I dream of coasters…
It is no secret that reoccurring dreams of rollercoasters first brought me to the gates of Alton Towers, beginning my long love affair with the house and gardens. But whilst I don’t always get the time to ride them, the coasters will always have a fond place in my heart, making it race with every loop and twist of track...
"The rhythmic clack of the chain fills my head,
as it draws me closer to the edge.
At the top I hold my breath,
waiting to plunge into the smoky void.
The wind roars past my ears,
rushing out of the darkness and into the light.
Rumbling around corners, scattering embers,
I become one with the flames.
For I have felt the spirit of the Wicker Man,
and shall forever be encased in his soul"
The Wicker Man
In March 2018, Wicker Man came to Alton Towers Resort, filling the void left by the much-loved Flume and arriving with a literal flurry of flames.
Created by Great Coasters International, it has over 2600 ft of track and a drop height of 72ft. During its construction it was referred to as Secret Weapon 8 and is the world’s first roller coaster to ever fuse the elements of wood and fire. It was also the first new wooden roller coaster to be built in the UK in over twenty years and has a top speed of 44 mph. The central figure of the Wicker man is an impressive six stories high which riders will find themselves whizzing through a total of three times.
But what is the actual history behind the ride’s fearsome effigy? Who or what was the Wicker Man?
It is said that the ancient Celts used these frightful structures to not only sacrifice livestock to their Gods, but also for the sacrifice of humans. The Celts themselves left no written record of their practices, including whether or not they ever used Wicker Men. But they are, however, mentioned in the writings of Caesar.
'Others have images great in size, the limbs of which, interwoven with twigs, they fill with living humans; the men, with these having been set aflame, perish. The punishments for those apprehended in conspiracy or in thievery or in other crime are thought to be most pleasing to the immortal gods; but, when abundance of this kind fails, they even defer to the punishment of the innocent'.- Caesar, De Bello Gallico 6.16
Whilst Caser’s description paints a vivid and gruesome picture, it is worth bearing in mind that he derived this information from a single account written by Greek traveler Posidonius. Unfortunately, Posidonuis’ account has been lost to time but it is suspected that it was based on rumor rather than Posidonuis witnessing anything first hand himself. It is also worth noting that the Celts were sworn enemies of Rome and as such Caesar would have much to gain from depicting them as barbarous savages.
That being said, there have been many prehistoric bodies recovered from wetlands of Europe that have not only shown signs of having met a grisly end but which were also buried along with highly prized objects such as swords and shields. As a result of being naturally preserved in the bog environment, it has been possible to ascertain how many of these people died. The similarities between the causes of death, along with the bodies being buried with precious artifacts, has led archaeologists to believe that these people were indeed the victims of sacrifice.
Does this mean, therefore, where there is smoke there is fire?
The Wicker Man not only makes a great story and of course a fantastic ride, but did they ever exist and were they ever used for human sacrifice? The reality is we will probably never know, but just to be on the safe side I urge you not to linger too near the flames, for you never know when they may need feeding again!