It all made sense: it's leaving Alton Towers, the relief that the visit is now just something to spin yarns about in the outside world, that makes a trip so worthwhile. You soon forget that you spent most of the day in a queue.
Queuing isn't obligatory. There are unlimited opportunities to be dragged round a lake in a plastic swan or go for a spin in a gargantuan tea-cup, and you are almost certain to get into Peter Rabbit and Friends on Ice. But just as you cannot go to India without clapping eyes on the Taj Mahal, so too no visit to Alton Towers is complete without paying homage to its new pounds 10 million landmark: Nemesis.
Even if you go on a miserable day (as I did), and even though attendance figures (currently 2.5 million a year) dip slightly in the autumn, experiencing Nemesis will require patience. If you time it right, and decide to forego the painfully slow food- stalls at lunch, you might only have to wait an hour. Apocryphal stories about queue-jumping children being locked up for the day abound. But as you snake round what resembles an aborted Hollywood film set - a rocky gorge presided over by a giant alien and quenched by blood-red water - to the terrified shrieks of passing riders, standing in a cosy herd becomes quite pleasurable.
The woman behind, celebrating her graduation from Sheffield University, grew visibly paler until, mysteriously, she vanished. Signs warning those of a weak disposition to turn back finally had their effect on her. My friend was having none of that, and shrieked away to her heart's content. In fact, the ride is so fast, a mere 90 seconds, that the brain has no time to register that it is being spun upside down or that the train has twisted 360 degrees on its rails.
The sheer relentlessness of Nemesis is superficially impressive. It has been so blatantly designed to play on your fears of fairground accidents (and what a year it's been) that, as your feet swing inches away from the rock face, you have no choice but to put your faith entirely in the technology. 'Yes, yes, yes . . . Oh god' yelled a group in front as the ride slammed to a halt. That's a lot of queuing for four seconds of weightlessness, my friend and I agreed as we watched a Japanese man stagger off and vomit.
Once you've 'done' Nemesis all that remains is to queue for the more traditional rides and laugh at their quaint designs. The Beast, Thunder Looper and the creaky Corkscrew are well worth a go: you just have to keep schlepping across the 500-acre grounds from Forbidden Valley to Fantasy World or Katanga Canyon, in the hope that you've hit a low queue spot.
Far better to hire a child for the day. That way the decision to avoid Nemesis is made for you. Along with Thunder Looper and The Beast, it carries a 1.4m height restriction, thus effectively barring any standard-sized 11-year old. Which means you can relax in the lush grounds, inhale the scent of rhododendra or, if the weather is poor, go indoors to the 3-D cinema, for some virtual husky racing. Theme parks of the future will probably involve more staring at screens. So don't feel guilty as you sit back, open a can of Nemesis (the soft drink) and stuff your face with warm donuts. No one back home will be any the wiser.
Alton Towers, Alton, Staffordshire (0538 702200) open seven days a week, rides from 10am, closes 5.30pm (6pm Sat/Sun) pounds 15 adults, pounds 11 children (4-14). A full-day ticket entitles visitors to return the following day for pounds 5 a head. To 6 Nov
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