Watch our virtual tour of Pleasure Beach's new Snails and Fairytales ride
- Credit: Archant 2021
Once upon a time there were giant Snails by the seaside in Norfolk which could take people on magical journeys into a fairytale world…
If you grew up in the county, a ride on Great Yarmouth’s seafront Snails was a rite of passage – the merest mention of the gigantic gastropods unleashes a veritable rollercoaster of emotions from anyone who remembers climbing aboard.
Those of a certain vintage will recall the tall hat-wearing Giant brandishing a club that once stood guard outside the attraction, and the huge boot (too big even for the Giant) belonging to the Little Old Lady and her children.
Today’s giant is a far less frightening chap, although I note he still wields a club, albeit without the unmistakable intent of his forebear.
The boot was circled by a flying witch in a somewhat menacing manner - I loved that witch, but she’s moved to a far more desirable pad, more on that later.
In order to welcome a brand new generation of thrill-seekers, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach decided to give its five minute Snails and Fairytales ride a facelift ready for a summer of fun and sun on the Golden Mile.
The ride has been part of the line-up since 1966 and is as well-remembered by generations of Norfolk families as England’s historic World Cup victory in the same year.
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Today’s Snails are the originals and include favourites such as the graduating snail, the police snail, the Scottish snail, the Sherlock Holmes snail and the regal snail, but the journey they take is now even more enchanting.
This year, riders will enter a brand new world of fairytales, passing professionally-designed and created sets, placing them in the heart of some of the best-loved stories filled with magic and wonder.
Ideas for the seven new sets were decided by Pleasure Beach co-directors and brothers Jamie and Aaron Jones who then recruited a team to help turn their dreams into reality while maintaining the charm of the original ride.
“Fairytales are part of everyone’s life growing up,” said Jamie, “this gives the chance for parents to share those classic stories and fables with their children and enjoy the magic of imagination.
“We all have our favourite fairytale – mine was Jack and the Beanstalk - and this is a chance to experience them once again, bringing back our treasured childhood memories.”
Aaron added: “It was important for us that we kept the history and heritage of the ride alive. The ride has been there for so many years, so we did not want to do a complete overhaul of what was there previously.
“We hope that people of all ages will enjoy the improvements we’ve made – I’m quietly confident that they will!”
To create an immersive experience – always best when travelling by Snail – the Jones brothers gathered the cream of the crop.
The scenic painting and signwriting are the work of Bob Cushing and Christine Bardrum whose background is in theatre sets, lighting is by John-Henry Thurston and his team at Blackstar Live Ltd, landscaping is from Norwich-based Ben Willis Landscaping, and sound and audio is by Richard Swift of the Prestige Sound company.
Some new props adding a different dimension have been crafted by Ian Westbrook, a Norfolk-based designer who has created sets for West End productions, international touring shows and the world-famous London Palladium pantomime.
Ian said: “I worked on the Aladdin and Hansel and Gretel sections of the ride – it was absolutely fantastic to have a role in revitalizing an attraction which is a big part of the Pleasure Beach’s heritage.”
I accepted the honour of being the first guest to ride on the improved Snails and Fairytales faster than a hot knife through butter: they're as much a part of my Norfolk childhood as begging to see the mummified cat at Norwich Castle Museum (or was that just me?).
As the ride chugs into life, we are taken straight into an underground Jack and the Beanstalk story, before emerging into the sunlight to see Hansel and Gretel making an ill-advised visit to the witch’s sweetie-laden Gingerbread Cottage.
This is where we'd normally get the chance to wave at the rollercoaster riders as they pass by at great speed to our right before we enter Peter Pan’s world, complete with pirates and their barrels of rum.
Next door, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are back from a hard-day’s mining (heigh-ho) and then we’re plunged back into the darkness for the most thrilling part of the ride: Pinocchio, Aladdin and Alice in Wonderland.
Look out for Aladdin’s flying carpet, the incredible lighting that bathes Pinocchio in magic, and the winding track that takes us down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world where nothing is quite what it seems.
This last room is a stunning recreation of Alice’s tea party complete with the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat (or rather his grin), playing card guards and, of course, Alice herself.
If you'd told six-year-old me that I'd be able to ride the Snails as many times as I liked AND walk the ride to see all the detail when I was a grown-up, I'd have thought I was destined to win the lottery.
It's every bit as charming as it always was, but with a little bit more sparkle. If you’ve not been since you were a child, it’s time you made a return trip.
Far from hibernating during the winter months, Pleasure Beach has been a hive of activity in the lead up to reopening.
The park is now open at weekends and the May bank holidays, with plans to open full-time during the summer season with a closed gate system, limited capacity and other Covid-safe precautions.
Despite the safety precautions, the same fun of the fair will be in evidence in all its whirring, spinning, death-defying, scream-if-you-want-to-go-faster, candyfloss and popcorn-flavoured glory.
Joyland, at the other end of Marine Parade, also boasts its own Snails ride, one of the original rides from when the attraction opened in 1949.
Find out more and buy your tickets at pleasure-beach.co.uk
Did you know?
- Great Yarmouth was established as a seaside holiday resort between 1800 and 1860 but it was not until 1909 that a young C.B. Cochran, later to become a world-famous impresario, was finally able to persuade the local council to grant a lease for a proposed seafront amusement centre.
- The original Pleasure Beach consisted of a scenic railway and little else. In 1911 another popular attraction arrived, The Joywheel, and the park attracted large crowds until 1914 when it closed for the war years.
- The historic wooden rollercoaster was first ridden in 1929 as a Scenic Railway for the Colonial Exhibition in Paris and moved to Great Yarmouth in 1932
- The 1915 three-abreast Gallopers ride from Savages of King’s Lynn has been at the Pleasure Beach since 1954 and can carry 60 riders on horses.
- The Botton Brothers arrived at the Pleasure Beach in 1954. The two brothers, Albert and Jim, grew up in a fairground environment with the family firm J. Botton & Sons, who had operated a travelling fair around London and the south of England since 1923.
- Jamie and Aaron are the fourth generation to help run the family-owned Pleasure Beach, one of the best-loved amusement parks in the UK.