Alton Towers is strangely considered to have become a theme park twice in its history, in 1980 and again in 1992.
In 1980, the Staffordshire attraction – up to then effectively a derelict gothic mansion with spectacular gardens and some travelling fairground rides – introduced the classic Corkscrew rollercoaster.
That is the moment that Alton Towers is widely considered to have transitioned to a ‘modern theme park’.
It is just that there wasn’t much ‘theme’, despite the huge investment and multi-hour queues for large rollercoasters.
But in 1992 there was a sudden and spectacular injection of ‘theme’ and also, crucially, theatre.
Two strikingly different areas were introduced: the African village-styled Katanga Canyon and the self-explanatory Gloomy Wood.
It was the latter that proved to be the first of Alton Towers’ favoured sinister, often pseudo-supernatural concepts.
Gloomy Wood has only ever featured one ride: first the trademark original Haunted House, and then later its controversial Duel shoot ’em up reincarnation.
The area undoubtedly inspired the supernatural Dark Forest, created 18 years later to support the ground-breaking dark rollercoaster Thirteen’s debut.
Now, 31 years since it launched, Gloomy Wood has seen a spectacular revival in support of the further re-worked Curse at Alton Manor ride.
The huge popularity of the ride’s opening day saw queue lines through the woodland utilised for the first time in years.
This enabled a return of the classic gravestones – always with humour originally, but now featuring lots of new Easter Egg jokes for enthusiasts.
Mist and lighting adds to the atmosphere, as do the many actors that adorn the plaza in front of the famous Haunted House façade – now strikingly refreshed with a darkened look.
Who knows how long the mist, lighting, and actors will be in place, but at the moment they are serving to compliment Gloomy Wood very effectively.
Even if some of these aspects disappear during the season, a model has been created for what would be an effective after-dark setup at the Halloween Scarefest.
But the adding of a themed treat outlet – Coach House Confectionary – and the re-naming of the gift shop to Attic Antiquities enhances the area further, and hopefully in a more long-lasting way.
The artistic touches of iron gates complete with tribute signage to the ride’s creators past and present, plus the iron Alton Manor signage, are also touches of class.
Although the queues and crowds seen at opening largely evaporated the next day, the ride system’s ability to consume over a thousand riders per hour with ease should be remembered.
And with a great new ambient soundtrack across the area, this most stunning revival of Gloomy Wood is complete.