Specific Type: Wooden
One of the most important amusement parks in England is Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It followed up quickly after LaMarcus Thompson’s invention of the roller coaster in 1887, with its first coaster in 1891, just the third one constructed in Great Britain. The park quickly followed up on the act, building four more before the 1930s, including the small coaster Big Dipper, which still operates today as the oldest coaster in Britain.
Blackpool continued this building frenzy into the 30s, where it built a coaster in 1933, 1934, and 1935. The first two of this run were the family coasters Roller Coaster (Now Nickelodeon Streak) and Zipper Dipper (Now Blue Fyler). Both still run today in the Nickelodeon World section of the park. The last one built was Grand National, which is considered by many to be the best woodie the park has to offer.
But this ride isn’t just a good woodie; rather, it is two good woodies. It is a racing coaster, where two tracks run side by side. Technically, however, the ride is one ride, and the two tracks are connected in a Mobius loop track. The train leaves one side of the station and comes back on the other.
It is also oddly themed. As opposed to traditional sci-fi and fantasy themes in amusement parks, this one is themed to the Grand National horse race in England. Many of the hills and turns have little signs and turns corresponding to elements on the track; a nice touch to a classic ride experience.
The train leaves the station and takes either a right or left turn depending on which side of the track you are on. The train then climbs the 62 foot lift hill, both trains side by side. This is just one foot taller than Nickelodeon Streak, but this is certainly no kiddie coaster. At the top of the lift there is a sign which states “They’re Off!” and the trains take a slow left turn, 60 feet up. Then it drops, but little is ordinary on this ride, so the drop isn’t either. Rather, it is a double down, with a shorter drop, a leveling off, and another short drop with a huge pop of air. This is only the beginning.
This element is followed by a rise up into the Beecher’s Brook turn (This is rather bizarre, because Beecher’s Brook is a jump in the actual Grand National horse race), a wide, slow, left handed 180 degree turn. National then drops down, and hits another hill, (Called Valentine), and rising up again. A left turn (The Canal Turn) brings the ride into a drop sending it back into the supports. The rest of the ride does not have names for each element, but it doesn’t mean they get less intense. The train traverses a small hill, well, double down- underneath the Valentines before taking a right turn underneath Beecher’s Brook, with both elements providing ample forces. It drops down, and then there are two more hills with extreme air.
The two trains duke it out on a right-hand turn that is nearly at ground level, but still finds a way to drop down into yet another set of bunny hops. After going through these, the ride breaks a little before dropping down below the queue of unsuspecting new riders before rising up again to hit the Winning Post, where one train wins and another loses. The winner is not pre-determined and is decided by the weight of the trains.
Despite being built in 1935, it has aged well. However, not all things last forever, and the ride has had to be restored several times. In 1991, the station was rehabilitated after being left untouched since opening. In 1998 they removed the final car on all of the trains, though because the ride is dual tracked, capacity is still great. The most major renovation was on June 20th, 2004, when a fire destroyed the station, trains, and a little track, as well as parts of the Alice in Wonderland and Trauma Towers attractions. The park knew this ride was special and worked fast, rebuilding the station to its full glory in just five months. However, it got new trains with seat belts that lacked the jockey stripes on the original trains. It also received magnetic braking. While it hurts dispatch times and the classic feel of the ride, the ride experience is still great, and if you find yourself in the United Kingdom with a taste for amusement parks, this is a must-ride.
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