Ultimate at Lightwater Valley
Back in the late 1980’s when Robert Staveley was still in charge of Lightwater Valley, he wanted to bring a huge ride into the park, something that would launch Lightwater Valley into the public’s minds, and something that would blow other rides out of the water.
In 1991 the Ultimate opened at the back of the park, surrounding a golf course (which has now closed). At the time of opening it had been a real bad luck coaster, the ride manufacturer had gone bankrupt, engineers from British Rail and the park itself built the ride, track had to be remanufactured, it had all left Robert Staveley close to bankruptcy.
Opening to much fanfare, with competitions on BBC Radio 1, national media coverage lapped up the fact that this was the worlds longest roller coaster, imagine it, a world record breaking roller coaster in a park in North Yorkshire.
Approaching the park, the Ultimate peers over the trees, like a curious child watching for who dare to approach it to calm it down (sorry about that, I wanted to get a metaphor in, and that’s the best I can come up with……it gets better, I promise!). In the car park and it all but disappears from view. Walking through the park, there is very little evidence of its existence, it isn’t until you reach the crest of a grassy hill that it suddenly jumps out at you, reaching up to the sky in a beautiful way, a way that hides its real intentions.
The station building is huge, some 170 feet long, capable of holding both trains, two of the longest roller coaster trains in the country, capable of carrying 40 passengers each.
The trains are quite old fashioned looking, a little like old Schwarzkopf trains, with a mock steam train like front car. They are bulky, with huge wheels, the hard plastic seats not that comfortable, and a lap bar which is anchored in place through a plastic shroud to stop you getting fingers trapped – a plastic shroud that your knees are about to get to know intimately.
Pulling out of the station the train very slowly climbs the first lift hill, reaching 102 feet, its not the longest of lift hills, but it does take an eternity to get to the top. The train is so long that the front car is half way down the first drop before the back end is off the chain, meaning loads of hang time at the front, and loads of air time at the back as the back car gets dragged kicking and screaming over the top.
Racing downwards, the train hugs the ground, racing over small hills, as it does so the car links jingle underneath the train, the whole train has a noise which is not too dissimilar to Santa arriving on the roof top! Loosing quite a lot of speed as the train takes a slight right hand bend, passing through a patch of trees, the hole in the trees hiding small bunny hops which are designed to take off enough speed to mean the train doesn’t slam into the second chain lift full speed. As the train starts to climb the second lift hill it temporarily pauses while the motors kick into action, again slowly dragging the train up the lift hill, this one slightly taller at 107 feet.
At the top of the lift hill an anti roll back device creates a sound track to the ride, a booming sound which would really fit if playing through speakers to build tension, the vibration of the device rattling the train slightly as it passes over – we love the noise of that, its really simple and really sad, but that’s why we are enthusiasts!
The train slowly creeps around a left hand bend, approaching the second large drop. It was about here that Paul turned to me and said, ‘The Ultimate is a little like a woman’….I am not sure what he was getting at, but if it is, the first half is the nice start of the relationship, what is to come next is what happens as you have that inevitable question ‘does this make me look fat’ and you get the answer wrong!
The second drop dives through the trees, into a wooded area, the ride forcing you into your seat at the bottom of the drop, the track raising back upwards and into a sweeping right hand bend which, at the speed it carries, forces you to one side, the overpowering smell of wild garlic fills the air as you race around the bend.
Sweeping right then left then right again, these series of bends seem to get more and more violent, the change of direction swift and jerky. Eventually racing out of the trees you are once again in the open, long straight pieces of track lead you to two small hills creating a large amount of air time, before slamming you back into your seat.
Sweeping around a left hand bend, picking up speed, the train races into a short tunnel, exiting there is a tight left hand bend which creates large amounts of g force, the train climbing subtly upwards to race over the top of the tunnel, sweeping right and diving back down to enter a second, longer tunnel.
Emerging into the daylight again your experience on the Ultimate is over. A whopping 6 and a half minutes after leaving the station, covering 1.5 miles, you have just experienced one of the wildest rides in the country – its fast, its insane, it shouldn’t be allowed, but its so fun!