This is part of my ongoing series of posts about a 2007 trip we took to the UK to ride roller coasters and see the sights. Here are the previous installments:
Our final full day in England was probably our busiest. We had three small parks to visit. They were all fairly close together, but with enough travel time between to make things hectic. We had to get a very early start, and I was awake by 4:30. With my cold progressing, from just a sore throat and some chills to sniffling and sneezing by the time I got out of the shower, it promised to be a difficult day.
It was too early for us to get breakfast in the lobby (though there were some packets with "biscuits" in the room that we could eat), so we just met up with Tim and headed straight to the Tube station. Throughout our time in London we'd heard about various line closures and had tried to take them into account in our plans. However somehow we missed the fact that we couldn't get to the Liverpool Street station on the Metropolitan Line and only figured this out when the train we were on reversed direction before reaching that stop. An alternate line did eventually get us to Liverpool Street, but at the expense of a loss of some time. Fortunately Tim's conservative planning still gave us time to get breakfast at this station. I had a sausage roll (and an orange juice) from a place called Delice de France. Unfortunately the sausage tasted just like the English sausages I'd been having, not all that great.
I loved the station's departure board. It had old-fashioned placards that would flip as the trains arrived and departed, much more fascinating to watch than a modern LED display.
We took an intercity train from a new-to-us company, a "one" train to Lowestoft. We'd be getting off at the end of the line, meaning it was a pretty long trip. I noticed that one of the conductors had a very "Monty Python" voice. After reading the paper for a while I tried to nap, but couldn't sleep very well due to lack of leg room, especially as the car got more crowded. There was also an annoying family nearby. When a kid asked "Are we there yet?" the mother said "No! Shut up!"
We arrived at the station 10 minutes earlier than Tim's schedule had indicated. We still had to take a bus to get to our final destination, which required a short walk through a kind of little mall. We passed by a small version of the tea cup carnival ride on the way but never found out why it was there. There was a bus ready to go at the depot and we were able to board and depart right away. The trip cost us £1.5 apiece.
The first of our three parks to visit that day was called Pleasurewood Hills. The instructions we had to get to the park were a bit unclear, but fortunately a woman in a seat across from us told us what the right stop was, and where to walk from there. We were let off at a parking lot for a supermarket named Tesco. From there we walked down a hill to a long empty lane, first across a field and then through some trees. The long walk gave the park a real "middle of nowhere" feel. In fact apart from the roaring of one of the coasters we might not even have known we were near it at all.
From the car park we could see the two other coasters. The biggest was new for that year, a stock model known as a Boomerang, featuring three loops that are taken both forward and backward. We hadn't been sure if they'd be able to have it open by the time we visited, and indeed there was a train halfway up the lift the entire time we were there and no sign of any other activity. We weren't all that disappointed, as we'd ridden many like it before and didn't consider it our favorite style of coaster.
The other coaster was a compact ride called Enigma by a well-regarded manufacturer named Schwarzkopf. It was the real reason for our visit; the other rides at the park were not all that special. It was located in a little valley that made it difficult to get footage or pictures of.
We had ordered tickets in advance via the Internet. It was easy to pick them up at the reception building. I presented them to a man at the entrance, who stamped our hands with the digit "5". Once in the park we walked to the right, heading in the direction of Enigma. There were a few other rides on a grassy lawn nearby, such as a flume and a pendulum-like flat ride. Near the coaster's queue was another ride called Thunderstruck. I was interested in it because I'd only ever seen one other like it, and that one had since been removed. However we didn't ride.
After our initial look around we walked toward the valley where Enigma was. The there wasn't much theming beyond question marks scattered about the queue, station, and train, making it look like a Six Flags Riddler ride. The line led over a wooden ramp. It was somewhat long, and the coaster ran only one train that could only hold 8 people per ride, so we had a pretty long wait. Everything about this ride was inefficient, from there being only one short train to having a separate load and unload platform--which meant the train took a long time between cycles.
To make things worse, shortly after we began waiting we saw the train get stuck on the back brake. It was uptrack of the unloading platform, so they couldn't even get the riders off. At first it didn't look like the operators even did anything at all, but Janna said she saw them call a mechanic. In any case, the operators didn't seem to care after they'd discharged that obligation.
We decided to stick it out anyway. There wasn't much else in the park we really wanted to ride more, and we hoped that people leaving the line would make it move at least as quickly as it would have if they'd ridden anyway. When the mechanic came, he got some applause. By this point we were at a corner of the queue, next to a bit of rail that was leaning over. When he passed us, he spotted this, said "Oh dear", and called somebody over the radio to say that the fence needed "urgent attention".
They eventually got the ride running again. Our overall wait wound up being about 35 minutes. Janna and I got on slightly earlier than we might have since they called us forward to fill two empty seats. After the trip up the lift, we went through a series of twists and turning drops. All in all it was a good twisting small steel coaster but not really worth the wait.
It had taken us so long to get our ride that we really couldn't linger to try any more attractions, much as I might have liked to ride the flume or the flat ride nearby. About all we felt we had time left for was coasters, so we headed toward the next one, Snake in the Grass, which turned out to be responsible for the roaring sound we'd heard as we were approaching the park.
This was our one chance to see any of the rest of the park. Among the rides there was a sky ride that looked rather strange to me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but thought it must be the way the sun shades tilted over the seats. Like some other European parks, Pleasurewood Hills had some rather odd playground-like touches, such as a sandbox right by the coaster station. All in all I found the park somewhat attractive, but Janna wasn't very happy with it. She didn't like that we were just going there to get a couple of silly coaster credits. I would have liked to have had about an hour more to spend; it might have given me a more favorable opinion of the park as a park.
Snake in the Grass was a family-style coaster, with a short lift, many low-to-the-ground turns, mild thrills, and very long trains. It's similar to many other such coasters in parks around the world, but was a bit more notable because of the way the track went back into some heavy foliage. There was also a tunnel over the lift and first drop. One other turn had some day-glo snakes around it. We were sent for two circuits. During our ride there was a change of operator. The new op stopped us between cycles before sending us for the second circuit.
We were already running out of time and would have to head on to our next park, so we could no longer linger. Tim wanted to get something to eat, and stopped off to get a hot dog. I wasn't interested in something so pedestrian. I considered a panini, but in the end Janna and I decided to take our chances in waiting for a chance to find something better to eat later.
While Tim was getting his lunch, Janna and I continued up to the shop near the park entrance, called Woody's Emporium. I would have gotten a Coke from a vending machine, but I couldn't get it to take my money. It would have cost me £1.40. Since at the store I could get a Coke plus crisps for £1.50, perhaps this was for the best. As I stood outside and ate and drank, I overheard the Monty Python theme playing on the carousel nearby.
It was about 12:30 when we left, and it took about 10 minutes to return to the bus stop. Once again I reflected on how I'd have rather had a little longer time in the park to try a few other attractions. I don't think Janna and Tim cared that much. In the end, nobody was really satisfied; it felt like too much effort to get to the park just to ride two roller coasters.
Our next two parks were within walking distance of each other on the shore of Great Yarmouth, so at least visiting both in the same day made sense. To get there we had to take the same bus line we'd taken earlier, but this time to the end of the line. The bus we were on felt a bit fancier than a usual commuter bus, more like a tour coach. The ride took about half an hour.
As we approached Great Yarmouth we got a preview of the coaster from a distance. It was distinctive because it didn't really look like a coaster so much as a wide blue building. We then crossed a river and began to drive through town. The path we took seemed to be somewhat indirect, perhaps in order to avoid a market street that seemed to be reserved for pedestrians. I found myself a bit disoriented when we got off the bus. I thought we were walking parallel to the shore along a different pedestrian street, only to find us heading straight for it.
Our first stop was a tiny park called Joyland, no more than a city block in size. It was really designed more for kids than adults, but it had some unique charming-looking attractions we were all interested in. There was one small coaster, of only moderate interest. It was immediately visible, but since it was mostly inside a little building there wasn't much track to see. We checked out our options and decided to get a bag of tokens for 10 pounds. This gave us 13 tokens. At one token per ride, this would be enough for us all to ride everything we wanted to.
Since the coaster was unremarkable, we went to look at some of the other more interesting rides first. The one we were all most intrigued by was simply called the Snails. It was very simple, cars traveling around a little track with a few turns and undulations, but the snail-shaped cars looked simply adorable. It was far from thrilling, but it was completely charming and not quite like anything I'd ever seen before. It looked a bit homemade, but it seemed to fit right in the park.
In the middle of the park was a dark ride called Neptune's Kingdom. It was a cute ride, with some flute music, and a bunch of day-glo fish. There was also one bare-breasted mermaid, something that would be an unlikely sight in any American park. Toward the end Neptune himself waved at us.
The park was so small that once we got off the ride we could just walk out the other end. To our left was a big pier, and we noticed that there were mule rides offered on the sand beneath this pier, part of the many other attractions in this seaside town.
We re-entered the park, and began to make our way to another of our most anticipated rides, Tyrolean TubTwist. It was a somewhat modern reinterpretation of a very old and extinct variety of ride, the Virginia Reel. It involves circular cars that roll down a trough-like track, spinning in random directions as they go.
As we were watching the ride run, a man came up to us and began talking. It turned out to be the park manager. Somehow he recognized us as enthusiasts right away (perhaps because we were filming TubTwist at the time) and was clearly very proud of his park. He mentioned several enthusiast events he'd had there, and was particularly proud of the TubTwist.
After talking with the manager we went to ride the TubTwist itself. The electrical system kicked up some sparks as we climbed the lift. Then it went through a series of switchbacks in troughs (the high walls of the troughs made it hard to film as I'd hoped to do). The tubs spun rather quickly. In fact it was enough to make me dizzy. I wasn't sure whether it was the walls of the trough that were making the tubs spin or if they were powered somehow, but it was a good little ride. I'm sorry there aren't more of them around.
Our last ride was the coaster itself, a little ride called Spook Express. Janna and I rode in back for two circuits. The lift was on the outside, but the helixes that made the bulk of the ride were indoors. There was a human figure in the middle of the lower helix that at first I thought might have been a real person. Only on our second circuit did I see for sure that it was a model.
We had nothing else to ride in Joyland. Had we had more tokens I'd gladly have ridden the snails again. The TubTwist was also good, but just a bit too intense for me to ride more than once that day. But we didn't want to really spend more money, so we just took a bit of last film rather than buy more tokens.
I went over to get a bit more footage of the snail ride. As I was doing so, a woman politely asked me to stop filming. It turned out she was concerned with my filming her son. It took me a minute or two to figure out exactly what she meant. I would not have thought much of this, except that the father, who was actually riding with the kid, got very belligerent. I overheard him say something about "smash your camera". I quickly made my exit, steamed that he apparently thought that I was a pedophile of some sort (in fact later Tim speculated that perhaps the manager had come over because somebody had seen us filming before and alerted him to it).
I wound up walking out the back of the park just to get away from the situation, but we had to meet back in front to get to our final park for the day, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach. It was probably about half a mile up the shoreline, and there was a tram to take us there for £1.50. The price was for a round trip, but only if we didn't get off the tram, making it somewhat useless for us. Once we disembarked we'd have to pay for a return trip.
We had to wait for a long time for the ride to start; apparently they wanted to fill the train before departing. I was worried the guy who'd been aggressive about the camera might happen by and accost me. It might have been paranoia, but I wasn't comfortable until we were well away from the area. As we drove down the street, we saw several buildings with Vegas hotel themes on the opposite side of the street. There were also some inflatable slides on the beach side. I recall one looking like a tiger.
We were dropped off across the street from the park (which was the site of an episode of the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances). It seemed to be divided in two by a cross street. We never got to the left side, which just seemed to have a flume. The attractions we were interested in were all to our right.
It was about 2:30 as we entered the park through a small gate. We bought some tokens for our rides in a shed-like building. For £20 we could get 25 tokens, which were made of metal instead of plastic this time. By this point Janna and I were running very low on cash, to the point I was getting worried we might not have enough to make it through the last day of the trip.
Before heading to the scenic railway coaster, we got a "credit" ride over with. It was on a ride generically known as a Big Apple, a kiddie coaster style that really only has one even moderately significant drop to it. The rest of the track consists of a very gentle undulating section and a couple of curves. We took the third seat, hoping for a quick ride. However we had to wait for quite some time to begin. The buck-toothed operator waited for a woman to return to the ride with her kid before sending us. As we rode for three circuits, I could look over toward the beach and some intervening sand dunes, making for a nice view on an otherwise very modest coaster.
The scenic railway, simply called Roller Coaster, was further along in the park. Even up close it barely looked like a coaster at all, it was more like a big blue building with curving walls. It was hard to tell whether it was operating because there were few points from which one could see the train. We walked up the ramp and had to wait perhaps one cycle to get on. Janna and I took the fourth seat from the back. I asked if it was all right to film and got the OK. Because of the walls around the ride it was visually somewhat odd. There was a bit of a good pull over the drops, but I don't remember all that much else about the ride. At the end we could have gotten a refrigerator magnet photo from the ride, but we felt we looked stupid in our picture.
We decided Roller Coaster was good enough to get another ride on. This time Janna and I rode in the third seat. For some reason there was less legroom there. There were some screaming black girls in front of us. The ride also squealed a bit around the turns. From this ride I saw more dunes. Also in the middle of the ride I saw what I thought might be some theming, like the miniature village in the Hochschaubahn at Prater. Later I found it was actually for the next ride we went to, another snail ride.
This snail ride was called Snails and Fairy Tales. The loading area was off to one side of the Roller Coaster building, so inconspicuous that I hadn't noticed it when we passed it by on the way to the coaster station before. The operator greeted us in a friendly way, perhaps surprised to see adults riding. It was more elaborate than the Joyland's but less charming. We saw references to Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Mermaid, It's a Small World, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland. I wondered if they were authorized by Disney. There were dark sections interrupted by an outdoor section in the middle of the coaster (the part I'd seen from the coaster itself). At the very end there were odd arrows pointing downward painted on the walls; I couldn't tell what they were supposed to be for.
Near the center of the park some buildings formed a kind of aisle. On one side was a dark ride called Haunted Hotel. We rode, but I barely remember it. Across the way was a fun house, which we also tried. It had some 3D day-glo paintings, and some standard attractions around the sides, but the entire middle of the building seemed to be empty, except for a security guy standing there. I suspect at one time there had been more things to do within. However the attractions that remained were quite impressive; the floors moved very quickly, making it hard to maintain balance for very long.
We next went to a restaurant called the Wharf for lunch. There was a roomy dining area, mostly open to the outside, with a counter in the middle. The menu mainly consisted of different varieties of meat pie. I chose a cottage pie. With this I got an orange Coke, a flavor I'd never tried before. Of course the citrus flavor didn't mean I was getting any more vitamin C, but it still felt like I was doing something about my sickness. Tim's tiny fountain Coke cost 1.20, while Janna was able to get a can for .80.
My pie came with some chips ("fries" to an American). Unfortunately they weren't very good, even if I weren't tired of chips by that point. I also felt they were redundant with the mashed potatoes that came on top of the pie. As usual, there were also peas on the side; I thought they probably would have gone better inside the pie itself with the ground beef.
We began to make our way out of the park, having sampled all the attractions we were interested in riding. But on the way out we looked at an interesting ride called Mulan. It was a modern version of a style of ride known as the Caterpillar, where the cars go quickly in circles around an undulating track. Additionally it had the feature of a canopy that extended over riders during the course of the ride (which really does make it look something like a caterpillar from the outside). It was common on old-style caterpillar rides, but much less so on modern rides so I was a bit surprised to see it. The building the ride was housed in made it look like a classic English Waltzer ride too. Right by the gate was a little carousel, which we saw had a message around the top about how proud Great Yarmouth was.
It was about 4 when we left. We weren't sure where to catch the bus to get back, so we asked at the building we'd bought our tokens at. They suggested just flagging a cab down, but when we walked out to the street we saw a bus we could take. It was not the same bus as we'd used to get from Joyland to the Pleasure Beach. This one looked more like a sightseeing bus, and cost £2. It was worth the extra 50p though, since it would take us right to the railway station. We learned that this bus ran only once an hour, in which case we were very lucky to have caught it-we saw it right as we'd crossed the road.
We hadn't expected to get a scenic tour of the town. The recorded messages on the bus gave us some information we otherwise wouldn't have learned, such as that Charles Dickens stayed at the Royal Hotel, and that David Copperfield was set in Great Yarmouth. One of the odder aspects of this recording was that it would warn us that "this bus will shortly make a left". We couldn't figure out why we needed to be informed of this! We passed by some very narrow streets called "the rows". We also passed by the old town wall. As we approached the station I recall seeing a store that Janna said was the English version of Wal-Mart.
It was about 4:20 when we arrived at the station. Looking at the schedule we saw that our next train was at 5:17, which meant we had a lot of time to wait. This didn't suit me very well. As miserable as I was due to my cold, the last thing I wanted to do was be sitting around a train station. On the other hand, I wasn't looking forward to the long train trip either. I would have gotten myself a drink but the kiosk closed just as I was about to. I did find orange juice in a vending machine, but had to pay 1.50 when it had been marked at 1.20-I got back no change. Janna was just patient and waited for a woman to come back and open the kiosk, which she did in a few minutes; perhaps she had just taken a break. We were among the first people there, but by the time the train was due quite a few had arrived.
The route we had to take back to London was somewhat circuitous, through Norwich and Ely. Along the way we saw a median area between the tracks and a road. In the middle were some cows, horses, and sheep. After seeing this several times I finally got out my camcorder to film the unusual sight, but was simply too late. Also as we traveled across the country I saw some telegraph poles that looked like they were half under water. I wondered if this was evidence of the devastating flooding that was happening at around that time. At one point Janna spotted a horse with a blue blanket over it, which she just called a "blue horse". Janna had seen one of these earlier in the trip and had tried to point it out to me unsuccessfully. This time we both saw it.
We must have been on an express train, as we blew through a bunch of small stations. There were also a lot of tunnels. As I remembered from our Scandinavian trip, the pressure differences were hard on my ears, especially while I was sick. We eventually passed by Emirates Stadium, which was where the Arsenal soccer team played.
When we got back to King's Cross we tried to look around for some information on the Gatwick Express train that we'd have to take the next morning to get to the airport, but we had no luck in finding any information. We agreed that rather than go out for dinner together that night, we'd just shop for something to eat at the station and bring it to our rooms. Janna and I were essentially out of English money by that point, so we had to buy some off of Tim, who still had plenty. We did have some American money that we could give him in exchange. We bought food for the evening at a Marks and Spencer, as well as something for breakfast the next morning, knowing we'd have to get up very early. I looked for some beer to drink, but the beers only came in four packs. All in all it seemed like they were out of stock of a lot of things, but we did eventually assemble a meal for ourselves. After finding that we had 11 pounds left over, Janna went back in to get some grapes for ourselves.
When we emerged from the store, we saw Tim still trying to find out about the next day's train. He'd started using a touch screen kiosk to get the information, but it didn't seem to be working. I was able to help out by using the trackball rather than the touch screen, but even then I got stymied. On the screen that should have given us the information all we saw was that the "engine" was down.
We walked back to the hotel from the station. When we got there, Janna realized that they had no soda machine for her to get a drink. She went out again, but I was in no mood to and just sat in. When Janna came back, not only had she gotten some sparkling water for me (my request) but also a can of Kronenburg. I probably shouldn't have had the beer, but was grateful that she'd gotten it. Along with these we had our meal-an orzo salad, a bowtie pesto salad, some ham, grapes, and some roast beef and onion crisps (the first chips I'd gotten on that trip that were not cheese and onion flavored). We used a plate from the hotel room's kitchen to share from.
Tim came by with some information he’d eventually obtained about the Gatwick Express. We made our plans for the next morning, which meant getting up extremely early. Since on our previous trip we'd found ourselves cutting it very close getting to the plane we wanted to be fairly conservative. In spite of this I wasn't quite ready to go to bed so I watched TV for a while. I was feeling some slight chills, and put on my long sleeve T shirt for the evening. Janna also made me some sleepytime tea, which helped warm and relax me. Together with the beer that was enough to insure that I got at least a little bit of sleep, which I really needed.