|Location||Blackgang, Isle of Wight, England, United Kingdom|
|Owner||Alexander Dabell/Vectis Ventures Ltd./ The Dabell Family|
|General Manager||Dan Selle|
|Operating season||March to November|
Blackgang Chine is the UK's oldest amusement park. Named after a now-destroyed chine (a coastal ravine) in the soft Cretaceous cliffs, it is about 6 miles from Ventnor at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight just below St Catherine's Down. The park is owned by the Dabell family. Blackgang Chine has a sister park named Robin Hill. Blackgang Chine is home to life-sized Pirate Ships, Fairy Villages and Castles, Dodo Valleys, and the original Cowboy Town. Owing to the unstable land on which the park is situated, landslides occur frequently, meaning that attractions have continually to be moved further inland to safer ground.
During Blackgang Chine's early years, the area was a steep gaunt ravine, overlooking Chale Bay, stretching around 3/4 of a mile down to the shore. It was a quiet place, visited by few people other than local fishermen with rumours of a thriving smuggling trade, which has now become a key theme of the park. On 11 October 1836 the cargo ship Clarendon was wrecked at the foot of Blackgang Chine, with the loss of all aboard.
During Victorian England, people were seeking out new healthy holiday resorts, ideally near the coast. As the railway network was getting closer and closer to the South Coast, the Isle of Wight was becoming an increasingly attractive holiday destination. Alexander Dabell, the founder of the park, soon realised the business potential of this, trying various ventures. In 1839 Alexander became friends with a publican who had recently built a hotel at Blackgang, which now forms the Chine Cafe (Formerly Pirates' Pantry restaurant) and administration offices. The park's establishment in 1843 allegedly makes it the oldest theme park in the UK. Its initial theme of a general-purpose scenic and curiosity park led to one of its most famous attractions, a large whale skeleton, which had been washed up near the coast of The Needles in 1842, and is still a showpiece today.
The chine today
Owing to continual landslides, the chine itself has been destroyed, and coastal erosion still has a significant impact on the area today. The park's focus now is themed entertainment for families with young children, lifesize animatronic dinosaurs being a noted feature. The same owners run a sister site, the Robin Hill countryside adventure park. Clifftop walks in and around the area give panoramic views of the English Channel and the south-western Isle of Wight coast.
According to a May 2000 talk to the Isle of Wight Postcard Club by the then Director, Mr Simon Dabell, the etymology is simply "black pathway" (the original appearance of the chine), but the theme park understandably fosters the interpretation of a smuggling origin. Thus visitors to the park are greeted by a gigantic fibreglass smuggler between whose legs they could pass to enter.
The Blackgang Chine park is featured in the book Bollocks to Alton Towers, a humorous book concerned with "uncommonly British days out". It was chosen for its apparent eccentricity. Blackgang Chine is also featured in a documentary based on Bollocks to Alton Towers called Far From the Sodding Crowd. In a recent interview, star of the Harry Potter films, Rupert Grint praised the park, stating that his family's favourite holiday was visiting the Isle of Wight, their favourite attraction being Blackgang Chine.
The park is frequently associated with ghosts, particularly related to smugglers, with several tales of sightings around the park. In 2008 a video was recorded, showing what appeared to be the apparition of a girl in a blue dress.
Sited below the village of Blackgang at the western end of the Undercliff, Blackgang Chine was, historically, a spectacular ravine (in 1800 a "steep gaunt ravine" descending 500 feet over about three-quarters of a mile).
The location is based on unstable terrain owing to the underlying Gault Clay strata, resulting in a succession of huge landslips giving the area a very rugged appearance akin to the better known Jurassic Coast. Currently the cliffs are eroding at a rate of about 3.5 metres per year, although this process is not gradual. Large areas of land tend to collapse in stages after periods of heavy rain. The areas most recent and destructive cliff falls occurred in 1928, 1961 and 1994. Continuing landslides and coastal erosion swept away the paths in the early 1900s, and have since obliterated the chine itself and repeatedly forced the park owners to move the clifftop facilities inland.
The park combines whimsical and unusual outdoor and walkthrough attractions with award-winning heritage exhibitions and a couple of significant rides. Below is a list of the attractions currently in operation at the park:
|Cliffhanger||2005||A small roller coaster perched 400 feet above the sea located next to the cliff's edge. The coaster reaches heights of 11 metres before dropping in curves and twists at about 35 kilometres per hour.|
|Water Force||1998||A 100 ft-long water slide with three chutes. Two of the chutes are open and known as 'overflow 1 and 2', while the third is enclosed and known as the 'plughole'. The ride is done in small boats.|
|Rumpus Mansion||1993||A walk-through attraction inside an old manor house, home to animated goblins, mischievous boggarts and other fantasy creatures.|
|Nurseryland||1974||Various 'life-sized' nursery rhyme characters, many of which are animated. 'Old Mother Hubbard' is pictured.|
|Water Garden||1962||Gardens featuring ponds, fountains and a large gnome display.|
|Hedge Maze||1963||A large hedge maze with path to the centre.|
|Snakes and Ladders||1990||A giant version of the board game, with large slides.|
|Restricted area 5||2014||Features animatic dinosaurs that move and roar when people walk past. Also features some original fiberglass dinosaurs from Dinosaurland for children to climb on.|
|Mouth of Hell||1972||A giant fibreglass mouth, that visitors can walk into. Originally part of Dinosaurland, but now a separate attraction in the former location of The Triassic Club.|
|Cowboy Town (formerly Buffalo Canyon)||1976 (remodelled 2015)||Full-scale Old West frontier town including a saloon, jail, covered wagons, undertakers and more. Also features a Café (La Cantina), selling American-style food, and a Shop (General Stores), selling cap guns and cowboy-themed supplies.|
|The Musical Pet Shop||1992||Animatronic animals sing a rewritten version of 'Up a Lazy River'.|
|Crooked House||1968||A small walk-through attraction of disorientating crooked corridors and humorous scenes.|
|Butterfly Walk||2008||Larger-than-life butterflies, with signs denoting their respective names.|
|Giant Bug Walk||2009||Oversized arthropod models|
|Smugglerland||1978 Closed/Removed 2016 to form New 'Underwater Kingdom' Attraction for 2017.||Features the 'Jolly Smuggler' play ship (removed 2011), a play pub, and the Smugglers' Cave, which tells the story of a shipwreck. Removed 2016 to form New 'Underwater Kingdom' Attraction for 2017.|
|Pirate's Barrel Ride||2006||A themed version of the traditional fairground teacups.|
|World of Timber||1981-2016||Closed and all exhibits removed 2017. Originally known as Blackgang Sawmill, an award-winning heritage exhibition 'telling the story of timber' in the setting of an old water mill. Some of the features include Blacksmith's Display, Wheelwright's Workshop, Mill Owner's Cottage, numerous working steam and oil engines, Timber at Sea, Timber in the Home and Mill Pond Gardens.|
|The Wight Experience||2008||Exciting film show featuring aerial views of the island by helicopter, made by 'Flying Pictures', who worked on many of the James Bond and Harry Potter films.|
|iScream (formerly known as Chocolate Heaven)||2008||A shop selling island-made sweets, chocolate and dairy ice cream.|
|BBC Coast||2010||Exhibition based on the popular BBC Two television series, looking at the Isle of Wight coastline, and telling the story of Blackgang, the disappearing village.|
|Fairyland||2011||Features a Magical Fairy Village, including a Fairy Castle and the story of Sleeping Beauty.|
|Cask and Weevil (Also known as 'The Sailors Return')||2011||A tunnel, with spinning lights, that visitors walk through. The spinning lights cause an optical illusion, which means that you can't walk through it without feeling dizzy.|
|Valley of the Dodos||2013||Features fibreglass dodos, that move when visitors press buttons.|
|Pirate Cove||2012||Features 2 lifesize wooden pirate ships, with water canons (which people must press to operate) firing from each ship to the other.|
|Hall of Mirrors||In present form, 2016||Various wonky and bent mirrors that distort your reflection in various ways. Originally located next to the main entrance, it closed in 2013 to make way for the 'Dinostore' shop. Re-opened in 2016 in a new location next to the 'BBC Coast' exhibition.|
|Attraction||Date opened||Date closed||Description||Image|
|Jungleland||1978/9||2008||A walkthrough themed with life size fiberglass jungle animals and sounds. It was replaced by the Butterfly Walk and Giant Bug Walk in 2008.|
|Model Village||1953||1980s||Rather than a traditional model village, this was a collection of models of buildings from around the Island, including Ryde Pier, Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle. The scale varied from model to model. The "village" was closed and removed owing to landslips. Photo shows the model of Cowes Castle.|
|Buffalo Creek||1976||1994||Parts were removed following the 1994 landslip; the remainder was relocated uphill to form Buffalo Canyon.|
|Adventureland||1970||1994||This included a collection of old military vehicles, a replica of the spacecraft from the Disney movie The Spaceman and King Arthur and a representation of the NASA Mission Control. It was closed after the 1994 landslide. The derelict remains of this area, including a roundabout (pictured) and the old mission control building can still be seen just to the west of the main park.|
|Tornado||Never Opened||2004(removed)||This was removed after many failed attempts to rectify the ride's structure which did not pass required safety tests.|
|Pirate Fort Play Area||1997||2008||Themed play area with slides, climbing nets and raised walkways. Also in the fort was a small cavern containing a locked treasure chest and a giant compass. Hidden around the fort were four compass directions that could be entered into the compass to open the treasure chest and reveal its pirate gold. This area was replaced by The Wight Experience in 2008.|
|Dinosaurland||1972||2013||A walkthrough area containing life size fibreglass dinosaurs. It was refreshed into Restricted Area 5 in 2014.|
|The Triassic Club||1994||2016||Comic animated walk-through attraction. Darwin the Allosaurus, dressed in a tuxedo, invites guests 'to dinner' and sings a unique version of the 'Eton Boating Song'.|
|Fantasyland||1991||2016||A themed area of the park comprising the attractions 'The Weather Wizard' (opened in 1989), 'The Angry Dragon' and 'The Licorice Factory'. These attractions were removed and the area completely redeveloped to become 'Underwater Kingdom' which opened in 2017.|
|Smugglers Cave||1980||2016||A cavernous walkthrough containing animated figures and scenes depicting the story of the Clarendon, wrecked at Blackgang in 1836. This was removed and a similar structure was built in its place to form the first section of 'Underwater Kingdom' in 2017.|
In 2010, a new section to the park opened; "Blackgang's Disappearing Village". This was produced in conjunction with the BBC programme Coast, and featured presenter Dick Strawbridge in its video exhibits. It told the story of the island's coast and illustrated the cliff falls and erosion that Blackgang suffered over the years. Approximately half of this exhibition was later removed and converted to the new Hall of Mirrors in 2016. The remaining portion includes the park's original 19 metre-long skeleton of a fin whale, and a simulator designed to mimic the experience of the landslips which occurred at Blackgang.
In 2011, a 'Fairy Land' section was developed adjacent to the Fairy Castle. The following year, the pirate ship play area was redesigned as 'Pirate Cove', with two new pirate ships, and surrounded by other smaller themed buildings, a pirate shooting gallery, and 'The Sailors Return', in which visitors walk through a spinning tunnel of lights designed to disorientate.
'Restricted Area 5' opened in 2014; a modernisation of the park's previous 'Dinosaurland'. It features new animatronic dinosaurs which move and roar when visitors approach. Some of the original fibreglass dinosaurs have been retained in the new walkthrough.
In 2015, Cowboy Town was remodelled, with new buildings and scenery. A family of animatronic Triceratops was also added to Restricted Area 5. This replaced the 'Mouth of Hell', a giant devilish 'mouth' that visitors could climb into.
In 2016, The Triassic Club attraction was removed, and the area was redeveloped as a new, larger space for 'The Mouth of Hell', which is now encircled by a new walkway themed with fallen angel statues and demonic sounds.
The Water Gardens were also re-landscaped in 2016, with three of the four original 1962 ponds located closest to the cliff edge being filled in and planted over. Only one pond near the cliff edge remains.
For the opening of the 2017 'Underwater Kingdom' attraction, the Fantasyland area of the park was completely redeveloped, resulting in the removal of 'The Weather Wizard', 'The Angry Dragon' and 'The Licorice Factory' attractions. The animated 'Smugglers Cave' walkthrough was also removed and a new similar structure was built in its place to form the entrance to the 'Underwater Kingdom'.
- Dear Jack, My great great grandfather founded the park here at Blackgang. However the exact date of opening is not recorded. We do know that he settled a lease on the Chine and its surrounding cliffs in May 1842. However, we believe that he didn't open to the public as a garden until May 1843. You have to bear in mind, that unlike the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Blackgang was not initially an amusement park but more of a walk down a gorge with a shop and cafe at the top. As a company we celebrate anniversaries based on the 1843 base line as we are confident he was trading properly at the start of that year. A guide book to the Island was published in 1844, by Alexander Dabell with full details of what had been on offer the previous year. With best wishes, Simon Dabell Vectis Ventures Limited
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- Owen Gladdon's Wanderings in the Isle of Wight, "Old Humphrey", E.Stevenson & F.A.Owen, 1855 Google Books retrieved 5 July 2008)
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