Ultimate (Lightwater Valley)

Roller coaster in the United Kingdom
Watch the on-ride POV
The Ultimate
The red train climbing the first lift hill.
Lightwater Valley
Location Ripon, Yorkshire, England, UK
Status Defunct
Operated 17 July 1991 to 2019
Cost £5,200,000
Height restriction 130 cm (51 inches)
Manufacturer Tubular Edgington
Builder Big Country Motioneering
Designer / calculations Big Country Motioneering, Robert Staveley
Type Steel - Terrain
Riders per train 38
Propulsion Three chain lift hills
Height 32.6 metres
Top speed 80.5 km/h
Length 2268.3 metres
Inversions 0
Duration 7:24

The Ultimate was a steel roller coaster located at Lightwater Valley in Ripon, North Yorkshire, England, UK. It was the longest roller coaster in the world when it opened in 1991. However, this record was taken away by Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land in 2000. It remains the longest roller coaster in Europe.

The ride was the idea of Robert Staveley (park founder) and was built by Big Country Motioneering. The track itself was provided by Tubular Edgington, a Tyneside firm which had previously manufactured barriers for the London Marathon.[1]

The Ultimate operated for the final time in 2019. The reason for this was originally cited as the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and associated complications, but is now believed to be due to the park shifting its focus towards the under-10s.


Park owner (at the time) Robert Staveley wanted something that would put his park on the map. He had found a section of valley that was perfect for building a roller coaster in, but it was at the back of the park, and getting there would require some sort of transport. It was decided that rather than building a separate ride to take guests to the station, the roller coaster itself would transport riders to this location. Contrary to popular belief, the designers of The Ultimate weren't aware that they were building the longest roller coaster in the world, until well into the project.Citation needed

Construction started in 1990. A small British company, Big Country Motioneering, was in charge of the project but were soon sacked due to various problems with the ride. In-house workers completed the roller coaster.Citation needed Many corners had their banking changed and a "wiggle" section of track was removed from the ride due to "not being exciting enough" Ironically, it was replaced with a straight section of track.[2]

The first person to ride The Ultimate was Staveley, who rode the ride tied in by a rope, as the restraints hadn't been installed at that time.[3]

The Ultimate was opened on 17 July 1991 (18 months after construction began) by Frank Bruno, a former British boxer. When it opened, it was the world's longest roller coaster, at 7,442 feet (1.4 miles, 2.25 km) long, taking over 5 minutes to ride.[4] It was named through a contest on BBC Radio 1.[5]

The ride has not operated since 2019, and its future is currently uncertain due to the park targeting under-10s, in spite of the fact that the ride's closure has not been confirmed.[6] In 2021, Lightwater Valley was sold to new owners, who have stated that they acknowledge the "iconic status" of the Ultimate, but that "it needs some work doing on it". The company have pledged to investigate whether the Ultimate can be brought to modern safety standards and reopened.[7]

The park confirmed on the 11th January 2023 that the ride would be dismantled citing prohibitive costs in updating the ride.[8] The ride was demolished in February 2023.



Colour scheme

A photo taken from inside the train

The Ultimate is painted a very dark green. The small lift hill before the station is painted white and has been nicknamed the "Swan's Neck" by park regulars. As of 2019 the trains return to the original navy blue colour.


The Ultimate occupies an area of 17.8 ha (44 acres), and was built around a golf course that has since closed. The ride has two chain lift hills, of 102 feet and 107 feet respectively. After the first lift hill, the ride travels away from the station and over some airtime hills. The train is gradually slowed down as it approaches the second lift hill and goes over some smaller bunny hills. After climbing the second lift, the train turns slowly and then dives down into dense forest. Hidden in the forest, the train goes round some wild large turns, diving then rising up whilst turning. After this, the ground levels out, and a straight section of track follows (this is the location of the "wiggle" section of track that was removed before the ride's opening). Then, the train turns tightly and goes into a tunnel. It then travels round over the tunnel then down into an even longer tunnel. The train then emerges from the trees and round a large turn back to the station.


Close up of the restraints used.

2 trains with 10 cars per train. In each car, riders are arranged 2 across in 2 rows, except for the front car which has a single row, for a total of 38 riders per train.

Each train was named after park staff. They were called Tony's Tornado (red train) and Ron's Rocket (blue train). These names have since been removed.

On a visit to the park in April 2016, the blue train was not in use and not on the transfer track. Its whereabouts are not known.


The Ultimate's station building

The ride has an extremely long station, which can hold both the ride's trains. The building that houses the station is made of wood, with the bottom half being concrete. Riders board the Ultimate on the upper floor of this building. The lower floor houses an amusement arcade and The Ultimate gift shop, which guests pass through as they exit the ride.

As part of the Frightwater Valley event, The Ultimate was sponsored by Maoam and their advertising was put up outside the station.[9]


Eleven days after the ride opened, five people were taken to hospital with whiplash injuries after one of the trains had a low-speed collision with another in the station.

In June 1994, a deer from the nearby fields had its legs ripped off in a collision with the train. Some riders were showered in blood, and a 12-year-old boy was taken to hospital as a result of the accident.[10]

In 1995, an axle broke and a set of wheels came off the train as it was carrying 38 passengers at full speed, causing shock, bruising and one minor fracture to the passengers after the car dropped on to the track, causing half-a-mile of damage before stopping. It resulted in a £15,000 fine for Lightwater Valley and £10,000 for its maintenance contractor, Serco Ltd, of Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex.

Months before the mechanical failure, engineers found cracks in 16 of its 23 axles. Both companies admitted exposing the public to safety risks by fitting replacement axles on the Ultimate without taking into account stresses on the ride. Lightwater, which changed its plea to guilty on the morning of the prosecution, was ordered to pay costs of £4,988 and Serco had to pay £1,983. Health and Safety Executive prosecutor Steven Kay said: “Problems caused by stress were noticed soon after the Ultimate opened in July, 1991."[11]

On Saturday 27 September 2014 at around 11.15 am GMT, one of the trains struck a deer, decapitating it instantly. Some riders were showered in blood. The Ultimate reopened around 30 minutes later. The park claims the deer bypassed a perimeter fence during the night.

RollerCoaster Tycoon appearance

The Ultimate was recreated as "The Storm" within the "Katie's Dreamland" scenario (Katie's World in the American version) in the original RollerCoaster Tycoon video game.


Longest roller coaster
July 1991 - 1999
Preceded by
The Beast
Longest roller coaster
July 1991 - 1999
Succeeded by

External links

  • Ultimate on the Roller Coaster DataBase.

Articles on Lightwater Valley