Unite with the chosen ones on board the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster, as you embark on a multi-sensory rite of passage into the mysterious world of The Beornen, a shadowy group living in the woods surrounding the theme park. At the centre of the ceremony stands a six-storey tall effigy that ignites in flames each time you burst through its chest. The Wicker Man will rise again!
Approaching the attraction, which is located towards the far end of Mutiny Bay, you are greeted by a large plaza area. One of the first things which catches your eye is the giant Wicker Man structure which dominates the ride and surrounding area. Depending on where you stand you will either see the ram’s head looking down upon riders as they race along the track through the structure, or the human face looking skywards. Lively festival type music drifts across the plaza, inviting you into the world of The Beornen, the mysterious people who inhabit the woods surrounding Alton and who are responsible for the creation of Wicker Man.
Heading to the right hand side of the plaza area, you enter the queueline passing a sign warning you that you are entering ‘the territory of The Beornen’ and heading under the attraction’s entrance banner. Those with fastrack tickets turn immediately left after entering, whilst those joining the regular queue head straight on passing beneath a section of track. (Guests using the Ride Access Pass have a separate queue located alongside the Wicker Man shop to the left hand side of the attraction’s plaza). As you make your way around the queue you are greeted with a plethora of theming. Bunting decorated with characters from The Beornen’s runic language adorn many areas of the queue, whilst elsewhere are various features, including a ‘Rosetta Stone’ to help translate the runes, and large runes made of wicker. The queue offers some fantastic views of the ride itself as the trains race along the track through the twists and turns surrounding the queueline. As you make your way closer and closer to the front of the queue, you will notice that the music gradually takes on a darker and more sinister tone as The Beornen are drawing you deeper and deeper into their world.
Once at the front of the queue you are batched into the main building with the first room you enter being the baggage hold where you are requested to leave any bags and loose articles. On the walls and ceiling of the room are a number of theming items, helping to continue the theming detail from the queueline and further adding to the immersion of the experience. Each group consists of 48 people – enough to fill two trains. Once ready, you are progressed into the pre-show room. You enter a room which is highly themed with a wicker dome surrounding you, and various other details all around the room. Directly in front and above you is a white sheet which acts as a screen for the first section of the pre-show. So as to keep it a surprise, we won’t disclose exactly what the pre-show entails here! Once the pre-show concludes, you are directed to make your way through the door in front of you into the ride station.
You make your way along the near side of the station towards the front of a very short queue at which point a member of staff directs you to one of 12 ‘pens’ which are the airgates for the ride. The surrounding walls of the station interior are covered in wicker theming, with fire effects glowing behind helping to further the story conveyed during the pre-show. The train approaches the station, led by the zero car which features a ram’s head at its front. Those who have just completed the ride exit to the left, then a message is played informing you that the ‘pens’ are about to open indicating that it is almost time for you to participate in the ceremony. The airgates open and you take your seat, ready for the ride to begin once all the restraint checks have been complete.
As the train is dispatched, a tribal style drum beat plays as you leave the station. The train takes a sharp right turn before descending into a smoke filled cavern which has an eerie orange glow. Emerging from the cavern the train turns a sharp left before engaging with the lift hill. As you ascend the lift hill, which changes gradient part way up, you get views out across the Congo River Rapids, and the twisting track and imposing figure of Wicker Man. The tribal style drum beat follows you up the lift hill before reaching a crescendo just as you reach the peak of the lift hill.
After cresting the peak of the lift hill you enter the first sound tunnel whilst taking a sharp left hand turn to descend the first drop, passing the on ride photo point at the bottom of the drop as you exit the first tunnel (with the camera being placed on the left hand side of the track). You immediately race up into the second sound tunnel and over the first bunny hop element of the ride before entering a banked ‘S’ turn first going slightly right, then left. The ride continues around to the left as you make your first of three pass through the Wicker Man structure with mist effects triggering as you pass through. On exiting this first pass through the ride makes a banked 180 degree right turn to take you through the Wicker Man for a second time with flame effects triggering on top of the structure, and mist effects triggering as you pass through. Following this second pass through, the train makes another ‘S’ turn, first going right before turning left, before going over a small bunny-hop element into a flat right hand turn. This turn takes you into a dip which then proceeds into a banked right turn which sees you pass through the Wicker Man structure for the third and final time. Following this final pass through the Wicker Man you head round to the left before a final slight right turn onto the brake run.
Once on the brake run you move slowly forward, taking a left turn into the maintenance building which is in almost total darkness. As the train makes its way through the shed, the scream of the Wicker Man plays in the background indicating its anger at your escape. Smoke and lighting effects are triggered as your train rolls forward out of the maintenance shed and makes the final 180 degree left turn to return to the station.
Once back in the station the restraints release and a voice is played over the station’s audio system instructing you to exit to the left and thanking you for your “participation in the ritual”. You exit the station through the gate marked ‘Escape’, and head up some steps which take you to a short bridge up and over the track. At the bottom of the stairs on the opposite side you are able to collect your bags from the baggage hold before making your way towards the shop. Your on-ride photo is displayed at the entrance to the shop from the direction of the baggage hold. After the photo counter you then make your way through the shop and exit back onto the ride plaza.
The first signs of Secret Weapon 8 appeared back in March and April 2015 when Alton Towers Resort submitted a request for a Formal Screening Option for an attraction based in Forbidden Valley ‘nearby Nemesis’. Documents submitted with the application described a ride of ‘timber truss construction’ which would have included three high points, tunnels to help mitigate any noise, and a station and pre-show building. These documents led many to speculate that, after many years of waiting, the Resort may finally be investing in the wooden rollercoaster which many enthusiasts had been hoping for. However, due to a number of factors these plans were later dismissed by the Resort.
At the end of February 2016, the Resort confirmed the retirement of The Flume, the popular water ride which had been at the Resort since 1981, to make way for ‘an exciting new development’, prompting rumours that the location on which The Flume resided was being considered as a potential site for Secret Weapon 8. Sure enough, on 16th March 2016, the first official confirmation that SW8 would be located on the former site of The Flume came when the Towers Loving Care Twitter account (@AltonTLC) posted a photo of a banner on the fence that had been erected around the area.
With confirmation of the location of the next Secret Weapon Coaster speculation began about exactly what kind of attraction would join the likes of Nemesis, Oblivion and The Smiler in the Secret Weapon Canon. On 21st April 2016, the Resort submitted documents to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council requesting a Screening Opinion for a new attraction which would occupy the former Flume site. Detailed was a new rollercoaster which would include a station located to the north east area of Mutiny Bay, maintenance building, shop, pre-show, games unit and a food kiosk. Plans showed a track layout which would encompass much of the former Flume area and include a turn just behind the Congo River Rapids in Katanga Canyon, as well as showing three theming features, one of which would be on the former location of the Flume’s station. On 10th May 2016 Staffordshire Moorlands Council determined that no Environmental Statement wold be required for the new development, paving the way for the formal planning application to be submitted later that month.
Rumours about the ride’s name and theme first surfaced in January 2017 when a construction worker posted on social media that they were working on a “Wicker Man Ride” at the Resort. This post was later removed with the Resort making no official comment on the matter.
There was then no further official word on SW8 until March 2017, when the banners on the fences around the construction site were updated, along with the launch of a dedicated SW8 page on the Resort’s website. This saw the branding incorporate wooden textures, reflecting the fact that this would be the Resort’s first wooden rollercoaster.
With construction in full swing, on National Rollercoaster Day 2017 (Wednesday 16th August) the Resort released a video which included a teaser for SW8 at its end, stating that guests would ‘be chosen at Scarefest’. This also saw the Resort’s SW8 page updated to reflect the new branding, taking on a darker tone and introducing runic symbols, providing the first real insight into what SW8’s theme would be. The page now also featured information and a video summarising the history of Alton Towers Resort’s Secret Weapon Programme.
A few days later, on Friday 18th August, the Resort announced that their brand new, fourth scare maze would be called ‘The Welcoming: Be Chosen’. The inclusion of the runes associated with SW8 in the maze’s logo suggested a link between the two attractions, similar to what there had been between The Sanctuary and The Smiler.
Wednesday 23rd August saw the release of the first episode of a mini-series which promised to provide exclusive information about the Resort’s latest Secret Weapon development. Featuring YouTuber Elliot Crawford and his co-presenter Julez Taylor, the episode covered the history of the Secret Weapon Programme and promised a look behind-the-scenes at the construction of SW8 in future instalments. More observant viewers also noticed some strange goings-on in the video, including more runic symbols being spotted throughout.
On 25th August 2017, TowersTimes revealed via Facebook that a European Trademark had been filed by Lane IP for the name “Wicker Man” to be used in categories associated with theme park attractions. A logo in similar style to those used in recent SW8 marketing was also uploaded as part of the application leading to a significant amount of speculation that the name for SW8 might have been uncovered.
On Thursday 5th October, a symbol, matching that included in the trademark, appeared on the signage around the construction site. The following day, the SW8 page on the Resort’s website was replaced by a new minisite which featured the same logo and runic symbols reading as ‘Feed the Flames’. It also gave SW8 an opening period of Spring 2018 and named new scare maze The Welcoming: Be Chosen as its “official prequel experience”.
During Scarefest, the logo associated with SW8 was projected onto the Towers Ruins, along with runes spelling ‘Feed the Flames’. On Thursday 19th October, images also emerged of London commuters being trapped inside a wicker-built cage by members of the mysterious group from Alton Towers.
Just before the end of the 2017 season, on Wednesday 1st November, ITV News posted a video featuring aerial footage of the construction site and a time-lapse of construction so far. Their article also confirmed that SW8 would be opening in March 2018.
Multiple teaser videos were released from late November 2017 through to early January 2018, each providing more of an insight into the world of the mysterious group titled ‘The Beornen’. It was then on Monday 8th January, that Alton Towers Resort unearthed Wicker Man as the name for Secret Weapon 8, releasing further details and visuals of the ride, and confirming the speculation of the previous months.
Although a teaser video released at the end of January gave the first glimpse at the Wicker Man structure itself, Friday 16th February saw the first official photographs of the ride released, focusing on the six-storey tall Wicker Man lit up by some of its effects at dusk.
A teaser video released on Tuesday 20th February featured some of the first close-up shots of the ride’s trains, but it was a Facebook live stream by Alton Towers on the Friday that followed that gave the first official look at a train completing a circuit at night, along with effects on the Wicker Man structure. The following Monday then saw the release of more drone footage, providing a look at the Wicker Man theming structure during both the day and night.
Alton Towers finally announced that Wicker Man would open on Saturday 17th March (the start of the 2018 season) on Thursday 8th March, with the release of a construction time-lapse. This was also the day that TowersTimes was invited to a special ‘Meet the Maker’ event, alongside other enthusiast communities, to get a special preview of Wicker Man ahead of its grand opening.
The VIP launch of Wicker Man took place on the evening of Friday 16th March, with a number of celebrities, media outlets, and enthusiast communities in attendance, including TowersTimes.
Unfortunately, the incredibly cold and windy weather conditions over what was intended to be Wicker Man’s opening weekend prevented the Resort from opening the ride, along with the rest of their rollercoasters and some other attractions. Its official opening ceremony was therefore rescheduled for Saturday 24th March, with teasers released on the following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday counting down the days. These short videos actually contained snippets of the TV advert for Wicker Man, which the Resort then released via a Facebook live stream on Thursday 22nd March.
Although the ride soft-opened to the public for the first time on Tuesday 20th March, Wicker Man’s official opening went ahead on Saturday 24th March, with 10-year-old Lucas Betts being named the first public rider of the official opening day. Although the ride did temporarily close on its opening day, this meant that some guests actually got the chance to experience Wicker Man in the dark, with the Resort keeping the ride open until around 8.30pm to give all the guests who wanted to a chance to ride.
Wicker Man’s technical difficulties continued to persist during its first few weeks of operation, limiting capacity and causing temporary closures. The issues were understood to be with its restraint system and that the train was failing to always park correctly in the ride’s station. GCI therefore returned in order to work on rectifying the problems.