England's One True Ultimate Roller Coaster?
The Ultimate at Lightwater Valley is somewhat of a unique ride. Nestled into a small to medium sized park on the outskirts of Ripon in Yorkshire, it is somewhat of a hidden gem. Quite simply there is nothing quite like it anywhere else.
Built before the likes of Oblivion, Nemesis and the Pepsi Max Big One, it could be argued that The Ultimate is the original UK record breaking roller coaster. For nearly 10 years, The Ultimate held the world record for the longest roller coaster. It may have since lost this record, mainly because all the other coasters longer than it are more than three times the height but it is still Europe's longest coaster at 1.5 miles long.
The Ultimate was built for a relatively cheap considering its world record and is rather surprising that despite proving you do not necessarily need height to break the longest coaster record, it is surprising over 25 years later, no other coasters have tried to take The Ultimate at its own game.
Located close to the Yorkshire Dales, a big 300ft behemoth was never going to happen (infact when The Ultimate was built, the 200ft barrier had only just been broken!), so to negotiate its 1.5 miles, it features two lift hills. Two very completely different from one another. This is a coaster that doesn't feel like The Smiler at Alton Towers, where in essence you are going through the same course again to break records.
To the first time visitor, getting a vantage point to see The Ultimate is rather difficult, when you are down by the coaster, the best you are going to get is the first lift hill and the final bend. If you look in the distance you can see the second lift hill. Your best viewpoint is from the Lightwater Wheel (a Big Wheel) near the parks entrance, but even then, your view of the course is somewhat limited.
But what is it actually like to ride?
When you've negotiated the very long train and everything has been checked, the train leaves the station and moves to the first lift hill. The lift hills are perhaps the slowest in existence. If you are in a hurry, The Ultimate is not the ride for you, with half of the total ride time (8 - 9 minutes) spent on these lift hills. But if you look behind you, there is a good view of Lightwater Valley, if you look infront of you the Yorkshire Dales come into sight.
After what seems like an eternity, you are approaching the crest of the first lift hill. Those sitting in the front of the train, will be part of the way down the drop before gravity kicks in and those at the back will be thrilled to experience a bit of airtime as they are forced down the first drop.
The first element we come across is a fairly small but pretty powerful airtime hill. Just the otherside of this hill is the onride photo, another similar airtime hill follows. Certainly not as powerful as the first but it is still a nice sensation. So far, the track has been straight since you left the lift hill. A slightly banked elongated curve turns you to the left, just before another airtime hill, which is again not as powerful as the two that preceded it.
Another bend to the left now takes the train through a fairly flat section of track through some woodlands, before turning to the right before a series of bunny hop hills, just before the second lift hill.
First impressions on this section are good but nothing mindblowing, it was all relatively smooth, quite quick but it lost its momentum fairly quickly.
Those expecting the second lift hill to any quicker than the first would be very much mistaken, infact there is a slight jolt as the train runs out of its kinetic energy and connects up to lift hill no. 2. Its certainly not uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.
What makes the second lift hill worse than the first, is that whilst you are on the top, it stays at the left to do a turn to the left. When you finally get to the first drop of this section of track, you can tell the park really used the landscape to the advantage, with the track seemingly disappearing into this wooded valley. Unlike the first lift hill, there is no real delay in the train picking up speed.
The Ultimate shows its true colours rather quickly. The section between Lift Hill 1 and Lift Hill 2 was rather smooth, virtually straight. As we descend down the second lift hill, the track turns to the left 180 degrees. But, the turn is not that high up and not banked terrifically. As you proceed through it, it is time to get cosy with your co-rider as you are pushed into that direction, in a whip like fashion.
The track continues this curve back into the base of the valley, before repeating the trick again to the right this time. By now, only the most ardent of coaster riders still have their hands in the air, the rest are gripping on for dear life, wondering what other surprises it has up its sleeve.
After leaving the turn to the right, a little of the trains power has lost its energy and so the next turn to the left isn't as powerful as the first experienced, but it is still too quick as what it should have been and again expect to pull a grimacing face. The coaster continues to do one more turn to the right and the left before you leave the woodland.
The train leaves with a mostly flat bit of track, but do not be fooled this will be like the flat section from the first lift hill, there is still a fair bit of power in the coaster, without much (if any!) banking the train turns to the right before descending down a little bit approaching a very small hill, taken with the speed we are going and add to the fact it moves slightly to the left, it is violent airtime into your co-rider before flattening out again and virtually repeating the same trick a few more feet down the track. The train re-enters the woodland area with an unbanked turn to the right, before a slightly banked turn to the left, where we descend into the start of a figure of 8 tunnel. As we leave the tunnel a tight left hand turn brings us on top of the tunnel, before we descend to the right back into it.
By the time we hit the top of the tunnel, the train has lost a lot of its power but to be honest, this is no bad thing, its good for a quick breather.
Once the train has descended into the tunnel and left it, it is clear the figure 8 section did help the train lose an extreme amount of kinetic energy as we are now on the slowest the train has been on the second section since the lift hill. A longer bend to the left takes us in line with the station, before a third and final lift hill, takes us back into the station, 1.5 miles later.
Part of why The Ultimate is such a hidden gem on the UK coaster scene is because the thing should not actually exist. The speed the train takes through the bends, are simply too quick but that's what makes the ride. It is truly unique. Like the Wild Mouse at Pleasure Beach Blackpool, it is not meant to be a ride ridden continuously, it can be done but expect bruises especially around the knees. The ride has an awesome power, but most of all it is fun. Before the Megafobia was installed at Oakwood six years later, this was the closest thing to a wooden coaster, it even has wooden supports.
The first half lulls you into a false state of security, it is smooth, quick and has good moments of airtime, its good but nothing special. The second half is its evil twin. Like Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll, its twisty, quicker and is not afraid to show you who is boss. It certainly isn't England's best coaster, but it is the most unique. If you love wooden coasters, or that feeling of not quite being in control, you'll love the Ultimate, its ferocious but not really rough. If you prefer proper smooth coasters, the Ultimate is not for you!
- Over 7 minutes in length
- The longest coaster without having to travel to Japan
- Two very different sections of coaster
- Quicker than it looks
- Long train
- Could be perceived as painfully rough
- Painfully slow lift hills (at least half the rides duration!)
- Seems to lose momentum very quickly