When I first travelled to Paultons Park back in 2006 it was a pleasant if somewhat obscure family park that had put itself on the enthusiast map with the addition of Cobra, a near-clone of the highly regarded G’sengte Sau (albeit without the elaborate theming). When I returned in 2016 it had transformed into a mainstream park with ambition; the then-new Lost Kingdom area (anchored by two Vekoma coasters) was a very real statement of intent. Investment has continued apace over the intervening years, with the (current) capstone being the addition of Tornado Springs, arguably the most elaborately themed area in any British park.
In order to maximise my visit I decided to join an event run by the European Coaster Club that featured both exclusive ride sessions and some backstage access. My partner and I arranged time off work and a ten day holiday split between the UK and Gibraltar, and we’d just finished locking in our flight bookings when we discovered that the club event was in fact scheduled for Saturday 10th September rather than the Saturday 17th September we had in our heads. It was too late to course-correct, so after a few profound colourful metaphors we bought admission tickets as ordinary punters. It was annoying to miss the special event, though we did at least have the benefit of short queues – which peaked at ten minutes despite gloriously sunny weather.
We began our morning with Farmyard Flyer (#3038), a custom-layout Zierer family coaster built with the rolling stock and track designed for the Force series. The ride is very much in the junior category, with a height differential not radically different to the Force One, but for all that our two lap cycle in the front seat was a lovely way to wake up. The ride theming was excellent, too; we spotted a moving propeller on the train, an air traffic control tower, and – interestingly – the remnants of an actual crashed aircraft: G-BICS was written off in 2018 after colliding with a hedge, fortunately without injury to either the pilot or passenger.
With the kiddie coaster out of the way we made our way to Storm Chaser (#3039), the third installation of the Mack spinning coaster design that premiered in 2007 as Sierra Sidewinder. The ride routes above and around the new Tornado Springs area, and the interaction elevates what would have already been a top notch coaster to another level entirely. Our first ride in the front seat was great, with powerful spinning and flawlessly smooth tracking. We’d have liked the journey to have been a little longer, but realised that we could solve that problem ourselves by going around for a second lap in the back. This was in hindsight a mistake; the rear car basically failed to spin, and as a result we took virtually the entire layout backwards, leaving us feeling more than a little queasy. We decided to forego a third lap in the interests of avoiding pavement pizza.
Instead our next stop was the park’s Riverside Walk, a five-hundred metre long path that routes past the Donoughmore Cross, a Celtic-style cross marking the pet cemetery on the old Paultons estate. The sounds, sights, and smells of the theme park are almost completely absent in this area, and the same can be said of the landscaped gardens which occupy a little over six acres of space between the various themed lands. We particularly liked the large number of animals that had been sculpted from greenery, comprising everything from elephants to snakes.
The park’s oldest coaster is Cat-O-Pillar, a twenty-two year old medium-sized Zierer Tivoli that has the curious distinction of being the last new example of the type to go to a European park. It was originally branded as Stinger, and today the red track from that era could be seen in places where the newer green paint had scraped away. Appearances notwithstanding, however, the ride was running in as-new condition with the standard pleasing whirr endemic to the type. (As a fun aside, a sign in the queue advises more timid children to sit towards the front for a calmer ride experience, which is counter-intuitive but entirely true. I wonder how many people ignore it.)
Stop number five became Flight of the Pterosaur, a 395m Vekoma SFC. There are seven of these in the world, and I’ve seen six of them over the years, though I didn’t get to ride the unit in Kyiv due to a technical problem and I suspect my chances of returning to it in the near future are broadly comparable to my chances of winning the Euromillions/Powerball, delete as per geography. Today this machine (the fourth) was running perfectly, with none of the bumps found on its brother at Gröna Lund back in July. We followed this up with the back seat on Velociraptor, a design that has now been cloned an incredible eighteen times – mostly in China. Once again the ride experience was flawless: a definite ten out of ten.
The only real negative of the day was my decision to ride Edge, a Zamperla Disk’O Coaster. I should have realised there was a problem when the retrofitted seatbelt wouldn’t close over my legs. A member of staff suggested that I could close it if I sat back, then wiggled forward – which I was able to do, at the cost of having the seatbelt digging into me for the entire ride. That, coupled with elevated nausea, turned the ninety second cycle into an experience to forget. It may be time for me to retire from this ride type; while it was fun in 2016, it definitely didn’t hit the spot for me today.
Cobra, on the other hand, still holds is own sixteen years after I rode it for the first time, with forceful mouse turns in the first section and respectable airtime in the second. An effective head-chopper effect in the middle of the airtime hills represented icing on what was already a delicious cake. As time goes by I become more and more convinced that Gerstlauer is at its best with this style of ride; I’ve yet to ride a bad one, while some of their other product lines (such as the Eurofighter) have some real lemons in service, not mentioning any in particular.
On the way out, we made two final stops at Trekking Tractors (because why not) and Buffalo Falls, a boat slide with rafts. The latter was great, both for thrill value and for the photo opportunities of Storm Chaser. If I think of it on my next visit I'll ride again when the sun is in a better position.