On Friday evening we caught a flight to Bristol departing from a newly renovated area of Dublin Airport at the far end of pier D, where we found four departure gates shoehorned into a small area that reminded me very much of the temporary portacabin bunker that was a feature of low cost flights from Ireland from 2006 to 2007. The aircraft operating our service arrived some thirty minutes late from its previous stop at Amsterdam, and perhaps recognising this the gate crew broke with all Ryanair tradition by not making an announcement about the flight being ready for boarding until it actually was.
Bristol Airport has no passport control for flights from Ireland, making the arrival process quick and straightforward. Once through we made our way to the consolidated rental car facility located across the road and down several flights of stairs from the terminal. It took all of thirty seconds to collect paperwork from the Avis Preferred desk, and scarcely longer than that to locate our car, a white Ford Fiesta. The colour made the obligatory damage check straightforward, and having validated that nothing was amiss we set off for our overnight hotel in Exeter, which satnav predicted as being a little over an hour away.
Motorways in the United Kingdom are officially limited to seventy miles per hour, but eighty is the norm for the vast majority of drivers. As we accelerated to match the speed of other traffic the car began to beep frantically, settling at what it thought to be seventy-five but what my somewhat more trustworthy GPS suggested was actually sixty-eight. Flicking through the various menus in the onboard computer revealed that this limit was hard-coded onto the key I'd been given, leaving me no choice but to remain into the left lane and watch as car after car went past me. The underpowered engine lost a few miles per hour every time the road sloped uphill, causing the incessant noise to start again each time the gradient levelled. I found myself cursing the nanny state culture in the UK and longing for my own car at home.
Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre
15th July 2017
Our morning began with a three quarter hour drive to Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre in a rural part of Devon, where we met up with about a dozen members of the European Coaster Club. It was disappointing to see such a poor turnout for the South West Weekender despite the schedule featuring four interesting destinations over a two day period, though it was perhaps understandable due to the high cost of hotel accommodation in the area during the summer months. (Our round trip flights for two people cost less than one night of accommodation, and while the total cost of the event for us was comparable to any other European break it was definitely more expensive than UK-resident members would typically expect).
The centre is a veritable treasure trove of old fairground equipment and memorabilia, covering everything from arcade machines to transport trucks to living wagons. We were given a thirty minute guided tour by the curator that was extremely interesting and informative, even to those of us who might have assumed a certain knowledge of the subject. In due course we ended up in what was always going to be the prime draw, a hall full of working classic machines that reminded me very much of the exhibit at Folly Farm. The presentation here was if anything better, with decorative colours hanging from the ceiling that did a fair job (pun intended) of disguising the fact that we were walking around an oversized garden shed.
Our first ride was on the Moon Rocket, built by Robert Lakin and Co of London for showman John Shaw, who presented it for the first time in 1938. It was interesting to learn that it is the very last of its kind, having been acquired and restored following a fundraising campaign a few years ago. The experience is broadly equivalent to the Matterhorn rides of today, with passengers sitting in swinging rocket-shaped cars that are rotated at twelve revolutions per minute on a sloped base. However it feels much faster than that as the centre rotates at the same speed in the opposite direction. The intensity level of the ride at full speed was impressive for a machine that was almost eighty years old, and reflects a design that was well ahead of its time.
The group headed next to Super Chariot Racer, a so-called "Noah's Ark" ride that can be thought of as a forerunner to the modern Gallopers. The name originated from the fact that passengers had a choice of a wide variety of animals on which to ride. This particular unit, dating from 1934, was one of over fifty versions built by Orton & Spooner of Burton on Trent, and while not many remain today there are till a handful that travel in various countries, notably one of the same age that operates with Carters Steam Fair.
The Super Dodgems were also produced by Orton & Spooner, and though the exact year of delivery is unknown the history has been traced to at least 1932 when they were acquired by the Edwards family. The original hardware was upgraded several times over the years, stretching the base to ninety-six feet (from its original sixty) and adding elaborate painted scenery to outdo a similar attraction operated by a competing showman. The cars in use today are not original, having been produced in the 1970s by Italian firm SDC, but even that vintage is impressive when one considers how much abuse bumper cars receive in day to day operation. The cars were very well padded, and as a result the impacts were far less jarring than those on more modern sets even when one particular individual engineered a near head-on collision!
The last attraction for me was the Ghost Train, built in 1947 by the imaginatively named Amusement Supplies Company for Joe Stevens of Chertsey, who toured it for almost half a century with only minor alterations. The experience was broadly similar to the more modern equivalents with light up horrors, strings hanging on the ceiling, and loud noises. The one unique effect was a water splash that came right at the end, and though this was an interesting novelty I'm not sure I'd want to see the same thing appearing on the version that comes to Dublin during the winter months! (As an aside, the information board at the front revealed the provenance of the "Ghost Train" name, which apparently originated from the title of a theatre mystery thriller written in 1923 by the English actor and playwright Arnold Ridley. Who knew?)
15th July 2017
My first trip to Crealy Park took place way back in April 2002, and though I'd developed an interest in roller coasters at that stage it was a couple of months before the seminal tour around the United Kingdom with the American Coaster Enthusiasts that would really set my hobby in motion. As a consequence I have only a handful of photographs from that day, and about the only thing they tell me for certain is that I rode the coaster then known as El Pastil Loco with a handful of choristers from Saint Bartholomew's Choir. Given that today's visit, fifteen years and a thousand parks later, might as well have been my first.
The group elected to start with Twister Rollercoaster (#2346), the newest iteration (or perhaps irritation?) of the MX52 spinning coaster design SBF Visa copied from Reverchon. My threepreviousencounters with the type left me with very low expectations of this installation, and to be fairly blunt these turned out to be pretty much on the money. On the plus side, the three operational cars were fitted with lap bars. On the negative side, the track quality was mediocre in the extreme, there wasn't much spinning, and the queue was an endurance test thanks to repeated announcements about not sitting on the fence and how bags must be left in a locker. The club was originally supposed to have an ERS on this at the end of the day, and to be honest I was glad that it was scrapped; one ride was ample.
We had a much better time on Shark Bay (#2347), as the entire group was able to get into the same train, which we suspect loaded it with more weight than it had taken before (or will likely take in the future outside of enthusiast visits). The base frame was adorned with an inflatable starfish, though the air had been let out of it, giving it a somewhat flaccid appearance. The ride was the centrepiece of an Atlantis-themed indoor area that looked pretty nice, and though most of us skipped over the rest of it Darren decided to wait for the Dolphin Drop, a heavily themed frog hopper.
The group made a brief stop in front of the live action pirate show before heading for Maximus, rethemed for the 2010 season with assorted replicas of ancient Rome including several statues and a small scale colosseum. The first drop was partially enclosed at the same time, upgrading the experience a little, though at the end of the day the sensations remain those of a standard model ride and therefore not something that we needed to do more than once. We did at least get the back row, and the operators gave us two cycles for the price of one.
With the credits complete our group decided to try the Dino Jeeps, a Zamperla-built tracked ride whose theming and paintwork was clearly influenced by the original Jurassic Park movie. The vehicles were clearly not designed with a full load of adults in mind, and the two in front of us were definitely moving more slowly around the track than expected. This caused ours to gradually catch up, and every time we got close we were treated to a sudden hard stop courtesy of the blocking system. My knee was essentially wedged into the horn button, though it had no effect; the tooting noise was completely ignored by the moving roadblock in front.
I'd happily have spent another hour wandering around the park, but the group that we were exploring with decided that credit whoring was the order of the day, and that was that. Google Maps allowed us to quickly assemble a shared itinerary, starting with a brief appetiser at nearby Funder Park followed by a somewhat more exciting main course of Zamperla spinning coaster on the seafront. With the routing agreed we trooped back to our respective cars and hit the road.
15th July 2017
Our intrepid satellite navigation computer did some very silly things on the route from Crealy Park to Funder Park, bringing us along single track roads for virtually the entire journey. Fortunately we didn't encounter a single vehicle heading in the opposite direction, though we did lose a full ten minutes off the arrival time thanks to a completely unrealistic speed expectation. If anyone from Garmin is reading this, a little bit of common sense would be nice in your system logic, starting with the fact that single track roads are good for an average speed of no more than ten miles per hour, and in some places even that figure is optimistic.
Martin had told us about a substantial public car park at the entrance to the town on the right hand side immediately before a railway bridge, and we decided it would be easiest to stop there. Payment had to be made with coins only, and readers retracing our steps should bear in mind that the machine had been refitted to only accept the newly reissued pound coin, a potentially significant embuggerance given that the older bingo token version remains in wide circulation. Fortunately we had just enough loose change to assemble the minimum payment of £1.60 for the first hour, which we figured (correctly) to be about forty minutes longer than we'd actually need.
The park is a small one, with only a handful of attractions, including a pirate ship, bumper boats, a giant slide, a flying elephants ride from Czech manufacturer Kolmax Plus, and a standard layout family coaster with the wonderfully misspelled name of Wacky Warm (#2348). Though no official information exists it seems likely that the provenance of this error was with someone at the Turkish ride manufacturer, and it has apparently stuck; though a corrected sign has since been supplied the owners have chosen to leave the original in place for the entertainment of the chattering classes. Two members of our group were already riding as we approached, having chosen not to wait despite the fact that a whole convoy of vehicles was en route. By the time we'd purchased our tickets quite a few others had turned up, allowing a whole bunch of us to embarrass ourselves together while the impatient duo watched from the ground. The ride felt no different to the hundreds of other versions I've experienced, though I enjoyed the three laps nevertheless.
Paignton Green Funfair
15th July 2017
We didn't have exact coordinates for the fair at Paignton, but we decided to drive to the town then follow signs for the seafront. This worked out perfectly, as we spotted the rides almost immediately and then found a parking garage that was less than five minutes away on foot. Unlike most garages it was necessary to pre-pay, but fortunately the machine was configured to accept older coins which made things straightforward. Our first target was always going to be the major coaster, which at first glance looked like one that was new to me, though it subsequently turned out that I'd ridden Wild Mouse (DeVey) five years earlier at a fair in Belfast. The ride was by far my favourite of the day despite not being a new credit, as the car we were in managed to catch the various turns at just the right angle to enhance rather than retard spinning. The end result was a powerful and intense experience that was well up there with the very best mice I've ridden and in a league of its own compared to many other putatively identicalmachines.
There were no other coasters at the fair, but there was a tiny powered coaster with a sign proclaiming the fact that adults were welcome. Our group quickly staged an informal takeover of Go Gator (Farrell), much to the amusement of those around us. Megan even managed to shoehorn herself into the front car, normally reserved for a child, though she commented afterwards that a sudden stop might well have led to a minor injury given the close proximity of her face to the figurehead. The ride was fun for its sheer silliness, and we were laughing so hard that we lost track of the number of laps.