Raven Mad

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Not a Raven after all

Not a Raven after all

OK it wasn’t the Raven, but a pheasant sitting on our window sill at the Alton Towers Hotel last weekend.

‘I’ve never been so close to a pheasant before’ quoth the Powder Monkey

‘you were when we ate one’ I replied.

I made sure the window was well fastened I didn’t want to come back and discover he’d invited his mates round to scoff the complimentary biscuits.

Party room 105 everyones invited.

Party room 105 everyone’s invited.

Alton Towers Revisited

Just in case anyone has been wondering where I have been over the last couiple of days, we spent the weekend at the Alton Towers theme park in Staffiordshire.

Moody cable cars at Alton Towers

Given that Alton Towers is over a 100 miles from London we set out shortly after bedtime (OK about 6am) so that we could make the best use of the time we had. After picking up our friends and a fumble in the glove compartment for a CD we hit the motorways to the strains of Roy Orbison, T.Rex and some calming Motorhead. About midway there the mist came down and the road started looking a bit like that sequence in The Monster Club where the hero drives into a village of the living dead.

Here there be zombies?

Then as the road ahead cleared we got stuck behind a bike club run that seemed to go on for miles.

Monster Bike run somewhere in the midlands

After the bikers peeled off the M1 we made good time to the slightly steampunky Alton Towers Hotel. Despite the rapid check in we had to go to the Splash Landings hotel to collect our park passes  which struck me as a bit pointless considering that this time we had booked the whole bundle as a package. Having said that the service at the Alton Towers Hotel is nothing short of brilliant, the staff all seem genuinely eager to please and don’t exude that phony customer care attitude that you get in so many corporate hotels.

Since we visited the theme park only last year, nothing much had changed, our youngest companion had a great time being whirled around, dangled upside down and hurtling around roller coasters with her dad. Mab and I stuck to enjoying the grounds,

Alton Towers stately home

which seem to be home to some of the most obese grey squirrels I have ever seen along with some very confident ducks.

Pretty little duck

jackdaws and chaffinches, who clearly know that there certainly is such a thing as a free lunch so long as you hang out at a theme park fast food outlet.

Chaffinch

As far as the food outlets go there is quite a good choice at Alton Towers. We had lunch at the Pizza and Past Buffet where you can eat as much freshly prepared pizza as you can for a tenner. It’s surprisingly good. There are also a number of bars scattered around where you can have a pint (£3.80), which is a nice change from the Magic Kingdom where we were told by a waiter that he mouse doesn’t drink, not that I was going to buy one for their pretend mouse in the first place!

Anyhow after a few rides on the cable car and a wander about we returned to the hotel for a rather good meal in the Hidden Garden, which considering we all had starters and two of us had steak  was pretty good value at £95 for four, including a bottle of Californian Pinot.

The following morning Mab and I eschewed the regular monorail to the park and took the nature walk from behind the hotel into the park.

The Alton Towers Nature trail

It’s about kilometre through the woodland to the park and quite magical in the early morning autumn mist. Since our young companion and her father were happy being terrorized on the rides we took the opportunity to explore some more of the grounds and descended into the valley beneath the cable car where some of the original features of the stately home’s ornamental gardens can be found including this rather fabulous pagoda.

garden folly

Returning to the park we had about an hour to spare before venturing off, so after a quick drink in the pirate themed bar it was off to the Sharkbait Reef Sealife Center to have a look at the fish. Like a lot of people I’m fascinated by sharks and Sharkbait reef has not only a shark tunnel, but also an open pool full of small sharks and rays.

Thornback Ray

Curious thing is that as we lean over to look at the fish some of the sharks and rays have taken sticking their heads out of the water to look back ay us. One of the sharks, a smoothound, can even do that thing that dolphins do when they rear up out of the water and judder backwards. I’d love to see a really big shark do that, but maybe not quite so up front and personal!

Our weekend break cost £290, including two-day passes for four and an excellent breakfast buffet. As before we did the Australian thing and all crammed in one room.

Our Alton Towers Weekend

Just before the kids went back to school this autumn, we took the Powder Monkey to the UK’s own Magic Kingdom, Alton Towers in Staffordshire.

Now I’m not really a theme park person, but aside from the monster horrible rides like Nemesis and Oblivion there is still stuff for a 50 something hypertensive to enjoy like the Congo River Rapids

Let’s face it we could not get anymore wet

and a small Sea Life Centre with some amazing tropical marine fish and a pool where shrimps will nibble the old dead skin off your fingers.

Moray Eel

It even has a walk through shark tunnel with White Tipped Reef and Hammerhead Sharks and Rays.

Here comes Ray

Better still since the last time we visited the management have turned down the volume on the irritating pirate Ghost of the Sea projection.

I made up my own version of his rhyme anyway:

The Ghost of the Sea

The Ghost of the Sea

Lost a pound

But found 50p

The Ghost of the Sea

The Ghost of the Sea

He drank lots of Rum

So he needed a Wee

Typically for September the weather was pretty rubbish, but the stately home looked pretty cool in the mist.

Looking a bit Hammer Horror the Stately Home

This Gothic pile dates back to 1811 when the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury redeveloped Alveton Lodge, which was itself built upon a Norman castle that was destroyed during the English Civil Wars. New entrance and banqueting halls, along with several other rooms were later added by architect Augustus Pugin, the designer of the interior of the Palace of Westminster. Sadly during the inter war years the house fell into disrepair because the Bagshot family stripped out and sold off the roofing lead along with much of the interior fixtures and fittings.

Fortunately further decay was stopped when the estate was redeveloped  as a theme park in the 1970s, although comparatively little work on restoring the house and gardens has been done.

Italian Gardens

You get a pretty spectacular look at the grounds from the cable car.

Cable Car

We stayed at the Alton Towers Resort Hotel , which is a delightfully eccentric explorer themed establishment. I have to say that the staff all made us feel very welcome, nothing seemed to be too much bother and there was always time for a smile with none of that management school insincerity that you often find in large hotels.

Clock – Alton Towers Resort Hotel

It has a pretty good restaurant too. We had a lovely waitress called Lydia and, OK I know it’s a bit retro, but I could not resist the prawn cocktail, it came in a flower pot! How cute is that?

Flower Pot Prawn Cocktail

It was good too, large tiger prawns and a good chili hit in the sauce. The Powder Monkey started with melon while Mab and Nick had the pate. This was followed by a very good proper homemade beefburger for the Monkey and me, while the other two enjoyed the steak with peppercorn sauce. Only two of us (not saying who) had room for the chocolate pot desert complete with white chocolate pot and edible soil, a very clever piece of the confectioner’s art.

Chocolate Pot.

Complete with wine the damage came to £120 for the four of us.

The following morning I looked out of our hotel room window to behold mysterious tracks in the frost.

Mysterious tracks in the lawn

They were caused by this little chap’s family.

“Are you my Mommy?”

The ducks at Alton Towers are remarkably confident little chaps, as were the pheasants who I found hanging out in the car park, as I stowed our gear for the journey home.

Female Pheasant

To keep the cost down, we did the Australian thing and crammed the four of us into one room, with one double bed and a set of bunk beds. With a really good breakfast included in the price, it cost £204 for the one night.  This didn’t include the theme park tickets, however there are lots of different deals and promotions so it’s worth checking out what’s on offer. We got the corporate rate of £43.67 for a two day pass through my former employer.