Alton Towers Resort have submitted an application to establish an enhanced and slightly extended ‘Heritage Tour’ through the Towers Ruins.

The proposals are made up of two key parts: the alteration (and increased length) of the ‘Heritage Tour’ in the Towers Ruins and gardens, and the regularisation of the theming for three scare mazes that are installed in the building for Scarefest.

The ‘Heritage Tour’ appears to represent a formalisation of the accessibility of the Towers Ruins to theme park guests. Much the same as the existing arrangements, guests will be able to self-navigate a planned route around the Towers and courtyard gardens. Documents submitted as part of the application provide an insight into the route that the tour will take. Guests will enter through Her Ladyship’s Garden Courtyard passing by the Chapel on the Lower Ground Level. The Ground Floor Route will then begin in the ‘Conservatory’, before heading through the ‘Drawing Room’ and on into the ‘Long Gallery’. The route then proceeds through the ‘Family Dining Room’ and into the ‘Great Banqueting Hall’ which, as the focal point of the north elevation externally, is considered a highly significant room and positive part of the tour. Visitors will then return to the ‘Drawing Room’ and make their way up the staircase in the ‘Library’ to the next level.

On the first floor, the tour takes guests through the North and West wings of the building. The new route leads into areas which have not been accessible previously, these being the ‘West Library’ and ‘State Bedrooms’ (i.e. the ‘Pugin Rooms’), which, it is argued, adds to its positive effect from a planning perspective. Guests can then use the ‘West Wing’ staircase (Poet’s Bay Staircase) to access the roof, and then go across via the tower onto the ‘East Wing’ roof and the ‘Great Dining Hall’ roof. Visitors will then exit back down the staircase to the ‘Library’ and ‘Drawing Room’ on the ground floor.

This route will be available for most of the period that the theme park is open. The ‘Long Gallery’, ‘Family Dining Room’ and ‘Banqueting Hall’, will close from 17th August, with these being the areas currently occupied by the interior queue-line and start of The Attic, and Her Ladyship’s Gardens and the remaining route will close from 7th September or the end of the school holidays. Her Ladyship’s Garden and the full ‘Heritage Tour’ route will then be re-opened for the Christmas event, from the end of November.

Father Michael Fisher, a widely recognised expert of the art and architecture of the English Gothic Revival style, particularly the life and work of A.W.N. Pugin, has been consulted in relation to the ‘Heritage Tour’ and assisted with developing a more detailed guest experience. The proposal is for guests to still be able to freely navigate the route through the building, but with the addition of signage boards illustrating the history of each room and describing how the Talbot Family would have inhabited them. Guided tours by appointment will also be made available if there is the demand and these would operate both during the theme park season and out of season.

The second element of the application is for retrospective listed building consent and the regularisation of the theming for three scare mazes that can be installed in the building for Scarefest. The application makes specific reference to these mazes being The Attic: Terror of the Towers, Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers, and Sub Species: The End Games. Therefore, although the latter maze has not returned for Scarefest 2020, this could suggest a future return, or at least that, unsurprisingly, it is intended that this area of the Towers will continued to be used for scare mazes. The plans do note that the shipping containers which housed the final section of Sub Species are no longer in use (indeed they seem to have been repurposed for use in Freak Show: Toxic Junkyard this year), and so in any future maze guests would exit after crossing the temporary scaffold bridge. Interestingly, the application suggests that the mazes would also be open to the public during Fireworks, with them said to operate from early October to ‘Fireworks Close’ in November.

Since there is significant cost associated with the installation and removal of the theming for the scare mazes, the application seeks to ascertain the areas of the building where the theming could remain permanently, for the lifespan of the scare maze. It is noted that this will continue to always be ‘reversible’ free-standing theming, propped, braced, or weighted into position, with the installation typically beginning in Mid-August. Where there is overlap between the ‘Heritage Tour’ route and the areas used for the scare mazes, the Resort are committing to remove this theming by the end of November. Otherwise it is proposed that the theming will remain in-situ all year. This is understood to represent the approach already taken, however it seems the Resort are required to formalise and define the usage.

As part of the application, the Resort have therefore submitted detailed layout plans for The Attic, Altonville Mine Tours and Sub Species, providing a unique insight into these scare mazes. We take a closer look at these, which detail theming features, special effects equipment, and ‘behind-the-scenes’ photos in a new feature page on our website.

In support of the proposals, the application notes that the Resort are committed to a ‘Management Plan’ to undertake systematic maintenance across the Towers Ruins, which, in the last year, has included repairs to areas of flat roofs, tiling and leadwork for the Octagon, Armoury and Gallery. There have also been specialist stone repairs, alongside the ordinary cleaning and replacement of gutters, while work to ensure structural stability is ongoing and replacement of perished timber lintels is being completed in stages. The current restoration focus is on the Pugin ‘Great Banqueting Hall’ Stained Glass Window at the front of the building, with an application submitted back in April 2019 for its restoration by the end of December 2021. This window and room is due to be a key element of the ‘Heritage Tour’, for visitors to enjoy in its full glory.

While the point is made that the insertion of scare maze theming may have a negative effect on the building, reducing the ability for guests to perceive the internal evidential and historic value, it is noted that many of the interior areas now hold limited heritage value. Furthermore, it is argued that using the Towers Ruins for scare mazes means that the building is being utilised for public enjoyment, and generating revenue which effectively subsidises the repair and restoration work that the Resort undertakes.

Are you intrigued to see what the enhanced ‘Heritage Tour’ entails? Make sure you share your thoughts over on the Attraction Source Forum.
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