We climbed the 420 steps to the top of the famous 235ft tall ride on a beautifully sunny and clear day
Rollercoasters are like marmite – you either love the thrill and excitement of them, or you don’t.
There’s so many variations, from rides that spin, are water-based, designed to scare you or are purely about exhilarating speed, often with huge, steep drops and upside-down loops thrown in for the fun of it. And put simply, Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s The Big One is firmly an extreme white-knuckle ride.
At 235ft high at its tallest point, it is one of the highest roller coasters in the world and reaches speeds of a whopping 137 kilometres per hour, with a G-force up to 3.5g but the real kicker is the infamous first drop, which has an incline angle of 65 degrees. It’s three minutes of adrenaline-boosting fun, weaving between other rides in the park such as the Big Dipper and past Nickelodeon Land, if you like that kind of thing.
Now, we’ve been on The Big One on countless occasions over the years, hopping happily into the signature Union Jack-painted carriages, smiling and screaming as it accelerates and whooshes around the track – and high of the adrenalin, we’re always desperate to get right back on once its all over.
But this time, we were heading towards The Big One for a slightly different kind of experience. This spring and summer, Blackpool Pleasure Beach is offering a Walk the Big One XL experience, where fans of heights can, quite literally, walk up the roller coaster to enjoy unique access and spectacular views of the ride, the park and the sea.
LancsLive were invited to try the theme park’s new experience, which promises to be more extreme than an previous offering, involving walking up 420 steps to the highest point as well as being able to visit several different platforms around the ride’s. We were in the group to do it for the first ever time – and I can’t pretend that didn’t make me a little nervous!
In the past, during the chug up to the top of the first drop, with the carriages clicking and and clacking as it tentatively makes its way up, I’ve often looked at those red stairs at the side of the track thinking “I wouldn’t want to get stuck at the top and have to walk down those”. And yet, I find myself doing just that, voluntarily.
The whole experience starts with a thorough safety talk, with plenty of interesting facts and figures about the history of the ride, its mechanics and how it runs and is maintained. We are then fitted with our safety harness and helmet, which includes a special clip which attaches to a wire rail on the side of the steps for added security.
The harness was not too heavy and actually quite comfortable and was checked and re-checked to make sure it fitted and was not loose – reassuring. I was joined by two other park guests, along with two other members of fully-trained staff on the casual climbs and two staff members ready and waiting at the bottom. The Pleasure Beach’s head of operation Andy Hygate was our tour guide.
He is by far the most knowledgeable roller coaster expert I have and will probably ever meet. Even if you’re not remotely interested in rides and themes parks, it’s hard not to be sucked in by his infectious passion for it. His decades of experience travelling the world to learn the ins and outs of rides, makes him the ultimate roller-coaster oracle.
He calls himself ‘ a theme park geek’ but he is doing himself an injustice there, as his stories of travelling to Dubai to ride the fastest roller coaster last week was just one of many fascinating tales, and is probably the most extreme kind of market research there is. I am keen not to give absolutely everything away, so that people who have booked or plan to book this experience still have some element of surprise. Andy took us to the first platform, which is located at one of the flatter parts of the track and it was our first glimpse of the views the riders will not be able to register as they fly past at break-neck speeds.
We couldn’t have been more fortunate with the weather, with bright, hazy sunshine, blue skies and only a slight and gentle breeze, and we got to take in a good, clear sea view at this point. It wasn’t too high, either, so a good way to work up to the top.
The second trek gave us a glimpse behind the scenes at the park into areas only staff are usually permitted, as we made out way to the 16-flights of stairs to get us to the next viewpoint. This felt like the first ‘proper climb’ and my calves started to tighten a little and my heart beating that teeny bit faster. By this point, the most unnerving point was the fact that the stairs were see-through.
Next, we headed to what we were all here for – the 235ft ascent to the highest point. At the bottom we were told there would be a number of stops on the way up, in order to catch our breath and check we were OK to continue. This is the first time all day that I’d started to feel some dread.
But I was both amazed and disturbed by how all of the support staff were completely unmoved by the whole thing. One guide, Zak Reid, who was reassuringly just behind me on the climb, didn’t even hold onto the railings. Because, to him, this was his job and was as normal as me making a cup of tea. While his colleague Claire Birkett, was similarly nonchalant about the whole thing.
Now, I’ve climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and that is almost double the height, but that seemed like a cake walk compared to this. Why? Because it is steep, and so much more open to the elements, there is zero cover and were told how much any kind of wind effect the structure, as it is not designed to stay static, it will wobble. I was thankful we climbed on a still day.
The higher we went, it was my legs that started to wobble. They got more jelly-like by every step but by 200ft, I was so over-awed by the breath taking views, which stretched further than Blackpool Tower in the distance and St Annes the other way, that I forgot all about it.
Then we reached the famous red light beacon at the summit, which acts as a warning to anything flying overhead, I looked down and I shocked myself how I didn’t feel any fear, just a sense of achievement and gratitude that I had been able to do such a once-in-a-lifetime thing. No superlative can really do it justice and it compares to nothing I have ever done before.