The English theme park landscape, for a country so relatively small, is perhaps one of the most varied and most populated of any other similar-sized area in the world. Whilst there are many, many different amusement and theme parks dotted around, it is perhaps easiest to summarise by saying that there are five “major” coaster parks in England. Those are Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and last but not least, Drayton Manor. The first three of these parks are all owned by the same company, leisure giants Merlin Entertainments – who also incidentally own and run Heide Park in Germany, and Gardaland in Italy. Consequently, the latter two parks in the list are both family owned and run; Blackpool by the Thompson family, and Drayton by the Bryans.
This has, in the last decade, lead to somewhat of a discrepancy between the Merlin parks and the family owned parks in terms of investment. Whilst Alton Towers and Thorpe Park run on 4 year development cycles (meaning that they receive a large investment such as a major coaster or dark ride at least once every 4 years; as well as other substantial additions in the intervening years), Blackpool and Drayton are far less financially stable, and far more rarely add anything of note. Indeed, Blackpool’s last new roller coaster was the Pepsi Max Big One, installed in 1994. To give some context, since then Alton Towers have added 8 roller coasters, and Thorpe Park 6 – as well as many other flat rides and dark rides. Chessington World of Adventures is somewhat lesser invested in; its large zoo, and relative proximity to the more thrill-based Thorpe Park guarantees a more family-oriented atmosphere and therefore it has not seen nearly the same scale of development of the other two Merlin parks.
In spite of all this, England is home to an array of interesting and, if no longer groundbreaking, still original and thrilling roller coasters. Nemesis at Alton Towers is still regarded as one of the top coasters in the world, whilst the Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach still stands as perhaps the most iconic Arrow coaster ever constructed. Merlin Entertainments, after their acquirement of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park in 2007, continued the tradition that Alton Towers had maintained since ‘94 with regular “world’s first” additions – the world’s first dive coaster (Oblivion), the world’s first flying coaster (Air) as well as the world’s first freefall drop coaster (Thirteen), and the world’s most inverting coaster (The Smiler).
Have no doubt whilst you can visit mainland Europe for newer and taller rides, and the US for larger numbers and more extreme models – England persists as a country where you can ride one of the last remaining wooden Wild Mice (Blackpool Pleasure Beach), and then drive an hour down the motorway and reach the world’s most inverting coaster (The Smiler). That is most certainly a generational gap in coaster terms that you rarely find anywhere else.