Lightwater Valley 2017 – Review
by Matt Callard
If you’re really going to test out a location, try the May Bank Holiday, with three lively kids of varying ages in tow, in the rain. These are our very British conditions as we pull into Lightwater Valley’s North Yorkshire car park on a Sunday Morning. If the 30-year-old theme park can provide a fun day out, with value for money, despite that typical triple-headed conundrum, then surely it’s worth a visit at any other time of the year, right?
But things start, regretfully, with frustration. The exciting-looking Treetop Nets attraction that runs adjacent to the road in to the site turns out to be a separate entity to the theme park. Meaning our first job as parents is to tell the kids they actually can’t play on something – despite spending the car journey telling them they can go on ‘absolutely anything, restrictions aside’ once we’re inside the park. It’s odd to have this attraction so close to the theme park and yet have access denied unless you decide to fork out an extra £20 per person on top of the £100+ for 4 adults and 3 children that entry has already cost.
One suspects that, for the half a million visitors per year that Lightwater Valley attracts, this is a common first experience – and it’s not a positive one. Surely the owners of the respective attractions can come up with a more satisfying first impression and a solution to this frustration. Ultimately, it’s their loss, both ways.
“A fairground aspect to the first set of gentle rides”
Once inside Lightwater Valley, through a fairly simple ticket collection system (bypassing a shopping village and dinosaur-theme crazy golf course that you also have to pay for), initial frustrations are soon forgotten. The incessant rain means we head through the attractive looking Angry Birds-branded outdoor play area and into the Falconry Centre. Inside, there are birds of prey, reptiles, fish and farm animals – and for a small fee our 3-year-old gets a memorable close encounter with a pygmy owl. It’s a nice area, but perhaps better suited to later on in the day when energies are flagging. We return here later at an appointed time to witness an excellent birding display with owls and falcons. Make sure you don’t miss it – it adds an extra, calmer dimension to a day overloaded with thrills and rides.
After a quick kiddie runaround in the indoor Angry Birds play area, we set out in to the theme park proper, adults secretly preparing for a few thrills of their own, as The Ultimate – Europe’s longest roller coaster – looms on the horizon.
There’s a fairground aspect to the first set of gentle rides and attractions, including a sweet, traditional carousel and hook-a-duck stalls. But it’s not until you board the pretty mini steam engine that rattles around a large lake (pedaloes available) and step out at the far end of the theme park that the action really starts.
“Not for the faint-hearted”
The kids (9, 5 and 3) enjoy rides galore. There’s a pirate theme to one area, with the infamous tipping galleon and some enjoyable twisty-turny rides. Highlight is a faster-than-expected caterpillar ride that has the smaller kids screaming with delight (and probably at their speed limits). More sedate trips involve getting on board an old-fashioned car and tooting a horn around an animal-themed track, or riding dragon boats around a ride filled with water.
For the big kids (we adults), the rides go from fun to terrifying to absolutely bonkers pretty quickly. Wild River Rapids throws you around in a circular dinghy (for once, the weather means you’re not bothered about the splashes), the famous Ultimate roller coaster takes a breakneck trip into the woods and through tunnels and Skyrider is the highest, fastest swing ride I’ve ever seen.
For thrill seekers, The Eagle’s Claw is a must. From the ground it looks death-defying as riders are spun and lifted at ferocious angles. It’s not for the faint-hearted and is probably Lightwater Valley’s most out-there experience.
Elsewhere, and in-between finding places to eat (more of that later), we discover a mini ferris wheel that the kids adore, a fun and bouncy inflated trampoline called Jumping Jacks that really burns off excess energy and a lovely, slow-paced farm that you ride around in a stately tractor. As well as these, there are remote-controlled sailboats, an amusement arcade and traditional playgrounds.
“Toddlers to teenagers will have a great time”
The rides and attractions can’t be faulted. Everyone in our group was satisfied, from the smallest kids to the most thrill-hungry adult.
There are some issues with the practicalities of taking a big family. We had to forego a couple of major rides (Raptor Attack, Falls of Terror) through queues and lack of time (queue jump passes can be purchased for an additional cost), despite spending the entire day on site. None of the eateries we found were satisfactory. The food was overpriced (£10 for fish, chips and a cup of tea) and generally unhealthy and of poor quality. With the rain lashing outside families were, quite understandably, using the cafes for rest and shelter and they soon became overfull with slippery floors and an apparent lack of measures to deal with the influx.
Food quality and convenience in general is a real bugbear of mine at day attractions. It pays such an important part of the day and the overall experience. Even the food quality at Disney World Paris is unacceptable. There is no longer an excuse for owners to use the food facilities as a cheap and cheerful cash cow. Families deserve quality, value and choice. A recent visit I made to Longleat Safari Park proved that big name attractions, with high visitor numbers can still provide good, satisfying food options with style and comfort.
Despite the drawbacks, as a thrill-a-minute experience, Lightwater Valley 2017 does not disappoint. Toddlers to teenagers will have a great time – and young-at-heart adults will have their thrill-seeking sides satisfied. Just remember to take a packed lunch.
For full prices, opening times and details visit lightwatervalley.co.uk