by Tony O’Keeffe
: Added October 2011
Liverpool born Tony O'Keeffe writes about the ghost trains, river caves and other dark rides of the north west of England. Some you may know well, others have been long forgotten...
Growing up in the 60s and 70s was a special time for those of us interested in both music and Seaside Amusement Parks. Here in Liverpool in the north west of England, we were lucky to have so much musical heritage and an embarrassment of classic parks and resorts on our doorstep, including the daddies of them all – The Beatles and Blackpool!

Living in Liverpool, I was easily placed to be able to visit such places as New Brighton, Southport, Blackpool, Morecambe and Rhyl in North Wales, all of them boasting some of the best loved, and now much missed, parks in the UK. My childhood memories of the sights and sounds of these colourful, magical places where it always seemed sunny and the days were long are still vivid. Although I loved the atmosphere of the funfair I was also a little apprehensive of some of the rides; I am not a thrill seeker, so the more stomach churning rides have never been for me. However, there is one type of ride that has always fascinated me and does so to this day – the dark ride. Even that generic term conjures up the promise of mystery and imagination and with my love of all things spooky, the Ghost Train was always my favourite of this type.

My first experience was not of the ride itself though; it was of being scared of the exterior! New Brighton Tower Grounds boasted a large funfair up until the late 60s and it was here that the Ghost Train first cast its spell on me. Two large white ‘ghosts’ adorned the top of the ride and their green scowling faces and evil eyes seemingly following me around was enough to send the young me hiding behind my dad as we walked briskly past to safety. Phew! That was close! Unfortunately, I never got to ride it as it burned down sometime later in one of the many fires that eventually destroyed the park. The powerful effect this had on me remained however, and my interest grew.

Later, in the early 70s, I was able to savour the pier’s ‘ghostie’ and the Horror House ride in Wilkie’s indoor Palace Amusements on the Prom, both of which used the popular Supercar ‘bubble’ cars. The pier’s Ghost Train was a great traditional ride experience with light up stunts and klaxons while The Horror House ride was slightly more sophisticated, the main ride being situated underground, but was always breaking down. Many times a string of riders on foot would emerge breathless from the steep tunnel up to the exit, led by an amused attendant. Great theming of the exterior, in a typical ‘haunted house’ style gave this ride a great modern feel for the time too, when extensive theming seemed to be mainly a Disney perogative.

Further up the Lancashire coast, Southport’s Peter Pan Playground had a Jigsaw ‘Ghost’ Train in the 60s, which consisted of a mountain-type cave over the side-friction track layout with painted ‘comic’ ghosts on the interior walls and a few light up stunts. Two circuits in the candy-striped tubs attached to an engine gave me my first dark ride as a child.

After a few years, it was time for the real Ghost Train in Pleasureland, at the other end of the Lakeside Miniature Railway. This traditional, vintage ride had not really changed since it was built in the 30s. Although the exterior had had a few makeovers over the years, the interior was still a single room, with a lot of the original stunts, and the cars remained the heavy, iron ‘pretzel’ type from the prototype rides in the USA. The ‘flying’ bird and the faces moving in and out from behind the trees on the station main wall, coupled with the sign announcing that the ride was run by ‘Dr Beeching and a skeleton staff’ will always remain with me and also gives an indication of the time.

Mention must also be made of the River Caves situated right next to the Ghost Train and another firm favourite of mine. Although not as sophisticated as the Blackpool Pleasure Beach ride, it had its own quiet charm, offering a leisurely ‘trip around the world’ with its cascading waterfall and waterwheel complementing its cream coloured rocky façade. Further down the park, Trip To The Moon was a small, quick-fire, space-themed dark ride in which you were spun in waltzer-type cars through a dayglo space backdrop to the rocky, crater-lined, planet surface, populated by ‘amusing’ aliens.  A great, quirky little ride that was situated next to Noah’s Ark. All are now sadly gone, along with Pleasureland itself.

The New Brighton Tower Grounds. Picture: Nick Laister Collection

The Horror House in Wilkie's Palace Amusement. Picture: National Fairground Archive

Ghost Train at Pleasureland Southport. Picture: John Burke's a-Musings


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