The Ultimate, Lightwater Valley (Big Country Motioneering / LWV, 1991)
The Ultimate opened at Lightwater Valley on 17th July 1991. Since then, the ride has thrilled millions and continues to do so. As the ride approaches its 20th anniversary, we take a look at the The Ultimate and the fascinating story behind its conception and construction.
Steel roller coasters are like anything else in the modern world. They are spawned from a product line of which there are countless similar models in existence. Fortunately there are some exceptions to this rule and The Ultimate is a fine example. You can’t find a ride like this anywhere else in the world, it is truly unique. This terrain coaster winds its way through 32 acres of land over a one and a half mile course.
The Ultimate was the brainchild of one man - Robert Staveley, who owned the park at the time. He wanted to create a new unique attraction that would propel Lightwater Valley into the top ranks of the UK theme park industry. This was to be a project of epic proportion, not only was this roller coaster going to be the huge – it was going to be the longest in the world. It would also be one of the tallest roller coasters in the UK.
At the time, the UK theme park industry was very different to the one we have today. On the whole, parks were mainly run independently by families or park specific companies. The only significant steel coasters to have been built around this time were the Avalanche built at Blackpool Pleasure Beach three years previous and Vampire which opened at Chessington in 1990. Both these rides were built by high profile roller coaster manufacturing companies (Mack Rides & Arrow Dynamics, respectively).
The design and construction of The Ultimate were left in the hands of Big Country Motioneering who had little industry experience. The company also operated under the Minafab name producing kiddie coasters and a suspended coaster on the continent.
Due to various construction delays and complications, BCM’s involvement with the project came to an end and the park’s own staff began the task of completing the ride. Additional manpower was also brought in from British Rail. Before the ride opened, various sections of the ride’s forest finale were tweaked and the trains were doubled in length to provide additional momentum.
It’s fair to say that The Ultimate couldn’t have been built anywhere else – it suits Lightwater Valley perfectly. The wooden trestles supporting the two lifts are visually stunning and stand proudly above everything else in the park.
The sense of isolation you feel at the top of the second lift hill, as you wait to plunge into the forest below is truly unique. You are literally half a mile away from the station and turning back is not an option. As you admire the stunning North Yorkshire countryside, the track ahead is slowly disappearing. What follows is one of the most intense sections of roller coaster track in the world, with insane banking and magnificent speed.
It opened as the longest roller coaster in the world and remains the longest in Europe (and the longest outside of Japan) to this day.
The crucial task of selecting a name for the ride was put in the hands of the listeners of BBC Radio One. After a week long competition it was decided that the new coaster would be called The Ultimate.
Despite traveling to many parts of the world to ride coasters of varying heights and lengths – nothing I have ever come across even reminds me of The Ultimate, let alone replicates it. The project appeared to be doomed from the outset, but ultimately it was a massive success that is worthy of its Icon status.
We’ll have plenty more Ultimate content in July 2011 when the ride celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Photos: Angela Marshall / Lightwater Valley