Excursions: The big thrill: The world's fastest, tallest roller-coaster is unleashed in Blackpool today. Berit Virtanen hurtles through hell and back

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The Independent Culture
A local taxi driver tells me that he is going to use the back streets of Blackpool to get me to the train station in time. As he proudly explains, the new roller-coaster, The Big One at Pleasure Beach, is being tested again and the Ocean Boulevard is completely blocked with bystanders. I nod and try to hide my still-shaking hands. Yes, I have heard of it.

With 6.75 million visitors each season, Blackpool Pleasure Beach is Britain's top free tourist attraction, as listed by the English Tourist Board. To maintain these record-high figures and keep its position at the top, Pleasure Beach has built yet another mind-blowing ride. This year it is the tallest and fastest roller-coaster in the world, The Pepsi Max Big One, a pounds 12m venture. At a height of 235 ft, The Big One will be head and shoulders above the rest. Designed in the US by Arrow Dynamics Inc, the ride will reach speeds of 85 mph, have a first lightning drop at an angle of 65 degrees, and a total length of just over a mile.

Fine on paper, but when you are actually hurtling towards the first drop, it all turns to heart-stopping panic. Only then do you realise there is no escape. You are firmly tied to your seat with a safety belt and further secured by a firm-looking steel bar across your lap. But it doesn't give you the peace of mind you are desperately longing for. On your left you see the Irish Sea, on your right a sweeping expanse of beach. Next, a burst of mind-freezing adrenalin shoots into your veins. Your entire life seems to be passing in front of your eyes. It is hard to believe the ride only lasts for two minutes.

'People need stimulation,' explains Geoffrey Thompson, managing director of Pleasure Beach. He does not approve of the latest virtual reality developments in the leisure industry. 'Roller-coasters can still give you a real thrill,' he says as he tells of his four-year mission to build the world's biggest. 'This is the most significant structure in Blackpool since the Tower was built a century ago in 1894. We already have the best wooden roller-coaster, and now we have built the best in steel.'

The Big One has already been tested by some 'professionals'. Andrew Hine, chairman of the Roller-coaster Club of Great Britain, believes the ride to be the best ever built, and the equivalent club in the US, American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), is already operating packaged tours for its members to Blackpool.

The only riding restriction is that you have to be over 4 ft tall. Thompson adds that this also applies to his mother, Lady Thompson. At the age of 91 she has threatened to go on it with or without her son's approval.

To construct this monster, over 2,600 tonnes of steel have been used, and 1,270 piles have been driven in for the foundations, which cost pounds 1.5m alone. Even with these statistics in mind, you cannot help your nerves getting hold of you when whizzing through Pleasure Beach structures on The Big One. If this is the stimulation Geoffrey Thompson mentioned, it will definitely be engraved on to your living memory.

The taxi driver pulls in at last in front of the station and helps me get my bags out. 'I've heard they're using sandbags to test that ride,' he says. I nod and disappear into the station. If he only knew.

The Pepsi Max Big One opens to the public at Blackpool Pleasure Beach today (0253 341033); road access, M6 Junction 32, M55

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