My travel plans this weekend were centered around a friend's wedding taking place just outside Solihull in England. Under ordinary circumstances I'd have taken a flight into nearby Birmingham Airport, but the cost of a rental car was completely ridiculous due to it being a holiday weekend. After some investigation I realised that it'd be cheaper to take my own car on the ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead, especially since I could knock a substantial chunk off the overall cost by using Tesco Clubcard vouchers. The fact that I'd be able to pick up a few coasters along the way would be an additional bonus.
The proverbial ink was still drying on my booking when my eighteen year old Saab abruptly developed a top speed of fifty-three miles per hour, less than 48 hours before my trusted mechanic was leaving on a three week holiday. He was able to diagnose the root cause for me before departing – it was a blocked DPF – but didn't have time to do anything about it until after his return. I thought about taking the car somewhere else to get it back on the road more quickly, but decided that I didn't have the mental energy to investigate alternatives.
My partner was kind enough to offer me the use of her electric car for the few days, but the number of charge stops needed for the 970 mile route I'd scoped out (not including detours to fast chargers) made this an unappealing option. Fortunately my parents were kind enough to lend me their Peugeot diesel, which was able to cover the distance with just a single five minute refuel. While I've every intention of moving to an EV myself in due course, I suspect it'll be a while before real world range gets even remotely close to that of an Internal Combustion Engine.
Cambrian Kiddies Fun Fair
26th August 2022
When I set about planning my route today I considered two options: the first was to follow a (mostly) straight line towards New Brighton Funfair, while the other was to mop up as many Welsh parks as possible. In the end I decided on the latter, primarily because I was travelling alone; I figured it'd be a mistake not to take advantage of the opportunity to do something really stupid without having to use up valuable brownie points with my partner. As ever there's method to my madness, I promise.
Ferries from Ireland to the United Kingdom dock at Holyhead, Fishguard, and Pembroke Dock. The former is located in the north-western corner of Wales, and the latter two are in the south-western corner. Cambrian Kiddies Fun Fair is located almost exactly half way down the coast, which is the main reason why I'd never visited before – it wasn't (and isn't) on any sensible route away from the ports. It's also nowhere near an airport, perhaps explaining why all but eight of the fifty-six visitors listed on Coaster-Count are UK residents.
The drive took me about ninety minutes, including a brief stop in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch to buy lunch. I joined a throng of people taking photographs of the railway station building and signage, which I promptly posted to social media in search of gratuitous and thoroughly meaningless virtual adulation. One suspects that the lion's share of daily visitors to the area do precisely the same thing, and it'd be rude not to follow the crowd on something like this.
My GPS went slightly crazy on the road into Barmouth town, but after a few U-turns and choice colourful metaphors I found my way into an enormous seafront parking lot (52.7205, -4.0548). I paid for an hour, activated my ever-present credit whoring powers, and set out on a mission.
Cambrian Kiddies Fun Fair is one of two parks located side by side on the waterfront, almost directly across the road from the local railway station. The unnamed adult park contains three full-sized rides that accept cash: Dodgems, a Sizzler, and a Waltzer. My target was in the adjacent fenced area, containing family attractions accessed using tokens supplied by a central cash box. Caterpillar Coaster (#3032) is a relatively unusual example of a Big Apple with a tyre-driven lift hill; today it required five tokens (£2.50) for a three lap cycle.
Zip World Fforest
26th August 2022
Zip World is a chain of adventure parks, founded in 2013, with five locations across Wales. As of this writing two have rides that fit into the extended roller coaster family: Zip World Tower (Hirwaun) has a CoasterKart, and Zip World Fforest (Betws-y-Coed) has an Alpine Coaster. The latter was more or less on the direct route I was planning to take, and given that I decided it'd be rude not to drop in for a visit. Readers retracing my step on a budget may want to consider rudeness as a legitimate option; to be blunt, the ride is overpriced and decidedly underwhelming when compared to alpine coasters in other places.
Admission to the park is free, with each attraction priced individually. Fforest Coaster costs £30.50 (~€35.40) to book online, comprising £27 for three laps (the minimum available) and a further £3.50 for an unavoidable website administration fee. To put this figure in context, as of this writing an all day ticket for Oakwood Theme Park booked a week in advance costs £27.75 with no additional fees. Oakwood also doesn't require patrons to sign a liability waiver and grant unlimited use of photographs and videos taken “for promotional purpose, including, printed literature, website, advertising, videos, [and] social media”.
The email confirmation asked me to show up thirty minutes before my booked time, which I did – only to be told at check-in that operations were running behind schedule, and that my "adventure" was likely to be delayed. I was invited to spend more money at the coffee shop while I waited, a kind offer that I politely declined. In the end I was allowed to join the back of the ride queue 25 minutes after my booked time, or almost an hour after I was instructed to arrive on site. It could have been worse I suppose.
Fforest Coaster starts with two lift hills separated by an eighty degree turn to the right at the midpoint (53.1017, -3.7835). It has a respectable total height differential of around 95 metres, and as I crossed the apex for the first time I remember thinking that the elevation alone should guarantee something reasonably decent. Unfortunately within a few moments I realised that my sled was being braked automatically at key locations, badly hurting the overall pacing and rendering the overall experience more than a little disappointing. The second lap was no better.
I seriously considered bailing out of my third and final lap, especially as it had begun to rain, but decided that I might as well get the full value for my money. This was a mistake on my part, leaving me quite damp by the time I made it back to the boarding platform. The resulting on-ride video could well have been amusing, but I've no idea; I wasn't prepared to pay the extra money required to see it.
26th August 2022
The weather wrote off my third planned stop at Llandudno Pier. The Runaway Mine Train was operating for my arrival, but the wet tyre drive motors were clearly struggling, and the operator decided to shut things down when I was next in line with tokens in hand. She told me that it would reopen if the weather cleared, but that didn't look likely for at least an hour or two. Furthermore the pier was rapidly emptying out, and many of the shops had closed their shutters for the day; I figured there was a significant chance that the ride operators would also take the opportunity to go home early.
I similarly struck out at Knightly's Funfair; though that park was open, the relocated powered Gold Mine Express wasn't, with covers on the train indicating more clearly than words that nothing was going to happen any time soon. I went to look at the ride anyway, and spotted signage in Polish, a surprise given the ride's last known home at Waarbeek; it has apparently toured more extensively than I realised.
Fun Land Towyn
26th August 2022
Fun Land Towyn wasn't particularly busy for my arrival, but it was fully operational and that was all that really mattered. I quickly picked up a ride card and headed for Runaway Train (#3033), my first real-life encounter with a type that has been a staple of the UK fair circuit for many years. While the basic design is now being mass-produced in Turkey by Guven Rides and River Rides, this unit was one of the originals manufactured in the UK – in this case by Jay Weightman. I had to sit sideways to close the restraint, perhaps suggesting that I might be a little bigger than the designers anticipated. I ended up enjoying my own private exclusive ride, and definitely didn't feel silly at all.
With that done I made my way to Magic Mouse, a standard Reverchon machine that once operated at Lightwater Valley in England. It has since been fitted with signage and branding promoting it as the UK's largest travelling coaster, a technically accurate if somewhat misleading claim given the presence of severalsimilarunits elsewhere in the country. The track has also been repainted from the original light green into a mild purple, albeit not entirely – the brake segments have been left untouched, as has the flat segment between the first and second drops. Multicoloured appearance notwithstanding, however, the ride experience was great; if I hadn't known the hardware was twenty-one years old I'd never have believed it.
I wrapped up my visit with a quick ride on the delightfully misspelled Happy Caterpiller.
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