, so it’s really an important part of their heritage. One can certainly see it’s a trend that the folks in the US of A really have helped nurture, develop and grow - but are these new breed of “iron horse” coasters truly wooden coasters? Riders rejoice in the smoothness and comfort of these steel/wooden machines and it makes me ask “Why make it wooden at all?” The whole point of riding a true wooden coaster is to get shaken about a bit! It makes me proud that we have rides here like The Grand National, The Wild Mouse and The Big Dipper; they’re true bone shakers!
There’s no denying a wooden coaster would fit the Alton Towers landscape like a hand in glove; who wouldn’t love flying through the valleys and woods? When a new ride is built in a park, it’s up to the park’s marketing gurus to get 100,000 new people through the gates - and how do you do this with a wooden coaster when their image isn’t the best in the collective memory of UK folk? So - whilst WE may crave a wooden coaster (whether it’s glass smooth or glass shattering) we have to realise that we’re not going to get one. People may LOVE The ride once they’re on it - but, it’s getting the NEW people through the entrance gates of the new wooden coaster that is the eternal quadrangle of a problem for the UK theme park industry. So - it’s simply not going to happen!
I hope I’m proved wrong... John Wardley designed not only Megafobia at Oakwood, but also Stampida at Port Aventura - and Merlin have a very successful wooden coaster called Colossos at Heide Park in Germany. Maybe one day the two powerhouses will collide and build a wooden coaster... and they could call it "The Flying Pig".