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Blackgang Chine
Blackgang Chine logo.png
Blackgang Chine, IW, UK.jpg
Entrance to Blackgang Chine amusement park
Location Blackgang, Isle of Wight, England, United Kingdom
Owner Alexander Dabell/Vectis Ventures Ltd./ The Dabell Family
Opened 1842 or 1843
Operating season March to November
Attractions
Total 3
Roller coasters 1
Water rides 1
Website Blackgangchine.com
Status Temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Blackgang Chine is the oldest amusement park in the United Kingdom, having opened in the 1840s. 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. Blackgang Chine and its sister park Robin Hill are owned by the Dabell family. Blackgang Chine is home to a series of imaginatively themed lands, including a Pirate Cove, a realm of Dinosaurs, an Underwater Kingdom, a Fairy Village and a Cowboy Town. Owing to the unstable land on which the park is situated, landslides occur frequently, meaning that attractions have been moved further inland to safer ground on several occasions.

History

Blackgang, Isle of Wight, UK
The site of Blackgang Chine.

During Blackgang Chine's early years, the area was a steep gaunt ravine, overlooking Chale Bay, stretching around three-quarters 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 many aboard.

During Victorian times, 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. After studying the gault and chine gorge, he knew instantly that gardens could be set up that would appeal to the Victorians as a romantic holiday destination. This along with the increasing popularity of the adjacent Sandrock Spring (a chalybeate spring) led to Alexander concluding a lease for the site in 1842 and the establishment of Blackgang Chine amusement park in 1843. The area was then opened up to the public with pathways built down to the ravine and gardens landscaped on the cliffs. Steps were built to give access to the beach from the lower road. Since the park was opened, it has remained a family business, with the descendants of Alexander Dabell owning it ever since. The park's claim to have been established in 1843 would make it the oldest theme park in the United Kingdom. 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

Blackgang Chine
The remains of the Chine in 2008

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 status of a smuggler between whose legs they could pass to enter.

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.

Geology

Blackgang Chine c1910 - Project Gutenberg eText 17296
Blackgang Chine circa 1910

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 34 mile (1.2 km)).

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 nor consistent. 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.

Park guide

The park combines outdoor and walkthrough attractions with heritage exhibitions and a couple of rides. Below is a list of the attractions currently in operation at the park:

Attraction Date opened Description Image
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. Blackgang Chine Cliffhanger.JPG
Water Force 1998 A 100 ft-long water slide with three chutes, which visitors descend in small boats. Two of the chutes are open and referred to as 'Overflow 1' and 'Overflow 2'. The third is enclosed and known as the 'Plughole'. Blackgang Chine Water Force.JPG
Pirate Barrels 2006 A themed version of the traditional fairground teacups. Blackgang Chine Pirate's Barrel Ride.JPG
Pirate Cove 2012 Themed area featuring a pirate play ship 'The Flying Raven' and a French frigate 'L' Mistral'. Onboard are water cannons that can be aimed at the opposing ship. The cove also features the Crossbones play area, with climbing nets, rope bridges and slides. Several themed buildings surround the pirate ships, including 'The Vortex' (see separate description), a small water area for remote-controlled pirate boats, and a pirate shooting gallery.
The Vortex 2011 A walkthrough 'trommel' tunnel which rotates at high speed. The spinning lights cause an optical illusion which can make visitors feel disorientated. This attraction was originally called 'The Sailor's Return', and later 'The Cask and Weevil', before being renamed again in 2018.
Underwater Kingdom 2017 Expansive themed outdoor walkthrough styled as an 'underwater' experience.
Cowboy Town (formerly Buffalo Canyon) 1976 (remodelled 2015) Full-scale Old West frontier town including a saloon, jail, covered wagons, undertakers and bank. Also features a Café (La Cantina), selling American-style food, and a Shop (General Stores), selling cap guns and cowboy-themed supplies. Cowboy Town Blackgang Chine.jpg
Restricted Area 5 2014 Themed, landscaped trail with animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar when approached. Also features some original fibreglass dinosaurs from the previous 'Dinosaurland' for children to climb on.
Mouth of Hell 1972 (repositioned 2016) A giant monster-like head, into whose 'mouth' visitors can walk into. Originally part of 'Dinosaurland', but as of 2016, a separate attraction in the former location of The Triassic Club.
Rumpus Mansion 1993 An animated haunted walkthrough attraction inside an old manor house. Blackgng Chine Rumpus Mansion.jpg
The Musical Pet Shop 1992 A humorous 'pet shop'.
Valley of the Dodos 2013 (rethemed 2018) Wooden outdoor trail featuring animated Dodo figures that squawk at passers by. The premise is explained, on attraction signs, as the Dodos having hatched from eggs left behind by a pirate fleet, and uncovered in the park many years later. The area was rethemed and the Dodo figures restyled for 2018.
Crooked House 1968 A small walkthrough attraction of disorientating crooked corridors and humorous scenes. Crooked House, Blackgang Chine.jpg
Jonah's Whale (also known as 'Moby Dick's Revenge') 1974 Giant whale, inside which jets of water are squirted at visitors. This was originally part of Nurseryland, and featured aquaria containing live tropical fish. It is now styled as 'Moby Dick's Revenge' and is located opposite the Cliffhanger rollercoaster.
Nurseryland 1974 A wooded trail featuring scenes depicting characters of various nursery rhymes, many of which are animated. Also featuring 'The House That Jack Built', a two-level walkthrough where visitors are challenged to find all of the animals and characters mentioned in the rhyme. Old Mother Hubbard Blackgang Chine.jpg
Fairyland 2011 Themed as a Fairy Village, this area includes the Fairy Castle, with scenes depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty (first opened in 1972, re-sited in 1990, then again in 1994 following the landslip of that year). Fairy Castle, Blackgang Chine.jpg
Snakes and Ladders 1990 A hillside re-imagining of the board game, with steps leading up to large slides at different levels.
Hall of Mirrors 2016 (in present form) Originally located next to the main entrance, it closed in 2013 to make way for the 'Dinostore' shop. It re-opened in 2016 in a new location next to the 'BBC Coast' exhibition. Historically, the original Hall of Mirrors was one of the first attractions at the park, with ten mirrors from Paris being installed in 1933.
Hedge Maze 1963 A large hedge maze with viewing platform for spectators to offer help to those inside. Blackgang Chine maze.jpg
Giant Bug Walk 2009 A hillside trail featuring giant arthropod models, along with an oversized garden shed inhabited by talking gnomes. Giant Bug Walk spiders.jpg
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. This area also features the park's 19-metre-long fin whale skeleton (on display since 1843) and a moving platform experience which simulates the effects of the landslips which have occurred at Blackgang.

Former attractions

Attraction Date opened Date closed Description Image
Jungleland 1978/9 2008 A walkthrough themed with life size fibreglass jungle animals and sounds. It was replaced by the Butterfly Walk and Giant Bug Walk in 2008.
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. Remains of Adventureland at Blackgang Chine.jpg
Smugglerland 1978 2011 Originally featured the 'Jolly Smuggler' play ship, a tree-top walk, the 'Smugglers Rest' play inn, and the 'Smugglers' Cave', an animated walkthrough with scenes depicting the 1836 Clarendon shipwreck at Blackgang. Blackgang Chine smugglers.jpg
Fantasyland 1991 2016 A themed area of the park, completed in 1991 and 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. The Dragon returned to the park for 2019, restyled and situated in a large crate outside of the main entrance.
Dinosaurland 1972 2013 An outdoor trail featuring life size fibreglass dinosaurs. This area was upgraded with new animatronic dinosaur figures to become 'Restricted Area 5' in 2014. Some of the original static models were retained.
Buffalo Creek 1976 1994 Parts were removed following the 1994 landslip; the remainder was relocated uphill to form Buffalo Canyon, now the Cowboy Town.
The Triassic Club 1994 2016 An animated walkthrough attraction. Blackgang Chine, Triassic Club sign.jpg
Smugglers Cave 1980 2016 A cavernous walkthrough containing animated figures and scenes depicting the story of the Clarendon, wrecked at Blackgang in 1836. An earlier version of this attraction opened in 1954, however this was of a simpler design with fewer animated elements. The cave was removed and a similar structure was built in its place to form the first section of 'Underwater Kingdom' in 2017.
Fort Tortuga 1997 2007 Themed pirate fort play area, with slides, climbing nets and raised walkways. Also in the fort was a strongroom containing a locked treasure chest and a giant compass. Hidden around the fort were four compass directions. Entering these into the compass opened the treasure chest, revealing pirate gold inside. This area was replaced by The Wight Experience in 2008.
Rumpus Clock Tower 1994 2005 Animated clock tower which formed the entrance to the bridge towards Rumpus Mansion. At fifteen and thirty minute intervals, various monsters and goblins emerged from behind doors. Upon the hour, a trow lifted the roof up, and two giant gargoyles next to the clock rocked back and forth.
Water Gardens 1962 2017 A series of ponds, waterfalls and fountains that were originally constructed by the Chine's own staff for 1962. Due to their eventual proximity to the cliff edge, they were partially redeveloped in 2016; the last remaining pond was filled in during the winter of 2017. From their construction up until 2006, these gardens were one of the main features of the park to be illuminated at night. These illuminations were reinstated from 2015, using new LED lighting. Blackgang Chine water gardens.jpg
Butterfly Walk 2008 2017 Larger-than-life butterflies, with signs denoting their respective names. Blackgang Chine - Butterfly Walk.jpg
Myths and Legends 2001 2013 Film show narrated by Shaw Taylor, telling the stories of local legends, including the famous Giant of Chale, as well as tales of smuggling and shipwrecks at Blackgang.
The Wight Experience 2008 2017 Film show of aerial views of the island by helicopter. Produced by 'Flying Pictures', who worked on many of the James Bond and Harry Potter films.
World of Timber 1981 2016 This was originally called "Blackgang Sawmill", and was a separate attraction from the main park (though visitors could buy a combined ticket for both). It was an award-winning heritage exhibition 'telling the story of timber' in the setting of an old water mill. Some of the features included the workshops of the blacksmith and wheelwright, the mill owner's cottage, numerous working steam and oil engines, 'Timber at Sea', 'Timber in the Home' and the Mill Pond Gardens, water from which drove the water wheel. This attraction was closed and all its exhibits removed in 2017. Blackgang Sawmill.jpg
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. Blackgang Chine Model Village 1.jpg
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.
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