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Paulton’s Park: way too much fun

My children are pretty spoilt for theme parks. They’ve been to Terra Mitica in Benidorm, Legoland in Windsor and Futuroscope in France. But their new favourite is significantly closer to home and combines gardens, animals and exhilarating rides into an altogether more laid-back experience: Paulton’s Park near Romsey.

Lucy is ten and Wilf is five, which are tricky ages to combine in a theme park. Rides that are likely to keep the older child excited might not allow the younger on at all. Facilities aimed at the youngest will leave the oldest cold.  But Wilf has reached the magical height of 1.10 metres, which opened up all the Paulton rides to him, though on some he had to be accompanied. And there were plenty of options to keep him and his sister happy. We started with the first ride they saw, the Sky Swinger, a big mushroom which rises from the ground and spins, leaving us dangling like so many jellyfish stings. “Again, again” cried Wilf, as he would do after each and every ride of the day. We ignored him as usual, because this was just a taster. We passed an enclosed toddler’s area without a second glance at the trampolines and soft-play cages and lined up to board the Cobra, a rollercoaster that terrified me and Lucy, both of whom have seen the film ‘Final Destination’, which starts with a massive rollercoaster wipeout, but mesmerised Wilf. “Again, again” he cried, and this time we heeded his call, if only because we felt much better now we’d done the ride and survived. Over the day this would develop into our favourite ride and we went round it ten times at least.

Another headline ride was right next door, but Lucy took one look at ‘The Edge’ and said ‘No Way’. Like a huge teacup it span around, while simultaneously trundling along massive tracks that formed a huge sine wave that humped high above the park. I tended to agree with her, but duty – and Wilf – called. I boarded the ride, knelt down and faced outwards, and was mightily relieved when a backrest was lowered, locking Wilf and I firmly in place. Once the disc started to spin it worked its way up and over the bump in the track, and the nature of its movement meant that sometimes you were spinning very fast, at others almost calm as the g-force dropped away. Rather to my surprise it didn’t make me feel sick and I was mightily relieved to be firmly secured in my kneeling perch. It was a real, adult buzz.

The background sound in this part of the park was punctuated by loud splashes and squeals of excitement, and these came from the Raging River ride.

Customised family-sized bob-sleighs were pulled up along tracks then sent crashing down to slow suddenly in shallow water. I sat right at the back, and was relieved to find you could shelter from the spray by hiding behind your children – then infuriated to find that I was soaked from the side by a complete stranger who had paid a pound to fire one of the coin-operated water-cannons at people on the rides.

Almost all the rides in the park are included, but the go-cart track cost extra: Lucy wanted a go so I handed over £3.50 but then it turned out drivers have to be 13 to steer. By the time we’d added my weight the kart was so slow I had the throttle on full and could still negotiate their figure-of-eight track without ever touching the brake. My daughter has driven faster karts on her own, though not, it has to be said, in the UK.

After a couple of more modest roller-coasters and a long slide where you sat in a sack it seemed to me we’d pretty much done the park. Then I looked on the map and realised we’d only just begun. The children wanted to do a ride called the ‘Jumping Bean’, where you’re raised up a tower and shaken up and down in a series of stomach-wrenching lurches. Why anyone would be interested in doing this is beyond me, but the simple search for the ride introduced us to a much quieter side of the park.

The wooded and shady grounds have been gently themed, with an area inhabited by fibreglass dinosaurs, another home to caged but very much live birds from all around the world. I’d already been impressed by how, despite it being a sunny summer Sunday, there were hardly any queues for any of the rides, but this part of the park felt positively rural. In various glades families camped out with picnics and I admired their cunning: the park has several food outlets which are good in terms of quantity and quality but somewhat bracing in price. We shared a bag of chips and lashed out on ice creams and iced slushies.

This part of the park felt like a different world. Perhaps the best moment here was the quietest of the day. Under the watchful eye of her keeper, Marsden the macau shelled peanuts using only his beak, discarding the shell and eating the nut. Wilf has trouble doing that with both hands, and watched, entranced.

Finally we emerged from the forest to find more rides, including the elusive Jumping Bean, a pool full of penguins and a colony of meerkats. At a small stage a clown entertained a whole gaggle of children, who gazed transfixed at a range of simple tricks and sight gags, perfect for his target audience and not too bad for adults. Lucy and Wilf watched for a while but soon tugged at my shirt to drag me away.

There were more rides to try and others worth another go. When the park is trying to sell you season tickets or short-break deal their slogan says ‘Way too much fun for one day’, and for me and my family they’ve got it about right. We’ll be back.

More about Paultons Park on their website.

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