Wicker Man at Alton Towers – it plunges through fire! – is the UK’s first wooden rollercoaster for 20 years, so our writer has a burning desire to try it out
The Beast from the East may have blown itself out in London but as I arrive in Stoke-on-Trent to try out Alton Tower’s latest ride, Wicker Man, the Pest from the West is in full flow, with flurries of snow sweeping across the park. Obviously, I’m underdressed but if anything’s going to warm me up it’s a massive rollercoaster that fuses wood … and fire.
The £16m Wicker Man is a major addition for Alton Towers. It has been in development for four years, involving 500,000 man hours, 7,500 tonnes of wood, 1.8m screws and 65,000 bolts. As with any rollercoaster, it’s a significant feat of engineering – and, in this case, lots of special effects.
The team at Alton Towers has been keen to make a wooden rollercoaster for years. The Wicker Man is the first wooden rollercoaster to be built in the UK in more than 20 years. “They’re the origin of coasters,” says Bradley Wynne, creative lead on the team. “People have a perception of them as old fashioned or rickety but this one is just as advanced as the other kinds of ride you’ll see.”
This, I discover, is the kind of blue sky thinking you find in rollercoaster concept meetings. “It seems like a paradox: you really wouldn’t put the two together would you?” says Wynne. I’m unsure if this is a rhetorical question but he (and everyone else from the park) spends a lot of time reassuring me that at no point does any wood come close enough to any fire to actually, well, burn. And while the track is made out of wood, the six-storey Wicker Man effigy the track flies through is actually made of concrete and steel. So … we’re good?