It's a Hoot Hoot at Paultons Park
- 20th Century motto
Paultons Family Theme Park is a theme park based in the New Forest National Park in Hampshire, UK. First opened in 1983, it has evolved beyond all recognition from a humble Country Park and Aviary to become a popular tourist destination attracting visitors from around the world, due largely to its incredibly popular Peppa Pig World. By 2018 it boasted having more than 70 rides and attractions.
Paultons Park is easily located and well signposted off Junction 2 of the M27.
The land that became the Paultons Park estate was mentioned in the Domesday Book as being owned by Glastonbury Abbey. In 1323 the 3,000-acre estate was sold to John de Palton, who is responsible for the parkland's name. In 1547 Edward VI gave the estate to William Paulets. In 1646 the estate was bought by William Stanley of Southampton, and it remained owned by the Stanley family for over 300 years. William's grandson Hans Stanley was Governor of the Isle of Wight and MP for St Albans. He transformed the Paultons House estate and left it to his nephew Hans Sloane-Stanley who rebuilt the house in the 18th Century. In 1888, 13-year-old Roger Cyril Hans Sloane-Stanley inherited. He later became a Major in the 7th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment and died at Paultons in November 1944.
During the Great War the house was requisitioned as a hospital and during the Second World War it housed 12 evacuee schoolgirls and their teacher who had been moved out of Portsmouth, one of the most heavily-bombed cities in the country. In 1944 the house was opened as a luxury hotel, which was forced to close in 1954. The house lay derelict until it burned down on 5 November, 1963.
In 1979 the park was divided and auctioned off in lots. Lot 2, consisting of 500 acres, including the site where the house had been, was bought by John and Anne Mancey, along with their son Richard and his wife Sara. Richard Mancey described this decision with the words:
Our background was solely in farming; that was all we knew, so when we were looking to developing the grounds as a country park it really was taking a gamble.
Paultons Park: The Early Years
In 1983, 140 acres of the park opened to the public as Paultons Park and Bird Gardens. Attractions included numerous birds and animals, picturesque gardens near the lake, and an adventure playground as well as the Village Life Museum inside a converted barn. The Mancey family hoped to attract 50,000 visitors in their first year and were astounded by events, with Richard Mancey later saying:
We had 80,000 visitors in the first year. We quickly discovered that, although they enjoyed what we had, they needed more. We needed a large investment in the park and that was a big leap of faith.
By 1986 annual visitor numbers had reached 300,000 a year and it was decided to begin adding extra attractions. These included the Paultons Railway, a miniature railway that opened in 1987. The Land of the Dinosaurs models arrived in 1988, visible from the boardwalk area that had been there since the park first opened in 1983. Also in 1988 the rabbit ride opened, along with the Astroglide big bumpy slide in 1989 and bumper boats in 1990. Rides and attractions appeared sporadically, springing up all over the park, like the Flying Saucer and the park's first rollercoaster, the Runaway Train, in 1992. There were other attractions, too, such as pedal karts, a maze and the Romany Museum (opened in 1994) that encompassed one of the world's finest collections of colourful horse-drawn caravans.
In 1995 John and Anne Mancey retired and Richard and Sara took over the running of the business. The park was getting over 400,000 visitors a year. A Wind in the Willows attraction (inspired by Kenneth Grahame's classic book) was opened, plus a seasonal Christmas Wonderland. The Raging River Ride log flume was commissioned - the Runaway Train ride was removed in 1999 to make way for it. A replacement rollercoaster, Stinger, opened in 2000. The entire Romany Museum collection was sold off in 2009 as families were uninterested. Since then the park has focussed on rides and attractions.
In 2009 a planning dispute threatened two of the park's biggest and most popular rides, The Cobra and The Edge. The National Park authority realised that, while most of Paultons Park is officially designated a theme park, a small section where the park's two biggest rides were is in fact officially a country park, and therefore Paultons Park did not have authorisation to build rides there. After ordering the rides to be dismantled, following a public outcry in which the park's supporters petitioned for the rides to stay, retrospective permission was granted.
The revolutionary change to the park's fortunes occurred in 2011 when Peppa Pig1 World opened. The park's first themed land, this cost £6 million but doubled the park's visitor numbers overnight, attracting tourists from all around the world. Consisting of seven rides plus other attractions such as Peppa Pig-themed houses, paddling pool and soft play centre, it changed the park forever. This came about through a desire to give Paultons Park its own unique identity that would make it stand out from all other theme parks in the country.
The Park Today
Since then the park has concentrated more on creating Lands. Critter Creek opened in 2015, The Lost Kingdom in 2016 and Peppa Pig World expanded in May 2018. Despite the emergence of these Lands there are still many older rides around the park on the edges that, while they don't quite feel as if they fit where they are placed, nevertheless provide an idiosyncratic charm.
In 2016 Paultons Park was named the Best Theme Park in the UK, the 6th Best in Europe and 22nd Best in the World by Tripadvisor.
The park can be seen as essentially having two halves containing rides, separated by the gardens and entrance in the middle. Although there are exceptions, the east side of the park is aimed at younger visitors while the west side of the park is better for older children and adults.
The eastern end of the park is dominated by Peppa Pig World2, which is all within the track of the Rio Grande Railway. The Tortoise Hut, Penguins and Little Africa animal areas are also within the track. Little Africa replaces Meerkat Manor and the African Aviary, which were built on when Peppa Pig World expanded in 2018. Here Meerkats, a wide range of birds, Fennec Foxes and Mongooses enjoy a much more open and spacious habitat than previously. The penguins' home was converted from the water tank that had been built to house the bumper boats (1990-2003). Between Peppa Pig World and Critter Creek are an assortment of traditional theme park rides, such as a pirate ship (opened 2001) and teacup ride (1997). Food outlets include the Station Restaurant, Rail Road Diner and Coffee Station, all located near the Rio Grande Railway. There is also a stage for live shows.
Other rides include:
Trekking Tractors (2007) - A family ride following a track around a farm area and has on-ride photography. There is an adjacent food booth, the Hay Barn Kiosk.
Wave Runner (2003) - A big, bumpy slide 14 metres high and 60 metres long that up to two guests (young children must be accompanied) ride down in little dinghies, attaining speeds up to 15mph.
Viking Boats (2001) - These boats revolve and rock around in a circle.
Kontiki (2005) - A spinning, rocking ride.
Carousel - Despite its traditional appearance, the double-decked Victorian Carousel only arrived in the park in 2014.
The easternmost attraction is a Victorian water mill that lies across the river from the rest of the park.
Rio Grande Railway
The first ride in the park, dating from 1987, was the Paultons Railway, now known as the Rio Grande Railway. This travels 700 yards near the river through an attractive wooded area from a large, covered station building that also houses a restaurant. The line effectively marks the border between Peppa Pig World and the rest of the park3.
Peppa Pig World
Peppa Pig World is by far the most popular part of the park for toddlers and young children. Opened in 2011, it is decorated with life-size Peppa Pig character statues and it is possible to meet people dressed as Peppa and friends at Madame Gazelle's School House. As well as rides, there are numerous Peppa Pig-themed attractions including George's Spaceship Zone soft play centre, Mr Potato's Playground and Muddy Puddles splash zone. At Peppa Pig's House you can see lifesize animatronic models of the family. If you are hungry you can get food from kiosks, Miss Rabbit's Icecream Parlour, or Daddy Pig's Big Tummy Café. In 2018 the Queen's Kitchen opened.
There is also a Peppa Pig Shop and the Peppa Pig theme tune is broadcast constantly on a loop. Rides include:
Daddy Pig's Car Ride - Why not ride around Peppa's town in plastic cars large enough to fit the whole family? Look out for Zoe Zebra on the Zebra Crossing! This ride takes photos.
George's Dinosaur Adventure - Probably the best ride in Peppa Pig World. You can ride a rocking dinosaur at a sedate 3.14mph around a prehistoric landscape.
Grandpa Pig's Boat Trip - A ride in which boats just about large enough for a family rotate around a circular lake with a lighthouse in the middle. It is essentially the same as the Viking Boat ride, only much slower and tamer and, as it is Peppa Pig themed, with far longer queues.
Grandpa Pig's Little Train - In an episode of the television series, Grandpa Pig builds a miniature railway train and fits it with tyres to allow it to go on the road. That inspired this quick train ride, with carriages just large enough for a small family.
Miss Rabbit's Helicopter Flight - A Ferris Wheel with helicopter-shaped pods.
Peppa's Big Balloon Ride - Sit in a balloon basket as it ascends and descends. The balloon can be spun by rotating the basket's central wheel.
Windy Castle - Travel up to 13½m above the ground in revolving clouds that ascend and descend Windy Castle.
The Queen's Flying Coach Ride - The first of two rides that opened in 2018. In this, guests travel on a monorail above the Sailing Club ride.
Grampy Rabbit's Sailing Club - Ride along a river inside bubble-shaped boats.
Opened in 2015, this is themed around unusual plants and animals discovered by Professor Blast. There are models of these unusual animals, such as the horse-fly (half horse, half fly) and Bee-ver (half bee, half beaver) all around the Land. Rides include Professor Blast's Expedition Express, a 3mph train ride on a 90m-long track around a garden. Beastie Burrow was built on the site of the former Wind in the Willows attraction. This is a walk-through with tanks showing such exotic animals as locusts, axolotl, clownfish, seahorse, turtles and chameleon.
This land's biggest ride is the Cat-O-Pillar. This was formerly the Stinger rollercoaster that opened in 2000 - it was rebranded in 2015. A child-friendly rollercoaster, it travels at 25mph on a 199m-long track that is never higher than 6m above the ground. Photographs are available on this ride.
The Middle and Entrance
The middle of the park is dominated by the gardens to the north, and the entrance4 and a few other attractions to the south. These include a crazy golf course, a toddler playground called 'Tiny Tots Town' and the Christmas-only Santa's Grotto. The entrance contains the Big Toy Shop and Wild Forest Restaurant. Outside the entrance is the slowly rotating Floating Globe, the largest of its kind in Britain.
Near the entrance is the Screen Street 4D Cinema. This 150-seat screen opened in 2013 and since then has shown several short 4D films5. As well as 3D glasses, these contain effects such as moving seats, smoke, water, bubbles, gusts of air and a wire beneath the seats that tickles viewers' legs.
The Paultons estate had been landscaped by Capability Brown and the gardens remain breathtaking today. The 14 separate gardens are: the Main Garden, Rockery, Rhododendron and Azaleas garden, African garden, Tropical Plants garden, Spring garden, John & Anne's garden6, Snakes & Ladders garden, Jungle Falls, Yin Yang garden, Victorian garden, Forest Friends, Japanese garden and Fairy garden.
Additionally there are birds. These include flamingos, pelicans, emus, tropical birds, hornbills, vultures, owls, storks and macaws. The old boardwalk that used to be the Land of the Dinosaurs is now the Discovery Trail leading to the Lost Kingdom.
The West of the park has the most thrilling rides in the whole park, and is usually far quieter than the toddler-dominated Peppa Pig World in the East. There is only one Land, the dinosaur-themed Lost Kingdom, as well as a selection of rides for older children.
Attractions for Younger Children
Immediately outside Lost Kingdom is Percy's Play Park, a playground named after Paultons Park's original mascot, Percy the Owl. There are also more cafés and kiosks as well as trampolines7 and a bouncy castle.
Water Kingdom is a water play area that opened in 2009; this is especially good for toddlers and is very popular on warm days. Other attractions include the Dragon, a circular, spinning ride that first opened in 2001. Sky Swinger is a chair-o-plane ride that ascends quite high to spin riders round in their swings quite fast. Simple but effective, this ride opened in 2008. Two-seat motorised go-karts can be ridden for an additional fee.
Curiously, in an out-of-the-way spot in the park, hidden behind a hedge near the thrill-seeker rides, are two small rides for toddlers. The first is Digger Ride, in which toddlers ride in digger-shaped vehicles and the second is Seal Falls, a little water ride in seal-shaped boats. These both opened in 2002.
Rides for Thrill-Seekers
Rides for older children in this area include:
Magma - As this giant, bouncing tower ride is volcano-themed, it is ideal to be part of Lost Kingdom. However, the entrance faces in the wrong direction. It opened in 2012.
Raging River Ride - This is the third oldest ride in the park, after the railway and teacups, and the first major attraction. It is a standard log flume that opened in 1999. The logs travel along a 220m-long track with two drops, the highest being 14m high and riders can reach speeds of up to 20mph. A ride photo is available.
Cobra - One of the biggest rides in the park, being a rollercoaster that frequently chops and changes direction at speeds up to 30mph at a height of up to 17m on a 450m-long track. Cobra cost £2 million to build when it opened in 2006. However, following the opening of Edge in 2009, it was discovered that Cobra did not have the correct planning permission.
Edge - A 'discocoaster', a large rotating disk that spins and rocks back and forth along a 92m-long W-shaped track. This cost £1 million to build and it travels up to 30mph at a height of up to 15m. When it opened in 2009 neighbours complained about the noise - the subsequent investigation revealed that Edge and Cobra were built in a part of the park that technically did not allow theme park rides. When Paultons Park applied for retrospective planning permission for Cobra, as Edge had attracted noise complaints it looked likely that this ride would either have to be dismantled or removed from the park entirely. It received a last-minute reprieve.
Lost Kingdom is the most recent Land to open to date (2018), and cost £9 million to build. As well as the various rides, the Land also includes the Base Camp café, the Outpost 12 shop, the win-a-saurus games stall and the Little Explorers Adventure Play Park, replacing the previous Kiddies Play Village. Additionally in the Alive Dinosaur Encounter area, visitors can meet people dressed in dinosaur costumes. Lost Kingdom is built on the site of some of the park's earliest rides, including the Astroglide big bumpy slide and the Rabbit Ride. The Land of the Dinosaurs models were replaced by modern models of dinosaurs in the new Land, which is accessed via an impressive gateway.
Dino Chase - Dino Chase was originally the Flying Frog rollercoaster when it opened in 2003, but was rebranded in 2016. A nice, tame rollercoaster ride that is ideal for children, but enough legroom is provided for adults also. Ride photos are available.
Temple Heights - Originally opened as Magic Carpet in 2005, this ride has been rebranded to become a Mayan Temple and has been moved into the Lost Kingdom8. This is a gentle, tame ride in which you gradually ascend and descend.
The Dinosaur Tour Co - Another child-friendly ride. Inside an off-road 4×4 travelling at a sedate 4mph you drive by several models of dinosaurs in picturesque surroundings. The track is 200m long.
Boulder Dash - This will make you quite dizzy as you ride inside a boulder or egg as it spins and whisks around a figure-of-eight track, constantly almost, but never quite, hitting the other eggs and boulders around.
Flight of the Pterosaur - One of the park's highlights. Riders on this rollercoaster travel a 395m-long track at 34mph up to 20m above the ground. As you dangle, this ride provides the most legroom. Ride photos are available. This ride does not operate during heavy snowstorms.
Velociraptor - This rollercoaster is one of the most frightening as you traverse the 23m-high, 200m-long track at up to 38mph. You begin by reversing up a steep slope before dashing forward and around and around until you reach another dead-end slope, at which point you dash backwards and ride the rails in reverse back to the start. So expect to spend half the time going forwards and half the time going backwards, pausing at the steepest points.