SW8 at Alton Towers: Why Now?

It’s been the one coaster all British theme park enthusiasts have been waiting for: a wooden rollercoaster at Alton Towers. In 2018, the park will open SW8, a GCI woodie running not across the valley between the Dark Forest and Forbidden Valley, but in the area previously occupied by The Flume.

Whilst the location and layout of the coaster might not quite have been what we were all dreaming of, it’s truly remarkable that Alton Towers, and its owner Merlin, are building a woodie at all.

Speaking in 2010 after the launch of Thirteen, John Wardley (in response to a question about when Alton Towers would get a wooden rollercoaster) played down the possibility of the Staffordshire park ever receiving one, despite his own love of them. Both John and Alton Towers’ Marketing Director at the time cited that customer research undertaken found that the wider public don’t view woodies in the same way as enthusiasts, thinking they are unsafe and rickety as opposed to smoother steel rollercoasters.

For several years, it seemed like wood would never arrive at Alton, until May 2016, when plans were published for what appeared to be a GCI wooden rollercoaster on the site previously occupied by the Flume. Whilst it was no match for the cross-valley plan in terms of height and length, a series of tight banked turns and interaction with a large theming elements looked to add up a solid addition to the park’s family coaster line-up, in a similar vein to Thirteen in 2010.

SW8 Planning Application

So what, in the intervening six years between the comments re unsuitability given the public’s consensus and the SW8 planning application, made Alton and Merlin change their mind?

The park is clearly due another thrill ride, with the only investment since the introduction of The Smiler being Cbeebies Land, its expansions and the ‘TLC’ programme removing several rides and refurbishing others. It’s also clearly due to make use of the space crated by the removal of The Flume. Whilst a rollercoaster in this area could never be particularly tall (SW8’s lift hill takes full advantage of the tree cover in the area and would never get planning approval if it were any taller) there’s plenty of effective steel makes Alton could have put in instead? A Mack Youngster would fit perfectly, although would end up being probably too similar to Thirteen’s outdoor section and rides such as Wild Mouses just don’t feel very Merlin.

Perhaps a clue could be from the strong rumours (based on a trademark registration and indications from the planning document as to the large theming element) that the ride will be based on the film ‘The Wicker Man’? Whilst clearly wood as a material would help to tie together the coaster and its theme`, it’s the maturity of the theme — a classic horror film — that dictates the need for a coaster model that’s both relatively compact, low yet intense, to appeal to both the adult market whilst also adding another 1.2m height restriction ride to allow many family groups to ride too.

Of course, only time will tell us both the final theme of the ride and the reasons why Merlin chose to finally bring wood to Alton Towers, but one thing is certain, we can’t wait to ride SW8 in 2018!

For more SW8 information and discussion, listen to Episode 2 of the CoasterCrate Podcast. Hosts Matt and Thom discuss wooden rollercoasters, including their thoughts on SW8. Listen closely for details of how to win great theme park merch in an exclusive competition!

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