The Ultimate is Lightwater Valley Theme Park in North Yorkshire’s signature ride. The £5m Thrill Ride which opened in 1991 held the World Record until 1999 for being the Longest Roller Coaster in the World.
The Ultimate at Lightwater Valley Theme Park
At a length of 7442ft, The Ultimate was the longest roller coaster in the world, when it first opened in 1991. It held this record until 1999 when two of the five tracks on the Daidarasaurus roller coaster in Japan were combined to create one single 7677ft long track. Daidarasaurus record length was surpassed by Steel Dragon 2000 which is at Nagashima Spaland also in Japan. At 8133ft long, 691ft longer than The Ultimate, Steel Dragon 2000 still holds the record for being the longest roller coaster in the world.
Top Speed – 80km/h 50mph
Cost – £5m
Length – 7442ft 2268m
Height – 107ft 33m
Type – Steel
Inversions – 0
Theme Park – Lightwater Valley Theme Park
Year Opened – 1991
Different types of Roller Coaster
Due to its wooden support structures, The Ultimate is often mistakenly referred to as a wooden roller coaster (or a woody), when it is actually classed as steel. What differentiates wooden and steel roller coasters is the track and not the supports.
The majority of wooden rollercoasters have running rails made of flattened steel strips mounted on a laminated wooden track. Many wooden roller coasters also have wooden support structures, but not all. In some cases, steel supports and trusses are also used.
Historically all roller coasters were woodies, there are some excellent examples still in operation at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire. Wooden roller coasters are starting to make a bit of a comeback, Megafobia was built at Oakwood Theme Park in 1996 and Alton Towers Resort added The Wicker Man in 2018.
In modern times, the majority of roller coasters are constructed from Steel. Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland Califonia which opened in 1959, was the very first steel coaster in the world. The introduction of steel tracks revolutionised the industry and was the most significant change to roller coaster design since the 1800s. Steel roller coasters run on tracks made entirely of tubular steel and have steel support structures.
A new generation of roller coasters has recently arrived in the form of Hybrids. Hybrid roller coasters combine smooth steel tracks with traditional wooden structures, giving riders all the fun of the ‘wooden wobble’, with a far smoother, less bumpy ride.
Loved by the roller coaster enthusiast community for its honesty, brutality and sheer rawness, The Ultimate owes a debt of gratitude to Lightwater Valley’s founder (Robert Staveley) for his pioneering vision during the early 1990s. It all started when work began on a project aimed at announcing Lightwater Valley’s arrival as a bona fide theme park for thrill seekers. The aim of the project was to build the longest roller coaster in the world, but due to the sheer scale of the project, there were a number of hurdles which needed to be overcome.
Construction of The Ultimate
Robert Staveley used the success of the Rat Ride (now operating as Raptor Attack) to persuade his wife that another roller coaster should be built. He liked the idea of having a roller coaster coming down the valley at the far end of the theme park. The challenge he faced was how to get people to the top of the valley to board the roller coaster train. His wife suggested that they send the train out to the top of the valley and then return it to the main theme park by constructing two lift hills. Robert Staveley headed into the woods with a spray paint can and said “this is where I’d like to do it”.
With the location of the ride decided upon, plans were drawn up and construction commenced. Park employees helped with the building of the wooden structures on which the ride would run. They painstakingly bolted the pieces together one by one like a giant Meccano set. Part way through the build, the decision was made to modify the track design on the second half of the ride to offer a more thrilling and exhilarating experience. During the build process, British Railway Engineers worked closely with Robert Staveley and Big Country Motioneering. The ride was built using the highest quality Canadian Redwood Trestles which both support the Ultimate’s incredible track length and act as a cushion to soften the ride as they flex with the movement. The track manufacturer struggled to deliver to agreed time scales and ended its journey on the rollercoaster project by going bust.
The Opening of The Ultimate
Upon completion of the ride, the end result put Lightwater Valley Theme Park on the roller coaster map. The Ultimate was especially popular with teenagers, although there was a lack of other rides to cater for this market at the time. The number of visitors went through the roof, but it wasn’t long before they were looking for the next challenge, the next big ride, but sadly Lightwater Valley didn’t have the finances to take the park to the next level. The issue came from the fact that The Ultimate had initially been forecast to cost £1.2m but the actual cost was closer to £5m and this was at a time when interest rates were sky high, putting a lot of pressure on the business. Even with the massive increase in visitor numbers the loan interest was eliminating the park’s profits. This made it extremely difficult for the theme park to sustain the business, so it went on a very level plateau in terms of any further investment in new rides and attractions.
When Steel Dragon 2000 in Nagashima, Japan, claimed The Ultimate’s mantle of the longest roller coaster in the world, the North Yorkshire theme park toyed with the idea of adding an additional 200 metres of track to The Ultimate in order to regain the world title. Sadly when they received the quotes for the proposed modifications it was found that it would cost more than it had to build the entire ride in the first place.
Given its wooden structure and the rising maintenance costs, don’t miss out on riding The Ultimate before it reaches the end of its working life.