Thrills in the Valley! A fond look back at a first job working at Lightwater Valley Theme Park.
Everything Changes (but you), a life lesson from Take That back in the ’90’s. Back then, holiday jobs followed a certain pattern, checkout assistants, waitressing, working in McDonalds, Theme Park Staff. Where thrills in the valley lurked for staff and visitors alike,
Lightwater Valley Theme Park, wasn’t somewhere I visited as a child. I didn’t make it past the oversized plastic farmyard animals with glamour sprinkled over them through honour of what they represented, the thrills and spills hidden by the trees.
My first visit came as a wide-eyed 15 year old, interviewing for a summer job and as with many visitors, one ride in particular exerted a strange fascination.
The uniquely bonkers RAT RIDE , a subterranean rollercoaster based around the adventures of a sewer rat.
It sounds like something that belongs in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter like something Voldemort himself would ride. Instead this subterranean rollercoaster – four to a car, was joyfully ridden by schoolkids, thrill seekers and the genuinely bewildered. Asking themselves, what kind of rollercoaster necessitates entering by way of some tiny hobbit hole.
Then the descent, the twists and the turns as you went deeper underground, a taxidermist’s paradise, with the stuffed fake rats along the wall and their glowing red eyes lighting the way. The stench, clinging to your hair, your clothes, hanging around the Rat ride operators like a cloak.
And just as your legs were about to give out, you reach your destination. The boarding platform. In you climb into the 4 rats per car carriage and Whomph!
Up and down around and about, the blinding light of the obligatory flash photograph, at the biggest swoop down. The panic at the unflattering angle over-riding all other terrifying features.
I never worked the rat, never became a ‘rat girl’. Never got the chance to descend into the bowels of the North Yorkshire soil and emerge as black faced and hollow eyed as a miner.
The closest I got; was manning ‘Rat Ices’, the kiosk where rat riders would emerge from the rathole, (pestered of course by the spotty 16 year old staff to buy their unappealing framed photo).
The biggest draw back to Rat ices, apart from the lingering stench. It didn’t sell chips.
If you worked in a LWV food kiosk, in the 1990s. A key customer relation skill was answering “Do you sell chips?”
A question still engraved on my soul all these years later. It would ring in your ears after a busy bank holiday.
Until the grand opening of the conservatory, food kiosks were basically sheds with an ice cream machine; chips were only available in the largest serveries, meaning the chip loving visitors and staff would march around the park. An increasingly desperate hunt for chips.
The miniature train that ran in one endless loop disgorging chip lovers at the Fort Kiosk. ‘Thank God’ they would cry as they salted their undercooked fries, we’ve gone all over looking for chips.
Their quest for donuts would begin then, even less fruitful a search. Donuts were only made in the station fort, by the exit. Unfortunately the alarmingly wide -open and full of hot fat machine (many of us still bear the scars) broke regularly.
You had to have the knack you see, something that took seasons of practice. I still feel guilt that entire coach loads of visitors left without a donut. Consoling themselves with an ice -cream or a burger instead.
For another place to practice your catering skills was the burger bar, situated at the foot of the ‘hell slide’ , a dangerous sheer drop cascade which has presumably been banned now on health and safety grounds. An attraction that attracted the psychotic and the unaware in equal measures.
A key skill for burger bar staff, the ability to flip burgers and open tinned onions at a speed that should make the Guinness Book of Records combined with directing the injured to the first aid post at the log cabin.
The one concession to health and safety, no shoes allowed. It did really need the Centre parc traffic light system but that hadn’t been invented.
It was a unique, working experience, full of laughter, hard work and fun whilst we all grew up, absorbing key skills as we passed into the world of careers.
For you never quite knew where you would be working as you arrived fresh-faced and in clean uniform, ready to start another day.
Taller individuals could find themselves roaming the park, dressed as a rat (what else) or a cow or another Lightwater mascot. Their farmyard animal disguised self’s picture taken with the hordes of kid visitors . Then there were the eternally popular go=karts. Staff and supervisors often needing to leg it after an errant kart that managed to breech the defences (they didn’t go that fast, it was the ’90’s), or the boating lake, wading in and out to help pull boats back, a guard on the train, supervising the wooden fort or cleaning windows in the pet shop.
We all have our memories of thrills in the valley as we worked and as another former worker said; ” “Working at Lightwater was like having your own private fairground, with all your friends as shareholders”.
All former workers have their special “song”, that takes them back to the Valley summers. Perhaps one that used to be played incessantly by the famous and very special Lightwater Valley Mobile Roadshow. For me, it is Snap. I can almost smell the chips, hear the shrieks and see the queues for the Rat Ride and Ultimate, when I hear it on Radio 2 occasionally.
And for the upcoming 2021 season, a re-focusing. The park intends to concentrate on its younger fans, investing in new rides and retiring the more daring thrill seekers.
But for the 1990s generation, we remember the Rat, the Soopa Loopa and the Ultimate. Grateful, for the opportunities we had in this one of a kind environment.
Where we learned to be team players, adaptable (litter picking), flexible and how to open industrial sized tins of baked beans at speed. Something I never mastered.
Thrills in the Valley! It was great.
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