On Saturday last, an e-mail went round the European Coaster Club mailing list inviting people to visit Oakwood Theme Park on the 6th April for some early rides on their new coaster, Speed. It goes without saying that arranging a trip to Wales on five days notice is stretching the realms of possibility even for those who don't have to arrange time off work. Given these requirements, I made the altogether sensible decision not to go, banking on the fact that the park would not be going anywhere and that there would be plenty of time to ride the new coaster at a later date. Then, during my lunch break yesterday, my phone rang with the offer of a lift from Cardiff Airport. After brief consideration, I sought the day off work, and when clearance came through I had a look at booking flights. A cheap deal turned up with Air Wales, presumably trying to cut their losses before terminating scheduled services altogether in three weeks time. Four hours later, I was squeezed into the most modern of aircraft, an ATR42, bouncing through turbulent weather towards the UK.
The weather for our arrivalwas superb by local standards, with a clear blue sky in place of the semi-expected torrential downpour. The photographers among us were of course delighted, as a clear blue sky only happens about once a decade in Pembrokeshire. Given that the park was well into preparations for opening it was hardly surprising to see assorted rides around the park being tested. However, we had been warned in advance that the only ride available to us would be Speed (#679). As we approached we could see the engineers from Gerstlauer fitting new wheels to the single car on the course. The park has purchased four in total, but the other three were not on site yet, having being caught up in the ongoing French general strike.
It might seem usual that a car would be tested with water dummies after such a fundamental change as new wheels, but once the engineers were satisfied with their work the human dummies were summoned and invited to board the car - by ladder no less. After loading, one of the engineers spent quite a bit of time wiping down the segment of track in front of us with grease, apparently in an attempt to stop the wheels squeaking too much. With that out of the way, the car was dispatched.
Speed may be only nine metres taller than the previous Eurofighter, but it looks and feels much bigger. Nowhere is this more evident than during the vertical ascent. Riders in the front row can see the track; those in the back have no visual reference whatsoever as to how high they are or how much more there is to go. As the car crests the hill all hell breaks loose. This is, of course, a cliché, but in this case it is absolutely genuine. The first drop is exactly as anyone might expect, but the hill immediately following is not; the train crests it at a phenomenal speed, introducing all riders to the upper portion of their restraints with a force that makes one feel that a low earth orbit would be a distinct possibility were they not present. This is followed by a banked turn and a classic Schwarzkopf-style forceful loop, and a block brake to allow riders to get their breath back. The second half begins with a slow heartline roll that is arguably the weakest point of the ride, before moving into a splendid finale: a powerful and strong helix that caused my stomach to start misbehaving after five consecutive rides.
There is no doubt that the park has a winner on their hands with this ride. The pacing of this coaster is as close to perfect as anything I could have asked for. The park deserves a substantial attendance boost from this attraction, and hopefully it will encourage more visitors to make the trip despite the barrier of its location (succinctly summarised as the back end of nowhere). Ten rides was the limit of what I could manage today, but they were good rides and I'm glad I made the effort to visit.