Great Days Out in the Midlands: Alton Towers
The Midlands Explained
England, in basic terms is split into three zones, the central area highlighted in the map to the left is traditionally known as the Midlands, everything to the North, is known as the...North, and everything to the South is known as the...South. The Midlands is home to a vast wealth of attractions and potential great days out that can be enjoyed by both the natives and tourists. You have attractions geared more for children, some that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and some more suited for adults.
For those, who love British history for example, or more accurately medieval or renaissance history, you’ve got more than half dozen castles to visit; and of course any fan of Shakespeare will know that the great man was born and bred in Stratford upon Avon. To this day, the famous town is still the place to go for any Shakespearian pilgrim. Indeed, whenever I visit Stratford I never fail to spot a tourist clutching some sort of Shakespearian literature. This article and the ones that follow it will outline several fantastic attractions in the Midlands that I’ve actually been to and experienced, they range from the wild and the wacky to the calm, serene and beautiful. Each one has their own unique charm that appeals to different aspects of our character. I hope you enjoying reading and learning about these wonderful places.
The Alton Towers Logo
If you’re somebody that craves adventure and thrills, or if you have children that are like that, then Alton Towers is the place to go. It’s probably Britain’s premier theme park, and receives the most visitors a year, something like 2.7 million a year. Indeed, on any given day nearly 30,000 people could be wandering through the confines of the park. Admittedly it has been a few years since I was there, and many of its top rides such as Air and Submission were only constructed in the years after my last visit, so I can’t really comment on those.
My last trip to Alton Towers was actually on a hot summer’s day in July 2001, so it’s actually more than a few years since I’ve last been. The trip was in fact, an annual excursion organised by my school. I remember them announcing it in assembly at the start of the year, and for the next eight months or so, it was virtually the sole topic of conversation in the school yard.
When the day finally came, I remember waking early and instructing my mother to give me a light breakfast, so I wouldn’t have to face the embarrassment of vomiting while on a rollercoaster. I don’t particularly remember the journey there, apart from the fact that I was worried about where I’d meet my friends, due to the fact that we were unable to travel on the same coach. These were the days before mobile phones were common, so we had to meet up the old fashioned way by hastily arranging a meeting place, and agreeing not to leave until we were all present. My anxiety subsided as I began to see the signs for Alton Towers, tension replaced with anticipation. We passed through a couple of small, picturesque villages and despite the fact that my adolescent mind was full of excitement, I caught sight of one of the villagers shaking her head at the fleet of coaches rolling by; for a brief moment, the excitement died and all I felt was sorrow for her. The picturesqueness of these wonderful villages had been somewhat decimated by the expansion of Alton Towers over the years, the summer months in particular must be a nightmare.
Once there, we didn’t have to worry about tickets and pay, everything had been pre-arranged. But be warned, if you do select a theme park as a day out, it’ll be an expensive one, the best advice is to book seven days in advance online, by doing that you’ll earn a 25% discount, but even so, when you factor the cost of food, drink and souvenirs, it’s still a very expensive day out. If you’re going as a family e.g. no more than two adults (adults being over the age of twelve) and book seven days in advance, you can save up to 50% of what you would pay normally.
The first queue you’ll encounter is the one to get through the turnstiles, but the guys in the ticket booth are generally very quick, and you won’t have to wait too long. Once in, the noise and euphoria of it all hits you like an intoxicating drug. The first sight you’ll see is a long street, namely ‘Tower Street’ on each side are a row of food outlets and gifts shops. Spaced out at regular intervals along the street are islands of neatly manicured gardens, which provide the perfect place for picnickers and sunbathers.
Once at the end of the street, you’re confronted by Swan Lake, where you were once able to take a ride on a ‘Swan Boat’ but these were taken away in 2003. My friends and I of course, were not in the slightest bit interested in messing about in a Swan boat, we ran like crazed, teenage lunatics, heading for the ‘X Sector’ home of Oblivion, the world’s first vertical rollercoaster.
Oblivion is one of the scariest rollercoaster’s you can ever experience; the long and often frustrating queue times only add to the tension. You’re also subjected to a number of video clips of a man calling himself the Lord of Darkness, who tells you that the ride is perfectly safe, but then lets out that familiar, sinister laugh associated with all villains. Once you’re on the ride, the tension rises even further as you ascend slowly upwards on the track, then wheeling to the right towards the infamous drop. The carriage comes to a stop just slightly over the edge so that you’re actually staring right down into the hole. After a brief pause, you plunge downwards at a gut wrenching 68 mph. I must admit I remember little of the drop and the aftermath, as I was too busy screaming, I do remember feeling relieved though when the carriage came to a stop in the same place it had started from. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently I had plunged 150 feet and experienced around 4.5 in G-force. The decision to have a light breakfast was a good one on reflection.
Front Seat View
After a taking an hour to relax and enjoy some lunch, my friends and I proceeded at a more leisurely pace towards another equally famous rollercoaster, Nemesis, the first inverted (runs on the underside of the track) rollercoaster constructed in Europe. Once again, a long queue loomed, but this time there were no video clips or booming laughter, instead you shuffled slowly through an artificial canyon system, with rivers of red water. I remember one of the guys not too far away from me began to have a full blown panic attack, he obviously thought the water was blood, or maybe he was just generally scared. Whatever the reason, he was hurriedly rushed away from the queue to receive medical attention.
Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, our turn had come. To my delight, the operator signalled my friends and me to three spare seats in the front row. ‘I will not shut my eyes,’ I said to myself as I strapped myself in. The ride started and almost instantaneously we were thrown into a series of terrifying loops. The promise I made to myself was overridden by instinct, and my eyes slammed shut. I screamed, shouted, laughed out of terror and experienced the motions, but I saw nothing, my eyes remained closed until we came to a stop. Only, once I was back safe on terra firma did I remember the promise, and thus felt regret that I would not have any visual memories of the experience.
In a Nutshell
We did go on other rides, but Oblivion and Nemesis were the two that stood out, and the ones that we had been most looking forward to. As a mark of the occasion, I purchased photographs to serve as proof that I had actually managed to ride them, and hadn’t dream it. There’s simply too much at Alton Towers to put into one article. But the bottom line is, that there is something for everyone, if you’re not into the scary rides; then there are plenty of other attractions to keep yourself and your family amused. If you have small children, I recommend a visit to the petting zoo.
Alton Towers actually takes its name from the magnificent stately home situated in the centre of the park. Today, it’s better known as a haunted house rather than the domain of lords and ladies, but the pretty gardens are still something to be marvelled at. You can even transform a trip into a holiday by checking into one of the park’s two hotels, the Alton Towers Hotel, which is a conventional hotel, and the Splash Landings Hotel which doubles up as a water park. The great thing about doing that is that you have the option to experience the thrill of the rides an hour before the park officially opens, so you can beat the queues.
All in all, Alton Towers is a fantastic place for thrills, spills and general entertainment, but if you choose to go with your family, bear in mind the expenses, e.g. the price for just one adult is £42 or $66. In order to save a bit of money, as well as booking in advance and selecting a family ticket, bring a packed lunch, rather than eat out. Also, try not to go overboard on the souvenirs, the commemorative photos you can buy of yourself on the ride cost me £15 or $23 each, and that was 2001. I’m certain that nowadays it’s more expensive. Despite the expenses though, Alton Towers rarely disappoints you, the sheer exhilaration you experience is enough to give you a natural high that can last weeks. Even today, 11 years on from my last visit I still fondly remember the exhilaration that I experienced, and I’d go back tomorrow if I had the time and money.
© 2012 James Kenny