I don’t know about you, but I can’t name anybody in my life who was alive in 1923, and even if I could, they most likely wouldn’t still be going quite as strongly today. The Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a classic wooden roller coaster – so classic, in fact, that its name inspired other coasters around the world at the time of its construction. This coaster celebrates its 93rd birthday in 2016, and I for one find it truly amazing that a roller coaster built of wood that has seen so much action and use over the past century is still fully operating and functioning today.
The Big Dipper has an interesting history. Originally built in 1923, the coaster was designed by William Strickler, who also worked on Blackpool’s Velvet Coaster and Virginia Reel. It had a rather different layout to the one we know today, as at the time the south end of the park where rides such as Red Arrows Skyforce and the Steeplechase are located wasn’t owned by Pleasure Beach. They eventually acquired this land and the coaster was altered in 1936 by Charles Paige (of Grand National and Rollercoaster fame) and Joe Emberton to make use of the new land. Other than some necessary maintenance work, a couple of new train designs and temporary sponsorships over the years, the ride has remained pretty much unchanged ever since.
Of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s 3 main wooden roller coasters, the Big Dipper is right down the middle in terms of intensity. It’s more rickety and exciting than the Nickelodeon Streak, but it’s not quite as rough, rowdy or intense as the Grand National. It’s also my personal favourite of the three, as by and large I find it gives quite a pleasant ride. My advice to anyone riding any of Blackpool’s wooden coasters is to sit as far forward as possible. The closer you are to the back, the more uncomfortable the experience gets, so unless you like your woodies particularly rough (i.e. borderline painful), I’d stick to the front or middle carriage if I were you.
The Big Dipper has an interesting layout, with a small, very shallow chain lift at the start to get you around to the main lift hill, which circles around the iconic tower you can see in the pictures above; the top kinda reminds me of the icing on an iced gem, or maybe a whippy ice cream. From there you’re sent down various airtime hills and bunny hops on what is essentially an out and back layout, with a couple of slightly twisted drops to make things interesting. Beware of the main turnaround – apparently banking wasn’t a thing in 1936, so it can be quite forceful, but fortunately the trains and seats are sufficiently comfortable that it doesn’t cause too many problems.
I can forgive the Big Dipper for being fairly rough – I imagine I’d feel that way at 93 years old too. What it does give you is plenty of airtime and an unpredictable and rather wild ride during the course of your leaps, dips and turns. If you’re visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach because of its famous wooden roller coasters, then this is an excellent one to whet your appetite.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your stay here at Along for the Ride.