Theme Parks in Yorkshire

There are three main theme park attractions in Yorkshire which combined boast the longest rollercoaster and largest fairground in Europe meaning that Yorkshire folk and all of their visitors are never short of excitement!

Lightwater Valley theme park near Ripon, North Yorkshire started off as a fruit farm in the 1960s on land belonging to The Staveley family. In 1976 the farm suffered from a huge drought which affected much of the country, meaning that many of their crops failed. It was due to this unfortunate twist of fate which made the family eventually decide to convert their farmland into a theme park.

Theme Park ride in Yorkshire, Photo Credit Paul Harrop, Geograph, Creative Commons
Theme Park ride in Yorkshire, Photo Credit Paul Harrop, Geograph, Creative Commons

The attraction opened in 1987 and had “The Rat Ride” as its most prominent feature. However its owners had much grander plans which were soon to follow. In 1990 work began on what would become known as “The Ultimate.” It cost £5.2m and when it opened to the public in 1991, was the longest rollercoaster in the world. This has been surpassed only by the Steel Dragon 2000 ride in Japan, making the Ultimate now the longest in Europe. It is 33m high, has a track length of 1.5 miles, while visitors spend around six minutes on the ride.

The rest of Lightwater Valley is made up of other thrill seeking rides, such as The Whirlwind, The Eagle’s Claw, Skyrider and spinning rollercoaster, “The Twister.”

There are many rides on the site aimed at children. The Mega Adventure zone features things such as “The Flying Cutlass,” which is a swinging rowboat, “The Little Dipper” and mini-rollercoaster, “The Ladybird” which are smaller versions of their adult counterparts.

Lightwater Valley provides children’s play areas, including the newly installed Angry Birds Activity Park, complete with sling shots, pig tunnels and tube slides, featuring characters from the famous mobile phone game. Younger children can also enjoy pedal boats on the original farm lake, a mini express train and the obligatory tea cup ride.

Away from the big roller coasters, Lightwater Valley has other attractions too. The Country Shopping Village offers 40,000sq ft of independent retail outlets selling toys, cards, fashion and home wares. The Bird of Prey Centre is home to 50 raptors including owls, falcons, eagles and hawks. Demonstrations take place every afternoon and there is also an opportunity to hold some of these magnificent birds.

The other major theme park in Yorkshire is Flamingo Land near Malton in North Yorkshire. One of its largest rides, The Mumbo Jumbo has a 112 degrees steep drop making it one of the biggest in the county. “The Cliffhanger” is one of the tallest vertical drop rides in Europe, standing at 180ft while one of its newest rides, “The Hero” simulates flying and was opened with much fanfare during the summer of 2013.

The theme park also provides several attractions aimed at families including Dinostone Park, which has themed rides, such as the “Twistosaurus,” a new spinning rollercoaster and the “Cyclosaur” a hand-gliding style attraction. Other areas of fun include The Lost Kingdom with its “Lost river ride,” and the “Children’s Planet” This area contains rides for much younger visitors with soft play areas, frog hoppers and other family attractions.

If you wish to keep your feet on solid ground there is Flamingo Land’s famous zoo to explore. This area was the original part of the site when it opened in 1959 and before it became a theme park during the 1970s. It houses a large collection of animals and birds, including lions, tigers, penguins and lemurs amongst others. The adjoining holiday village is also part of the complex, which has a leisure centre, golf course, bar and club.

Yorkshire is also home to one of Europe’s largest travelling theme parks, Hull fair which sets up camp for eight days in the city. The event attracts stalls and rides from all around the country and is also one of the UK’s longest running fairs. Like markets, which were held weekly, fairs, an annual event, had to receive a charter from the sitting monarch in order to legally hold one. The charter for the Hull fair we know today came in 1293 when the town was granted a “fair to be held after Easter in a place appointed by the town.”

The dates of the festival were controversially changed in 1751 and reduced in length, much to the outrage of the locals. After much protest the festival settled around the 11th October where it has remained ever since, over the course of eight days. The fair had been in several locations around the city over the course of its history so far, but finally laid its roots on Walton Street in 1888, where it has remained ever since. In 1906 the site doubled in size making it the largest fairground in Europe.

Originally the fair was a way of trading wares, similar to that of a market, but over the centuries the nature of its stalls, rides and attractions has changed considerably. The early Victorian fairs featured jugglers, puppet shows and animal menageries, but as technology improved through the Century, circuses, steam powered roundabouts and bioscopes, which were early film shows became more frequent.

During the inter-war years, the fair was alive with the sound of steam organs as these became fashionable and in those times one of the few ways to provide music for such a large event. In the 1930s the fair also saw one of its biggest characters, “Chicken Joe,” ply his trade. Visitors would queue at his fairground stall to win one of his fresh chickens and grocery bags on display at Ling’s family amusements.

Advanced technology also saw the first waltzer and dodgem rides appear in this decade, before the fair was discontinued due to the outbreak of the Second World War, a conflict which would affect the city of Hull more than most.

Post-war the Rock and Roll era added culture to the fair, with rides adopting names for the first time, such as the “Cavalcade of Swing” and “The Rock n’ Roll Speedway.” Areas outside the rides were sectioned off for dancing competitions. The 1960s saw a further increase in fairground rides and less of an emphasis on the shows and circuses in which the fair was originally built around. Its reputation by the 1970s had now enhanced into being the largest funfair in the country. By the 1980s the lights had got brighter and the music, louder. During this decade the fair still continued to update itself with ride names reflecting popular culture of the time, such as the “Ghostbusters ride,” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.” The festival was also subject to ferocious weather conditions when gales battered the event as part of hurricane which caused much damage further south in October 1987.

Six years later in 1993 the fair celebrated its 700th year with special events across the city. At the fair itself one of the highlights was the popular return of the original “Chicken Joe” stall, kindly donated by the Ling family, who Joe Barak, his real name had worked for until his retirement from the fairground in 1962.

Hull fair continues to return to the city every year on Walton Street, nowadays next to the KC Stadium, home to Hull City FC and Hull FC Rugby League teams. Whatever generation you are from the familiar smell of burgers, hot dogs, toffee apples and doughnuts will always be associated with a walk down Walton Street in mid-October.

Yorkshire has the longest rollercoaster and largest fairground in Europe at its two major theme parks and yearly fair, which aim to thrill visitors long into the future.