Readers based in Europe will be painfully aware of the ongoing saga that is Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Ireland currently shares a common travel area with the UK, making travel between the two countries very straightforward. Though the politicians on both sides claim otherwise it is not at all clear that this will endure after a so-called "no deal exit" which could happen as soon as October 31. Given the uncertainty I decided it was worth getting a few trips to England under my belt before deadline in order to fill in some of the blanks in my coaster count, beginning with a credit whoring expedition along the south coast.
15th June 2019
Littlehampton is a seaside town located just over fifty miles southwest of London. It is famous primarily for being home to the world headquarters of The Body Shop, though that status is under threat due to Brexit. Another major employer in the area is Harbour Park, a fifteen thousand square metre amusement park that was founded by Billy Butlin in 1932. Today it is owned by the Smart family, who have built out seventeen different attractions, all of which are aimed at families.
The ride now known as Ocean Coaster (#2689) began life as a perfectly ordinary Big Apple with a caterpillar-themed train and an exceptionally plain fascia. In 2016 the owners decided to replace the original train with a new model that featured a fish figurehead on its lead car and a flipper on the rear. In parallel to this the station was resprayed and themed banners were hung across the railings. The result doesn't quite stack up to the bestlookingexamples of the genre, but it is definitely several notches above the norm.
West Sands Fun Fair
15th June 2019
West Sands Funfair is located within the West Sands Holiday Park operated by Bunn Leisure. There is a security hut and vehicle barrier that prevents non-residents from driving into the place, but there are around a dozen parking spaces located outside and I had no problem laying claim to one for the fifteen minutes that it took me to hit and run the coaster. Though it is impossible to be completely certain, signposts for the Fun Fair can be found all around the surrounding village, which would tend to indicate that it is in fact open to the general public.
It was pouring rain when I arrived, and given that my first task was to ask a member of staff at the ticket office if the Big Apple (#2690) could be operated. The positive answer was my cue to hand over £2.50. No ticket was provided; instead, I was told to head to the coaster where an operator would meet me shortly. A few minutes later I'd completed two exceptionally damp laps and returned to my car to dry off.
Funland Amusement Park
15th June 2019
Funland Amusement Park in Hayling Island wasn't a new destination for me today, but it might as well have been given that my only previous visit was a hit-and-run made back in 2006 when the place looked very different. Both coasters from the time (and indeed the vast majority of the other rides) have been replaced over the intervening years; the Pinfari looping coaster went to Ireland (and subsequently to America) while the Super Nessi was sent to the great midway in the sky.
The park is located a few metres from a five mile long sandy beach, with which it shares a car park. An all day ticket costs £3, though the real world price for coaster enthusiasts is actually just £1 as the cost includes four complimentary ride tokens. These are sufficient to cover a lap on the larger coaster, and after a quick walkabout I bought three more at fifty pence each for the smaller one.
Funlandasaurus is one of the last surviving examples of the Super Dragon MD31, a Pinfari creation with a footprint similar to a Wacky Worm but a much more exciting layout. It spent the first twenty-three years of its life at Drayton Manor, and would likely still be operating there had it not been at the entrance to what is now Thomas Land. I was beaten to the back seat by an excited five year old, but I was able to claim second from back for four enjoyable laps. (The same basic design is still being sold today by various Turkish manufacturers, though to date they haven't proved as popular as the ubiquitous Big Apples.)
Runaway Mine Train is also one of the only examples of its type, acquired on the second hand market from Gulliver's Warrington. There have been suggestions on the rumour mill that the popular L&T mouse was sold on in the aftermath of the Smiler accident because Gulliver's management didn't want to risk operating a coaster with separate vehicles. Whether this story is true or not, the fact is that Funland now has one of just five operational examples of this layout worldwide, and the only one in the United Kingdom. Today it was delivering a pleasant if not outstanding ride with respectable forces in the turns and decent airtime on the drops.
15th June 2019
I'd intended the last stop of my day to be at Clarence Pier, a small seaside park that acquired two new coasters for this year to replace two retired at the end of 2017. My itinerary predicted a 5:00pm arrival, which I felt would give me ample time to enjoy the place and its surroundings prior to checking into a nearby hotel. As it turned out I'd massively overestimated how long I'd want at my earlier stops; it was just after 2:15pm when I parked my car and made my way towards the main entrance.
There was a sign in the ticket box indicating that the misnamed Mad Mouse was closed due to high winds, and though that wasn't good news it wasn't as annoying as it could have been as I was far more interested in riding Tidal Wave (#2691), the first European installation of a new style of spinning coaster from SBF. The MX611 layout is similar in scale to a Big Apple, but it is somewhat different as it features a diagonal lift hill and a steeper drop that is quite thrilling when you go over it backwards (as I did the first time round). A second installation has already appeared across the pond and I'd be extremely surprised if we don't see at least a few more in 2020.
After disembarking I faced a conundrum; I could either sit around for a while in the hope that the weather to improve, or I could find something else to do. The nearest alternative coasters I could find were almost 150 miles away, but after a quick check of opening hours I decided that I might as well head to them, as I knew that I had enough time to spend an hour there and get back to Clarence Pier before closing.
Funland at the Tropicana
15th June 2019
Two and a half hours later I parked my car in front of the Tropicana, a seafront landmark located in Weston-Super-Mare on the outskirts of Bristol. The building was originally constructed to front an outdoor swimming pool that operated from 1937 until 2000, when declining attendance and bad weather led to its permanent closure. The site lay derelict for fifteen years, and had been largely forgotten about by the time that street artist Banksy converted it into Dismaland, a thirty-six day exhibit described rather memorably as a family theme park unsuitable for children.
Since 2016 it has been home to Funland at the Tropicana, a small amusement park with fifteen different rides including a pair of roller coasters. I decided not to start with either, but instead made my way to Monster Express, a ghost train with an elaborate facade that looked from the outside like it might span multiple levels. There was indeed a slight incline from the boarding platform to the show building, but that and a descent at the exit represented the sole elevation changes; the rest was all on one level, and eminently forgettable. The one thing that stuck with me was a loud grinding noise caused by what I assume to have been an air conditioning system with a deformed fan blade.
Coaster number one became Wild Mouse (#2692), an improbably named Interpark Cyclon retrofitted with an overhead triangular seatbelt with heavily padded shoulder straps that the operator told me were required for everyone in the aftermath of what had happened a few weeks earlier in Yorkshire. This belt was locked over the lap bar, holding me in place more securely than I've ever been held in a ride of this type. The comfort level was absolutely fine, though, and I very much enjoyed my lap. Afterwards I caught a quick circuit on the Wacky Worm (#2693) before heading to the exit.
15th June 2019
It was forty five minutes before closing when I arrived back at Clarence Pier. The park was almost completely deserted, but the gates were open and a small number of operators were hanging around ready to run rides as needed. A train crested the lift of Mad Mouse (#2694) as I approached, and minutes later I'd acquired tickets and taken my seat for a lap of my own. The ride had the same bizarre retrofitted seatbelt arrangement as seen at Funland at the Tropicana, but as with its cousin the ride experience was unaffected.