This is part of my ongoing series of posts about a 2007 trip we took to the UK to ride roller coasters and see the sights. Here are the previous installments:
We had another early morning--starting to get ready at 6 AM--and a long day ahead of us, but fortunately we knew that the pace would begin to get easier. The in-room tea maker (as common in England as coffee makers in the US) helped me wake up. Our hotel's shower was small, but the sink area was plenty roomy. Janna pointed out that there was a stained glass window in the bathroom, something that might have escaped my attention if she hadn't mentioned it to me.
Breakfast was served in the restaurant called Clancy's that we'd seen the night before. It was the only time we ever saw it actually open, though our hours at the hotel weren't exactly normal. We were offered a full English breakfast, but could pick and choose items if we preferred. I chose everything offered except the black pudding. This included eggs any style (I opted for fried), sausage, mushrooms, and grilled tomato. The sausages had a flavor and texture I'd come to regard as distinctively "English", not my favorites. They also brought out toast on a little rack and we served ourselves orange juice. Janna got bacon, which looked like the Canadian variety (I even heard it referred to as back bacon at least once). Tim also ordered "fried bread", an oddity I'd only seen once before. It was something like a cross between regular toast and French toast.
Our park for the day was called Alton Towers. We'd all visited in 2002 for about a day and a half. It had seemed very out of the way, yet I recalled it being very crowded, to the detriment of my being able to fully enjoy my time there. I was interested in visiting again primarily to try some attractions that I had not had time for on the previous trip but based on my poor first experience didn't expect to enjoy it all that much. I would wind up being very pleasantly surprised this time.
We returned to the train station, this time without luggage since we were staying at the hotel another night. As we approached the platform I noticed that one of the trains was called the Raold Amundsen. On our own train we took a table seat. Our destination was a town called Uttoxeter. I would later see a highway sign from Stoke-on-Trent that abbreviated it "Uttox'r".
Once again there was a bus (costing £3.50) to take us from the train station to the park. The bus stop was half a block from the station on a small side street. There was a jacket potato stand nearby, which I might have been tempted by as early as it was, but it was not yet open anyway.
There were quite a few teenagers already waiting, and they got on my nerves. I didn't look forward to riding the bus with them, but fortunately things worked out in our favor. When a bus came (after a wait of perhaps 10-15 minutes) most of the teenagers got on it but another kid told people to wait. He correctly predicted that another bus was coming. We were able to board the second bus and avoid the mass of kids.
The bus had to travel quite a distance, going through the town before reaching the park. I found Uttoxeter to be quite charming, but we never had a chance to see anything beyond what could be seen from the bus as we passed through. After passing through the town we dove into a bit of a valley. Janna wanted to keep an eye out for the legendary Chained Oak, a tree that had been enclosed in chains by an earl because he thought that if a limb fell a member of his family would die. We didn't see the oak itself, but I did just spot a sign saying "Chained Oak" as we passed by. On the way back in the evening I kept an eye out for the sign again, but it seemed to be for a tavern, not for the tree itself.
Once off the bus we quickly verified the time we'd have to catch it to go back to the train station, then walked under a monorail track across the parking lot toward the park entrance. I had ordered tickets in advance, but they had never arrived (they'd show up about a month after the trip; apparently the park had not put sufficient postage on the envelope). When I called to inquire they told me to stop by guest services to pick up the tickets. I had a bit of trouble finding guest services but once I did had no further trouble getting our tickets and express passes, and we went right in.
Past the gates there was a large plaza. It had no rides, so we weren't all that interested and just walked through quickly. All I really noticed was a set of fountains in a circle that were supposed to represent frogs spitting at each other. They were not aimed very well. Beyond was a big lawn, with a castle-like building in the background. In fact the "castle" was really a hunting lodge and not all that old, but it certainly had a look of antiquity to one from the New World.
Our first destination was Spinball Whizzer, a coaster with spinning cars and a custom layout. It was newly installed so none of us had ridden it in 2002. It was one coaster we didn't have an express pass for, so we wanted to get to it first before the crowd had a chance to build up. It was to the right of the entrance and past the kiddie area. One of the more interesting attractions we saw along the way was a kind of human-powered monorail. It's a relatively common form of ride across the Atlantic, but very rarely seen in the US.
Spinball Whizzer was very photogenic. Though not tall (Alton Towers has to obey very stringent restrictions about the heights of attractions because of the "castle's" historical and aesthetic value) it stands out well because it's in a flat area visible from across the lawn. Several of its curves are very impressive-looking as well, including one highly banked "skateboard-style" turn. The entire area was themed after pinball, with bumper symbols on the ground, big silver balls amidst the ride. There were a lot of cars on the track at one time, giving the entire region a real sense of action.
There was already a pretty considerable line, which we estimated at about 30 minutes, but there was an alternative--the single rider queue. This was for people who didn't care if they rode in a group; the operators would use them to fill any empty seats. It allowed them to serve customers more efficiently and gave people who didn't care where they sat a potentially shorter wait. Compared to the ordinary queue, which it ran in parallel with, it looked empty. We decided it was the right option for us, but it felt weird to walk right past everybody. In fact Janna was able to walk right on the ride. I had to wait a bit longer, and wound up riding with a single kid, whom I had a suspicion was German. We took the seats that faced backwards initially, but after the ride got going it scarcely mattered, because the spinning car made us face different directions at different times.
I enjoyed Spinball Whizzer quite a bit. It was not as long as Dragon's Fury at Chessington, but more thrilling on the whole. There was one particular drop in the middle of the ride that really took me by surprise with a nice twisting change in direction. However I preferred Dragon's Fury by a just a bit overall, though I can't fully articulate why. Perhaps its slightly longer and more original layout was what made it for me.
There was a kiddie coaster nearby called Beastie. Janna and Tim had no interest in riding it (they had ridden it in 2002 already and saw no reason to do so again), but I like to ride every coaster in a park on every visit if I can--even ones I know won't really be all that thrilling. I wound up riding it on my own while they photographed Spinball Whizzer and the pinball theming in the area. I was able to ride completely solo in the front seat for two circuits. The operator seemed to be quite nice; perhaps he was surprised to find an adult riding his ride.
Alton Towers is a big park and we weren't sure how crowded it would be, so Tim had come up with a plan of attack for the remainder of the day. We'd begin by heading to the themed area called "Forbidden Valley", where the most interesting roller coasters were. From there we'd head to "Ug Land", where there was a new coaster none of us had yet ridden. After this we'd canvas the rest of the park for some of the other attractions. Though these were of a lower priority than the coasters I hoped we'd have plenty of time to try other things. One of the regrets I'd had from the 2002 trip was that it felt like I'd missed many of Alton Towers' attractions.
The plan didn't just cover where we were going, but also how we got there. There was a sky ride attraction that would take us from the front of the park to Forbidden Valley, avoiding an otherwise very long walk. Once we were finished there, a second leg of the same sky ride would take us to Ug Land. I had taken the second leg of the sky ride on my previous trip, but had never taken the first. It was not as high off the ground as the segment I'd been on, and hence a bit less nerve-wracking than I remembered that ride being. We debarked at the Forbidden Valley station. The station exit faced away from Forbidden Valley, so we had to reorient ourselves.
Our first goal, in fact one of the most important rides in all of Alton Towers for us, was a coaster called Nemesis. (The similarity of names to Nemesis Inferno is no coincidence; Nemesis came first and became popular, hence Nemesis Inferno was given a similar name.) It was an inverted ride with trains running under the track that could go through all sorts of upside down gyrations. It is widely regarded as one of the very best of its kind. Though short, it is very intense. For added effect it performs most of its acrobatics within a valley dug out especially for it (a strategy mandated by Alton Tower's ride height restrictions), featuring many close passes to the ground.
We had an express pass for Nemesis. They were only running one train so it seemed like it would come in handy, but the line was short enough that it probably only saved us about 10 minutes overall. (Just after our ride they put the second train on; I was glad that at least they hadn't done this right before we got on; that would have delayed us greatly for no benefit to us.) The wait in line was not really that arduous anyway, as the theming of the coaster provides plenty of entertainment. The ride is decorated as if it were at the site of the crash of an alien craft. Alien tentacles intertwine with the real coaster. In fact some of the tentacles are made to look like pieces of broken track. Meanwhile in the valley there are blood-red waterfalls. There isn't much of a specific storyline, but I prefer this general, immersive style of theming to a story anyway. Often parts of a too-detailed story can be missed if one isn't watching a video monitor at the right time or people are talking over the audio.
We specifically wanted to ride the back row, the one with the reputation of being the most intense. (Being a gentleman, I gave Janna the opportunity for the outside right seat, the most intense of all.) I wondered if we were breaking local rules by not taking the first available row, since everybody else seemed to just go to whatever row was clear, but nobody complained. The overall wait was about 25 minutes (obviously, the express pass only got us so far).
The ride itself was as intense as I remembered, over so quickly that most of it was a blur, to the point that I have a hard time adequately describing what happened. The only distinct memory I have is that when we passed over the waterfall in the valley I felt something hit my foot. I thought it might be water, though my shoe was not wet when I got off. Though short, it's certainly one of the most thrilling rides around.
By this time, Nemesis had developed a long line in spite of running the second train. The other coaster in the area, Air, also had a long line so we decided to go elsewhere for the moment. We certainly intended to return to get our Air ride and several more Nemesis rides, but we hoped we wouldn't have to wait so long later in the day. Fortunately this plan worked out quite well.
Our next destination was the "Ug Land" section of the park. At the time it was themed to prehistoric times, though I've heard it's since been rethemed. The new coaster there, "Rita: Queen of Speed" wasn't really in tune with the prehistoric theme; perhaps it was a harbinger of the change. To get there we took the second leg of the Sky Ride. The gondola we wound up in was designed for strollers, and so had fewer seats than usual. I wound up having to sit on a flimsy jump seat through the ride over the deep valley. (Ironically I think the group in the car before us had some strollers). The sky buckets bounced alarmingly on the long cable as they traveled. As they came to the far station they passed what seemed perilously close to the people on the midway.
We were let out just past Ug Land, in a section of the park called "Cred Street". Besides a McDonald's there was only one attraction there, a dark ride themed after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It had no wait at all and we were all eager to try it, so we decided to get an immediate ride before heading on to Rita.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wound up being a combination walk-through and dark ride, taking us through most of the plot of the book, or at least the factory tour part. Janna was most excited by real chocolate smell, but there were plenty of other enjoyable things about this ride. She pointed out that the animations were taken from the book illustrations, and we soon noticed that the plot elements (including the squirrel room) were also from the book, not the Gene Wilder movie. Midway through we boarded a boat, just as in the book. This took us past a few familiar scenes. I had a tough time finding Violet "turning violet" at first. We debarked from the boat again to go through the TV room.
The end was the most impressive part. We stepped into a box representing the glass elevator. There were screens on every side, giving us a fully immersive view of the animations. I had not expected anything so elaborate. We all agreed that it was a very fine attraction, and one I'd go on at least once per visit in the future.
It was now time to ride Rita. It made the Ug Land area considerably different from what I remembered in 2002. The track dominated the view, and the catchy synthesized 50's style rock they played in the queue drowned out other sounds. Rita's entrance began with a tire arch, much like Stealth at Thorpe Park. We used our express pass, called the "Rita Speeding Ticket". The express queue merged with the regular queue not far along anyway, so I'm not sure how much value we got out of it. Like Spinball Whizzer, there was also a single rider queue. I thought at first that it looked like a much better option for us, but after watching a girl in the queue not moving for a long time, I reached the opposite conclusion. Our own line moved quickly and we were on within 10 minutes.
Janna and I boarded in back (I think Tim went further toward the front). Unlike some such rides, we were dispatched without much fanfare. Instead of launch lights like we'd seen at Stealth, the operator just said "OK, go" over the mike and we launched straight from the station. I believe the launch was accompanied by a bit of artificial smoke, but since it was behind us the effect didn't add anything to the ride.
As with all the rides at Alton Towers, Rita couldn't be built very tall, so it consists mostly of swooping curves rather than hills. In this way it was unlike most contemporary launched coasters, which start with a tall vertical hill. In fact many, like Stealth, have a tall hill and nothing else. Rita has about three twisting low hills interspersed with low-to-the-ground turns. It is still over with pretty quickly (though because there is no slow lift climb at the beginning it doesn't necessarily have less action than some other rides). It was reasonably fun, though I didn't care for the restraints that hit my neck from the side during some of the turns. Nor did any of us think it was worth a second ride.
There was another coaster in the area called Corkscrew. Tim and Janna had already ridden it in 2002 and had no interest in doing so again, but by the same reasoning I'd used with Beastie, I wanted to give it one ride. I took the opportunity to do so while they did some filming and photography. The queue was lined with wooden railings, and passed beneath several of Rita's turns, but I could walk right through it without waiting. The lift hill climb gave a good view of the countryside, but that was about the ride's only redeeming point. The rest was very rough, and seemed slower than I remembered. By the time I emerged Janna and Tim were sitting down on some benches shaped like ribs, some of the remaining Ug Land theming. I told them that they could be glad they didn't ride.
Our next stop was a ride called Hex that I'd missed in 2002. It is an elaborate version of a style of ride that goes back to the early Coney Island days. Generically called "haunted swings", such rides give people the illusion that they're turning upside down by the clever ruse of rotating the room around them. I'm not really a fan of haunted swings in general, but I'd regretted having missed Hex once I heard a lot of people speak favorably of it. I resolved not to miss it this time. I had misjudged the location of Hex in the park. Thinking it was further away I was a bit surprised when we ran into it almost immediately upon exiting Ug Land.
Hex was themed after the Chained Oak legend, as explained by a sign at the entrance (which also had some pictures of the tree itself). The first part of the queue led through a dark, cavernous hall, apparently within the castle itself. It wound back and forth many times, and I would never have put up with waiting through the whole thing. Fortunately we were able to simply walk through most of it before we hit the end of the line.
As we waited they showed us a video. The details are a bit hazy to me now, but I think it involved a fictitious restoration of the castle, during which a secret chamber containing a branch from the chained oak was discovered. As we were watching Janna made mention that the castle was supposed to be one of the "most haunted buildings in Britain". I found this somewhat unlikely for a building that was so frequently visited.
They allowed a number of people to congregate in the queue (I saw an LED indicator counting people; I think it reached 72 or 78) before letting us into the next room, where we had to wait in front of a door for a long time with no indication of what was to happen next. I don't remember too many of the details of this room or the next couple. I do recall one room smelling musty. A later room seemed to have some scaffolding, and for some reason that I couldn't quite fathom, a running engine of some sort.
After yet another hall we were finally led into the ride room itself. There were benches on two sides of a purported limb from the chained oak. As the lights dimmed I saw that it looked as if it were lit from within, with small pinpricks of light along the surface of the limb. I kind of liked the effect. The seat moved just enough to help foster the illusion that you were actually swinging far around. However, the real motion was little enough that I found the lap bar too tight. Since we never tilted more than a few degrees, the restraint was really unnecessary. As we went "upside down" we saw an angry-looking oak that had been underneath us. It was cleverly designed so that it looked like it was looking at you at all times (and in fact looking at people on both benches simultaneously). I don't remember other details of the story, but the overall effect was good; better than average for this style of ride as far as I'm concerned.
We left via a long hallway that led us out into a courtyard with a solarium and a small topiary garden, but didn't linger because it was time for lunch. On the way from Rita to Hex we'd passed a restaurant called Rita's Bar and Grill that we decided to go back to. There was a long line and bar service seemed slow, but I saw a new register opening and slid over quickly to get in line for it. I ordered a chili chicken skewer. For a beer I ordered Beck's Vier. I believe I was given a choice of sides, and ordered a salad as one of them. When my platter came it seemed to have a particularly large salad. Perhaps it already came with salad and so I was given some extra. My dish also came with cole slaw. Janna ordered a "sharing platter", which I believe was an appetizer plate. We took a seat outside, where it was a bit chilly, but pleasant.
We continued to the only major part of the park we hadn't yet visited, a science fiction themed section called "X Sector". Apart from the coaster called Oblivion there was not much here to interest us, so we just quickly got in line, using our express passes. Interestingly, the queue used for the express passes seemed to be what was once the regular queue in 2002, while the current regular queue had been rerouted somewhat. The regular line was not huge, but we were still grateful to only have to wait for a couple of trains before riding. The loading platform was pretty efficient, with two trains loading simultaneously, two rows apiece, and two queues filtering into each row. We chose the back seat of our train, which was the second of its pair to leave the station. It was held at the base of the lift for the previous train to clear it, which didn't take too long; the ride was operating pretty efficiently.
Oblivion is an early model of coaster that features a near-vertical drop. In fact, that's about all it really offers--it's very much a one-trick pony, though it's quite a good trick. The drop is fairly long, but the park's height restrictions mean the lift can't be too high (it's about at the level of the highest towers of the castle), so the drop descends into a tunnel. There is a good moment of anticipation as riders are suspended over the drop for a few seconds before being let go. It's a pretty intense moment, but unfortunately there wasn't much else to the ride, just the pullout from the drop and a turn back to the brake. We all agreed afterwards that it was "kinda cool but not worth waiting for", so we were very glad to have gotten on very quickly.
By this point we'd nearly completed a loop around the park, meaning we were approaching Spinball Whizzer again. We decided to stop by and take another ride, since we'd liked it so much before. Along the way we passed the building that in 2002 housed an indoor coaster called Black Hole but was now empty. It hadn't been that thrilling a ride, and the wait had been too long, but I was sorry to see it go because it had had a charming station, which I recalled looking kind of like a science fiction subway.
We cut across the castle lawn back to the other side of the park. This time we were looking for a path called either Haunt or Gloomy Wood. We thought it might be an interesting walk-through attraction on its own, and might also be a shortcut to some of the attractions we wanted to visit next. It turned out to be a fairly backwater section of the park. It did have a gloomy, wooded atmosphere, but there wasn't much active theming besides the iron gates we passed through, a few talking statues, and perhaps a crashed carriage. There was one mausoleum-like structure that Janna walked inside. It turned out to be a ghostly mirror, but it took a while to activate.
When we emerged from Gloomy Wood we found ourselves conveniently in a square across from Duel, the next ride we wanted to try. Duel was a dark ride, featuring light guns riders could shoot at targets with, as so many modern dark rides now have (thus combining the features of an old-style dark ride with a shooting gallery). I noticed the queue went through a wooded area, but the line was so short we were able to skip it. Before the ride itself we passed through a kind of tilt-house section of the queue, with sloping floors meant to disorient people walking through it.
In most shoot-em-up rides, any target scores the same number of points. Duel was slightly different in that there were two colors of dots to shoot, green for lower scores, yellow for higher. I did pretty well in my shooting, though I was tired of squeezing the trigger after a while. I don't remember the theming very well, but did recall that there were some places where the car turned unexpectedly.
Our next destination was the Runaway Mine Train, a powered coaster. It was one of the many Alton Towers attractions I hadn't had a chance to ride in 2002. I had regretted it since those who had ridden it had said it was among the best of its genre. I thought we had an express pass for it, but I was mistaken. The wait time was posted at 30 minutes, but fortunately a big side path was roped off, so our eventual wait only turned out to be about 10 minutes. We rode in the sixth seat, and as usual for such rides, were sent around for two cycles. As we passed by the second time we waved at the op. As I'd anticipated, the ride was really good. It had a more spread out layout than most, humps in addition to the usual turns (though no real airtime), and a steep drop turn and tunnel by the rapids ride. If we'd had more time I would gladly have ridden again.
As with many English parks, Alton Towers wasn't open very late, so we had to think about finishing up our agenda for the day. This meant getting back to Forbidden Valley to get at least one ride on Air, and hopefully several more rides on Nemesis. The path back to Forbidden Valley is long, but by that point we were nearly halfway along it. Had we been near the front of the park we'd have taken the Sky Ride again, but to get back to its station would have taken us just as long as just walking the rest of the way.
We began with Nemesis, which we still had an express pass for. We planned to take advantage of the shorter wait to get a front seat ride, but it didn't really matter; we might as well have waited in the regular queue. All we got was a torn ticket and a 15 minute wait, but the ride was rewarding enough. Being in the front gave me a much better view than from the back. I did get a sock in the head in the first and last inversions, and found myself a bit dizzy when the flash came on for the photo, but Janna loved it, proclaiming it worth the wait.
We headed toward Air to try to get the ride we'd missed in the morning. Along the way I saw a line of inactive ticket machines, the remnants of a different express pass system that was in use several years ago. Rather than moving the machines when they became obsolete, they'd just covered them up. Our priority pass did us some good for Air at least, though initially we were confused about where the express pass line began.
Air is a variety of coaster known as a "flying coaster", representing one of many variations of riding position introduced over the past couple of decades. Riders begin by sitting straight up in their seats, with some extra foot restraints, then are tilted forward to face downward during the course of the ride. Several can be found around Six Flags parks in the US, and a smattering in other US parks, but it's still a fairly novel form of ride and Air was one of the first. Sometimes rides like this can feel a bit like gimmicks or ideas that sound good but don't really work out in practice, but I recalled enjoying Air on my first visit to Alton Towers, and looked forward to riding again.
We chose to ride in the back seat. When I came to ride, I decided to take my jacket off so I wouldn't squish against my camcorder when tilted forward. As far as I know, Tim kept his camcorder on him throughout the ride, perhaps in his cargo pants. One of the things I'd recalled from our prior trip was the station music, with a sort of trancey bass line that reminded me of the Police's "Tea in the Sahara". That music seemed to be missing this time. However the whispering voice that told us before we left, "Prepare for air, assume the position, now fly", was still there.
Air's beginning is rather uninspiring. The first thing you see after tilting face down is a concrete trough on the way to the lift. Even during the rest of the ride the visuals aren't all that great; it's surprising how little you can see in that position, particularly since my hair was blowing into my face more than an ordinary coaster. In spite of this it's a nice swoopy ride, longer than I had remembered. It's not very intense but I did find it enjoyable. In fact, high G forces in such a riding position can be somewhat uncomfortable, so I was glad it was a relatively gentle ride. My least favorite parts are when the track flips riders onto their backs, which is where the highest G forces are. It's also very disorienting because suddenly you're not turning in the direction you feel you should be going.
Back over at Nemesis we saw that the single rider queue was closed, but the regular line looked short, so we took a quick ride. We had to ride in the second seat. We were going for the back, but the op chained it up before we could get there. I think she was trying to reserve it for a special group. We were right beneath the lift hill ratchet, which made our trip up the lift very loud. The ride was good, but we were disappointed not to get our back seat ride.
We split up at this point. Tim wanted more Nemesis rides (it was one of his main motivations behind the trip), while Janna and I wanted to visit the park's extensive gardens. Having missed them entirely on the previous trip, I wanted to make sure to spend at least a small amount of time wandering about them. We arranged to meet Tim at the front of the park at around 6. Since rides were supposed to close at 5, he could do some sightseeing too if he wanted (I don't think he did in the end), but Janna and I wanted to make sure to have some time for both the gardens and the castle.
I wasn't entirely sure how to get to the gardens. Janna, who had been in the gardens before, remembered a tower (which she referred to as the "Rapunzel tower" due to its fairy tale look) that could serve as a landmark, but we didn't know quite how to get there. We eventually found our way to then behind the Sky Ride station. Our path continued to lead us downhill through a series of switchbacks to the lowest level of the tiered gardens. From there we climbed gradually back up to the upper levels as we made our way back toward the castle. Around this point we encountered some other people who were asking us how to get to the flume, which was nowhere near where we were!
The upper level gardens seemed better groomed than the wilder-looking ones lower down. We walked under some topiary archways toward a glass house. It looked somewhat ruinous and it didn't seem like we could get in. There was also some statuary, including a man whom we couldn't identify. The legend just had the initial "S" and the said that "he made the desert smile". I jokingly guessed that it was Superman.
All in all, the walk through the gardens was pleasant. All in all I was glad to finally have seen them after having missed them on my first visit. I'd have liked more time to explore them, but our day was simply too full and the park was closing early. Instead we had to proceed to the castle.
In the castle courtyard there was some more topiary ("Her Ladyship's Gardens"). On the pathway we saw a piece of stone broken off from the wall that hadn't been that way earlier in the day, prompting Janna to say she thought Mad King Ludwig's castle was kept up better. We went inside the castle and wandered about for a bit. I got a great sense of unfriendliness from the large rooms and cold, bare walls, though I imagine there were tapestries and other decorations originally that were no longer there. We passed through a library, among other rooms. We visited several levels, from below ground to one of the turrets. There was quite a variety of stairs, wooden, stone, straight and spiral. From the roof I expected to get a view of some of the coasters but in keeping with their low profiles, I could only see the nearest--Oblivion. From the turret I could see another tower with a tree growing out of it, making me think of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. Deliberately or not, the castle did have a very ruined look. There was bird poop all over, on some stairs, the floor, and even on a chair that was near a window for no apparent reason.
Time had run out on us, so we rejoined Tim at the front of the park. On the way out I noticed that the entry turnstiles were "collapsible" so that when lots of people were exiting they wouldn't hinder the flow of traffic. We walked through the parking lot back to the bus stop we'd gotten out at in the morning. However, Tim heard from a group of kids that it was not the right stop for us to catch the outbound bus, and we confirmed it from a sign nearby. Instead we had to walk to the roadway, where there was a little shelter we could wait at. We saw something odd-looking on the ground, and soon realized it was a burnt jester hat.
The bus arrived quite late, perhaps due to the fact that traffic was backed up (though most of that was coming out of the park, not going in). We had nothing more to do than to wait around with the other people. My back was aching and my feet were starting to blister, so I was at least eager to be able to sit down even if not on the bus.
Our bus finally came and we got on. It then had to cross the flow of traffic leaving the park and get onto a road that led by the stop we'd originally been waiting at. There were people waiting there, and though the driver didn't seem to be willing to pick them up, he was flagged down by the same kid who had directed us to the right bus that morning, whom we'd deemed the "mayor of Alton Towers". He said something to the bus driver. We couldn't tell what he said at that point, but later learned that he'd said that the power at the barrier the bus had to leave at was out, meaning we couldn't leave the park grounds that way. The driver chose to drive on anyway. He did pick up some of the confused riders.
The driver came to an intersection, at which point he must have thought better of his decision, as he began turning back. He tried to do a three point turn, but backed right into a set of rocks used as a barrier in the process. In the meantime, a line of cars developed on the other side of the intersection. One kept flashing his lights at the car in front of him, as if that car could have moved before the bus was out of the way.
One of the stops of the bus was in the parking lot of a supermarket called Tesco. We saw the "mayor" get out at that stop. The railroad stop was shortly afterwards. When we walked up to the platform we saw that we still had more than half an hour's wait until the next train. A jacket potato would have hit the spot during our wait, but the stand we'd seen in the morning was gone. We decided to search the area to see if there was something else we could get to eat, perhaps at a convenience store, but everything in the neighborhood looked like warehouses. There were signs for something called Red Onion, but it appeared to be a food distributor, not a restaurant or store. The supermarket we'd seen the "mayor" get out at was across a fence, but we couldn't find a way there and decided we didn't quite have time to look for one.
When we arrived back at the railway station, we spotted the Mayor again. He seemed to have known to go to the supermarket first before coming over to the train--perhaps he realized there would be a long wait, though it seemed he was taking a train in the opposite direction from us. We still had plenty of time left for the train to arrive--in fact it was a few minutes late. As tired as I was I just sat on the concrete. There were benches in the shelters, but they were very narrow, more as if people were supposed to lean on them than anything else. It didn't look very comfortable.
When we got back to Crewe we stopped briefly at our respective rooms, but met up pretty quickly to try to find somewhere to eat. We wound up walking up and down the main street--probably about six or seven blocks each way--to look for a good restaurant, but didn't have much success finding something we could all agree on. The town looked like it focused mostly on take-out food. We saw a lot of curry and "donner" (apparently the British version of gyro) places. Though we toyed with the idea of a Thai place, we eventually settled on an Italian restaurant called Giovanni's that we'd seen on our outward journey.
The décor was interesting; I'm not sure how authentic. There were logs above us to form beams (probably not structural) for the ceiling, from which fake vegetables--such as squash and grapes--were hanging. We got a table in the middle of one of two rooms. I don't think there were any other customers. A man whom I had the impression was the manager (and gave me the vague impression of being Dutch for some reason), sat at a table nearby, looking at some papers.
I got myself a Krombacher beer, and for an appetizer got garlic stuffed mushrooms, which came out sizzling hot. For my main dish I got a penne picante, which didn't turn out to be my favorite. It wasn't spicy like I hoped; I recalled it being a bit sweetish instead. Tim got an order of garlic bread with his meal, which looked a bit like a single serving pizza. I kind of liked the look of it, and probably would have ordered it had I known what it was going to be.
The service was somewhat questionable. The waitresses didn't seem very dynamic at all, and several times we were served by the manager himself. The only people besides the manager who appeared to be on the ball were the girls doing the cooking.
After dinner we went to the Corner Bar, the bar right next to our hotel. The hotel proprietor, Dave, was there and we suspected he co-owned the bar with another guy named Ray. We ordered some draft beers (I got a Websters Green Label, trying to get something pretty local if I could). We got into a discussion about coaster riding with some of the locals, and the bartenders. One guy put his hand on my arm and told me to ride Grand National while we were at Blackpool.
The conversation died down after a while, and we wound up going into a small upstairs room, a bit separated from the locals--mostly men, but one or two women too. While we sat and talked we saw some of them playing a prank on another, putting cellophane over his beer glass.
Unfortunately it wasn't long before the bar closed up. I'd have been happy to stay for some time longer and had another beer (especially since we'd just discovered the extensive selection in their jukebox). As it was, we made sure to say our farewells to Dave. We saw that he was wearing a shirt that said "I love beer", except that the usual heart was replaced by a beer mug. We said it was really saying "I beer beer". Tim made sure to get a short clip of him and Ray on film. I'm not sure if they even understood that they were on video instead of just a still camera. They didn't try to act up, but just posed.