Colin Glen is a respectably large public park in West Belfast that has become known over the years for its walking trails and sports facilities. In September 2019, the Board of Directors announced a series of new attractions, the highlight being an attraction advertised as Ireland’s first alpine toboggan. While manufacturer details were not released at the time, an article that appeared in December that year revealed a few sections of a Brandauer Mountain Coaster and a planned launch date of early 2020. Unfortunately, as all of us now know, the world had other plans.
The long-delayed public debut of the Black Bull Run finally took place in July 2021. In an ideal world I’d have been there, given its location around two hours drive from my home. Unfortunately it wasn’t legally possible at the time, as the authorities banned anyone from crossing the invisible but entirely real international border from Ireland into Northern Ireland without an “essential reason” – and alpine coasters did not qualify. Even if I had been allowed to go, it seemed unnecessarily foolhardy to do so when I was just weeks away from being pfully pfizered.
I considered making an immediate visit after both issues were cleared, but decided that it wasn’t worth the risk given that I would soon need to pass a Covid test ahead of an extended US trip. I also decided against going right away when I got back to Ireland; I figured that I could do with a weekend at home to tackle a month worth of laundry and accumulated housework.
My trip today began with me completing a legal waiver and booking tickets online. While I could have done without this, I will at least say that the verbiage was sensible in comparison to some of the documentation I was required to sign for similar rides in the United States – in that there was no attempt to divert liability for death or personal injury caused by Colin Glen’s negligence. The only vaguely ridiculous clause was one stating that Colin Glen couldn’t guarantee that visitors would not become infected with Covid-19. The fact that something like this has been deemed necessary in this day and age makes make very glad that I chose not to enter the legal profession. What do you call ten thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.
The admission cost today was £15.50 (€18) per person covering scovered three laps on the Black Bull Run, though I learned on arrival that management are a little flexible on that number; guests who get stuck behind slow-moving troglodytes can tell staff, and they will be allowed to ride an extra time at no cost. This is a great policy, and one which I fervently hope remains in place into the future; there is nothing more frustrating for enthusiasts than losing out on a proper ride due to circumstances beyond their control. It isn't possible to split a ride package between multiple guests, as online bookings are exchanged for individual wristbands.
Before you can join the queue an “instructor” takes you through the complete list of safety rules one at a time, a process that takes around five minutes. There were no surprises here, and in fact I rather suspect the regulations to have been supplied by Brandauer as their logo was clear to see on the signage. The person reading through the list today had a curious sense of humour, warning us not to put our fingers in the open space around the sled control handles because he didn’t want to clean up the mess if they got severed. I'm not sure if this is the standard approach or not, though I hope it is – it's much easier to concentrate on than the alternative.
The ride itself is almost certainly the shortest alpine coaster I’ve experienced in my travels. A full speed descent from the boarding station at the top lasts approximately thirty-five seconds, rising to about forty if you pay attention to two signs telling you to brake. The first of these is above a steep descent that is more or less blind; until you cross the apex you can’t actually see the track in front, so there is a distinct risk of ramming someone who is either going slowly or who has stopped. If you’re prepared to gamble however (and I do not advocate this) there is actually some airtime to be had here. The second is before a tight right turn with clear sight lines but strong lateral forces; I went through this the first time at full pelt, and decided to be a little more circumspect on laps two and three.
While it’s nice to see any new attraction within driving distance of home, I can’t in good conscience recommend Colin Glen to enthusiasts after a coaster fix. While the ride is fine for what it is, it pales in comparison to similar machines elsewhere in the world, and the price tag is well above the going rate on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The charge per lap is marginally more competitive, but let’s be real here – it’s not likely that a large percentage of visitors would do three laps if individual pricing was offered. I hold out some hope that this may change in the future once the novelty has worn off, though experience suggests that that might be optimistic to the point of foolishness; time will tell.
The park is also home to two zip lines: a 200m version available now and a longer 700m one due to launch in the near future. The real star attractions however are the walking trails decorated with occasional fibreglass characters to keep children happy. I spent a pleasant two hours wandering, which was a great deal longer than I’d have anticipated beforehand. With that done, I collected a free car park token from the ticket office and headed for home.