I knew she wasn’t ready. How could she be? I’d taken her ice-skating a few years earlier and she’d been absolutely petrified, gripping the penguin-shaped stabiliser like an elder with a Zimmer frame. We must have moved all of 5cm across the rink that day, and she’d hated every second of it. But my sister had assured me that she’d loved all the big rides at Legoland, and that this was what she wanted. So off we went to Thorpe Park for my niece’s 7th birthday.
We weren’t just going for the day, either. We’d clubbed together to make a whole weekend of this white-knuckle mecca, even staying on-site overnight. My sister and I are total ride fiends and we were beside ourselves with glee at the prospect of another convert. If our young apprentice made the grade, it could pave the way for a trip to the Holy Grail of family holiday destinations: Orlando. Plus there was even a box-fresh ride to try – Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, a virtual reality horror-fest that just launched in July. Let the thrill-seeking commence!
I love going back to Thorpe Park, a place I’ve been visiting for decades with friends and family, and I have nothing but fond memories of the place. The weather was glorious and as we traipsed through the familiar grounds my skin tingled with anticipation. Perhaps she’d enjoy the surge of Stealth – my favourite ride in the park. For those of you who’ve never sampled this majestic beast, imagine being crudely strapped to a rocketship, hitting 80 mph in less than 2 seconds as you’re launched up a skyscraper of track so fast you can barely scream (the G-force stuffs all the air back into your lungs).
Or maybe she’d like Colossus – the ‘head rattler’, as we affectionately call it. The 10-looper put Thorpe Park on the map back in 2002 and still has my favourite theme tune of all time (skip to 6:22 – guaranteed to unleash my inner Egyptian running man, regardless of who’s watching). Despite becoming an extremely rough experience over the years due to wear and tear (hence the nickname – apparently, they’ve even started selling painkillers in the gift shop), this magnificent golden oldie is still just as exhilarating to watch as it is to ride, swooping overhead with its unmistakable roar.
In the end, we decided to kick things off nice and gently with Quantum – a magic carpet ride. From the ground, it seemed a pretty safe bet: the rotations looked incredibly slow and it didn’t go very high. But once we were all locked in and it lurched into life, we soon realised we’d misjudged. Massively. My niece started to scream – and not in a good way. Less “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee – I’m literally having the time of my life!”; more “AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGHHH – THE PLANE’S GOING DOWN AND WE’RE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIEEEE!!!!!”
Squishing her little face into the rubber handle bar, the poor mite clung on for dear life. I tried to console her as best I could in between screaming and laughing and struggling to keep my breakfast down, but we were harnessed so tightly that all I could do was sort of clutch at her tiny head with my fingertips. The ride seemed to last an eternity. And as we were thrown up and over, up and over, over and over, two equally distressing thoughts sprang to mind. Firstly, this child was probably never going to speak to us ever again. And secondly, we were now destined to spend the entire weekend on the teacup ride.