Brean Theme Park is a relatively small amusement park located about twenty miles away from Wells Cathedral, where I was spending the week with St Bartholomew's Choir. Choir trips usually entail a rehearsal in the morning and a service in the evening, with around six hours of free time in the middle of each day. The adults on the trip organise a series of activities to keep the twenty or so boys occupied for this time. The musical portion of this trip concluded with a lunch time concert on Saturday, allowing the entire afternoon and evening for some suitable leisure activity. During the planning stages of the trip, I suggested a trip to Brean Theme Park might be a good way of using this time, and this proposal was accepted.
The park proved surprisingly difficult to locate from Wells, even though the distance was no more than twenty five miles. We were using computer directions rather than a map, which didn't help much, but nevertheless there was a surprising lack of any signage from the park even when we were within five miles of it. There was one occasion where several cars performed U-turns only to discover that they had in fact been going in the correct direction all along. Eventually we arrived, and began our visit with a one hour stay in the adjoining water complex.
To call the changing rooms disgusting does not do them justice. Perhaps I am spoilt by those at my regular gym, but the quantity of mud streaked across the floor was simply unbelievable. No doubt it had been cleaned at some point in the past, but it certainly wasn't obvious. Even disregarding the lack of cleanliness, and the paint stripping off the wall, and the faintest whiff of stale body odour, the size of the changing rooms was woefully inadequate for the numbers using them. The bench area could comfortably seat four, and our group of just under thirty adults and children were not the only people in there.
The indoor pool was quite possibly the smallest swimming pool I have ever seen, and somewhere around one hundred people were crammed into it. Naturally the boys were delighted by this, because a lack of space becomes very useful indeed when trying to splash water in people's faces. Even if the victim saw what was coming ahead of time, which was the case more often than not, they simply could not get out of the way before the water hit.
Also available was a small but rather good water slide, with one major caveat; the entrance was outside. During the middle of the summer this probably wouldn't be a major issue, but a five minute outdoor queue for a water slide in seven degree weather is not a good thing. Hardly anyone in the group did the slide more than once, most likely to ameliorate the risk of hypothermia. A larger outdoor pool and some slides were visible from the queue, but they had obviously not been opened for the season yet, and the colour of the water contained within was not pleasant.
After experiencing the water complex, I was feeling more than a little trepidation as we made our way into the park. Visiting Brean in the first place had, after all, been my suggestion, and the swimming pool hadn't exactly been promising. Although that suggestion could not be blamed on me, the park definitely could. Fortunately, I need not have worried. The ride area was clean, and more importantly for our group, largely deserted.
Visiting a park with more than twenty children in tow oddly is not that different from visiting parks with coaster clubs, which consist entirely of children of all ages. The presence of a quantity of parents no doubt helped, but if anything, the choir group demonstrated a higher level of maturity than your average club member, with everyone on their best behaviour. Wristbands were purchased for all, and we broke into smaller groups to explore the various rides on offer.
As my group walked over towards the two major Roller Coasters, I spotted three members of the ECC, George, Andy, and Darren, already on board. Though I had known ahead of time that they would be here, having driven down from Birmingham for the day, it was still nice to see the three of them together for the first time since Belgium last September. We headed directly for the coaster they were on, the Sky Ways Roller Coaster (#391), my first Pinfari Z47. This model originally operated at Blackpool Pleasure Beach from 1974 to 1987, followed by ten years at Frontierland, before moving to its current home at Brean. The ride layout is almost identical to the Schwarzkopf-designed Wildcat coasters, and in fact could easily be confused with them.
Directly across from the exit was Shock Wave (#392), one of just two remaining Pinfari TL59 models, the other being Looping at Karolinelund. There was one vicious bump towards the end of the ride, which left me with a mild headache, but for the most part this model ran a lot more smoothly than its clone in Denmark. Better maintenance maybe, but who knows?
The log flume at Brean is the common portable model with plexiglas shields over the drops that reflect the splashed water back into the boat and onto the passengers. None of the choir boys believed me when I warned them this would happen, resulting in one particularly impolite gesture being made in my direction as I watched with amusement (and my camera!).
I managed to coax the rest of my group into riding the final coaster, the Caterpillar (#393), though they all thought (correctly) that we were probably a bit big for it. My only disappointment is that we were not spotted by any of the younger members of the group, as it would have provided an amusing topic for conversation in the car on the way home!
With the coasters out of the way, it was time to try out some of the spin rides. It is at this point that I have to make my major criticism of Brean, and it is not one you'll hear often, but here we go; the ride cycles are too long. I appreciate that people can buy individual ride tickets as well as a wristband, and value for money is not a bad thing, but really, the enjoyment factor goes down a long way if two thirds of riders are feeling sick when they disembark. Case in point was my first spin ride of the day, the X-Treme. This is a KMG copy of the Fabbri Booster ride, a 130ft arm with cars at each end that spins vertically at a fair rate. The KMG version is slightly slower than the Fabbri, so riders don't feel the blood rushing to their feet, and for our cycle at least only spun in one direction. This was a relief, as the ride lasted by my estimation almost five minutes. The Fabbri models by default give you twelve spins in each direction, for a very good reason. Ugh.
Worse was to come. Brean is home to a Superbowl ride, which I have ridden many times before at Funderland Dublin. In Funderland, loading and checking the cars was no more than a two minute job. In this case, though, it took about ten minutes to get everyone secure. Part of the problem was the restraints, which were large and unwieldy; certainly not the ones seen elsewhere. They looked to me like someone had wrapped a few layers of garbage bags around the existing thin lap bar to make it much bigger and heavier. This not only looks ugly, but also punches riders in the stomach from time to time. Perhaps the ride operators were trying to make up for slow loading by giving a long cycle, but eight minutes ten seconds was enough to have everybody in the car feeling ill.
I tried to recover by playing a round of Dance Dance Revolution, and trying the Terror Castle dark ride. The latter seemed to consist entirely of very loud (and odd) noises as an alternative to any real scenery, though it did have a Roller Coaster style drop in the middle of it, similar to the model at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
My stomach finally let go on trying out the Wipeout, a KMG Afterburner ride, again run for a stupidly long cycle of over four minutes. Though I did not throw up, I ended up spending about twenty minutes lying prone on a bench. I had been lying there for less than a minute before one of the staff members at the park came over to ask if they could be of any assistance. Obviously in this case the answer was no - it was my own fault after all - but I was impressed by the attention no less. Needless to say, the choir boys were utterly delighted that one of the adults had made themselves sick, especially since most of them were better able to pace themselves!
By the time I had recovered enough to ride anything else, it was approaching time to leave, so I sneaked one last go on the Shock Wave before departing.