Wicker Man Review
Wicker Man was the UK’s first wooden coaster in over 21 years. Pretty insane right? Maybe that’s why it created so much excitement and anticipation among the coaster enthusiasts. But with all that excitement comes a lot of pressure on Alton Towers to get things right - people were expecting big things from them. Especially as this was their first new large scale ride to be built since the Smiler incident and they needed it to help drawn in the crowds that were once there.
The ride they produced is absolutely stunning. Really. Despite the pressure of it being a much anticipated ride, Alton Towers and Great Coasters International (GCI) really pulled it off. In my eyes, it’s easily the best wooden coaster in the UK, and that’s all we could have asked from them. In total, Wicker Man cost a whopping £16 million - but it’s worth every penny when you take into account the quality of the theming across the whole area. It’s an experience just stepping into the queue line and pre-show, let alone going on the actual ride itself. They really raised the bar high with this ride in every aspect. Could this be the level of quality that Alton Towers aims to continue delivering in the future? I really hope so.
Because Wicker Man isn’t just a coaster (it’s an experience), I want to talk about each element of the ride and how it helps to make it great. Each individual piece of the puzzle needs to be of the highest quality in order to produce a stand out ride like Wicker Man.
When even just the entrance to the AREA of a coaster has it’s own atmosphere, you know it’s going to be one hell of a ride. As you walk into the Wicker Man plaza and start to approach the huge structure of big bob, you begin to get a sense of what the ride is about. The medieval style music and ambient sounds make your heart beat faster and the theming of the whole area makes you feel like you’ve almost stepped back in time. You’ve landed in some kind of Pagan village and you’re about to be fed to the flames as a sacrifice - the fire effects make it feel about as real as it can get. And to top it all off, you can hear the screams and the rush of the actual trains hurtling round the track. It’s a crazy sound which we've come to expect of wooden roller coasters. What a way to kick off the Wicker Man experience.
THE QUEUE LINE
I didn’t expect there to be that much theming in the actual queue line too - but there is. From every point of the line you get a unique and brilliant view of the ride, which makes it all the more exciting because you can watch the trains speed past you constantly. Also above you is the stature of big bob, making you feel pretty tiny - this all adds to the build up of the ride and your ‘sacrifice’. Up at the top of the site you pass the track very close and have a fantastic view of the whole ride (perfect for taking videos). Then as you get closer to the attraction's entrance there’s a stretch of rockwork leading up to the final section of queue line. This is where you get the best views. Big bob in all his glory, right there for you to gaze at in awe, just before you enter the pre-show.
Promise no spoilers, but this pre-show is pretty much perfect. It sets the scene, gives you some details about the story of the ride and builds up suspense big time. It’s not too long either which is something that can sometimes ruin a pre-show. They got it bang on and the level of detail they achieved is fantastic. Big props goes to the Audio-Visual engineers at Holovis for that one.
When it’s over you move into the dark station, which is (of course) also themed to a high quality. There’s wicker along the back wall with lights shining through it - creating quite a moody atmosphere inside the station. You don’t have long to wait in there either which means the room doesn’t get as boring to look at. The soundtrack is playing, you’re tapping along to the Pagan drums and the next thing you know, you’re on the ride.
And you’re off. There’s a classic pre lift hill section, featured on many GCIs that leads you up the janky lift hill (which I actually like the look of). Then the true ride begins. Man, it’s surprisingly relentless. The first drop and airtime hill get the ride off to a very good start, especially at the back. Then comes one of the highlights, the snappy transition out of the airtime hill. It’s just insane. This leads the train through the structure of big bob and every time I think I’m going to hit my head - such a great headchopper feature. Round the turnaround, through the chest of big bob and down, then another headchopper and loads of airtime - whoa! More on the twisted airtime hill and then into the flat turn, which I actually like. It’s a nice moment to take in the ride, and take a look at what you’ve just been through. Then you down drop and come up over another airtime hill, go through the structure for the final time, there’s another twisted airtime hill and then you’re into the brakes. Breathe. It’s over unfortunately.
It’s fast, snappy, packed with airtime and really throws you about. Everything I like in a ride. It’s a family coaster with a lot of kick to it - so hats off to Alton Towers and GCI because that’s pretty hard to produce. It’s not the most intense ride and was never meant to be, but it’s certainly fun and it gets the job done. The theme is also one of my favourites being both dark under it's impressive facade and extremely unique. Big bob is incredible and the whole experience blew me away. It makes me want to see more similarly well-themed GCI coasters, or even just coasters in general, within the UK.
Wicker Man is now my 2nd favourite ride at Alton Towers. It’s high quality is something that I hope the Park is proud of, and wants to take forwards when they produce more coasters in the future.
- Harry Davies and Zoe Cashmore