THE Gulliver’s story began back in 1978, when Ray and Hilary Phillips created a model village on the hillside of Matlock Bath, in Derbyshire, England, for young children to enjoy and, in turn, unwittingly went on to create several of the UK’s most successful theme park resorts.

The company remains in the same family to this day with Julie Dalton, Ray and Hilary’s daughter, now managing director of Gulliver’s and her brother Nick, who is also heavily involved in the day to day running of the business, development director. Gulliver’s Valley is the fourth park in the Gulliver’s Theme Park Resorts family and is a welcome addition to Gulliver’s Kingdom in Matlock Bath, Gulliver’s Land in Milton Keynes and Gulliver’s World in Warrington.

There are not many family-run parks left nowadays and what Gulliver’s provides today is the same as when it all started – a fun day out for families. Gulliver’s Valley Theme Park is the jewel in the crown of Rother Valley in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, a five phased development set to take place over a 10 year period.

Initially, it was planned to open the first phase of Gulliver’s Valley in June 2020 but due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was delayed by a month and the park opened on July 11. And talking to InterPark, Julie Dalton explained the reasoning behind the decision to add a fourth park to the Gulliver’s group.

“We had been looking for a while to create a fourth park,” she reveals. “The business model is to position parks in population so we looked at different areas around the UK in our search for somewhere suitable. The Pennines (the range of hills between Lancashire and Yorkshire in the north of England) has always been a bit of a block for people when it comes to travelling so with already having a park in the north west we decided going across the country to Yorkshire was an obvious area.

“The site of Gulliver’s Valley links onto the Rother Valley Country Park. It is a perfect holiday and short breaks vicinity and Rotherham Council is investing a lot in the area. It works very well as a destination.”

Construction began in 2018 and the first phase of the park, which is aimed at children between the ages of two and 13, is currently home to more than 30 rides and attractions including an Apache Falls ride, full-size diggers, the Ghostly Galleon pirate ship and a Lost Jurassic World area, which boasts all kinds of dinosaurs. There is also a mini farm with a host of animals to enjoy.

Various accommodation options are available, including unicorn and princess suites in a Fairytale Castle, alongside Western Cabins and Lost World Lodges, as well as a range of packages such as sleepovers. “This is a sample of what’s to come as far as accommodation is concerned,” Dalton explained, “and we have planning for 500 lodges and three hotels.”

Gulliver’s Valley consists of a number of themed areas. Among these is the aforementioned Lost World Area, where guests can explore the wonders of the prehistoric age and discover more than 40 different dinosaurs, dig for fossils and look out for extraordinarily life-like dinosaurs that roam the park at set times throughout the day.

The centrepiece of the Jurassic area features T-Rex Tower, an 11m tall, 50m long double ‘dry’ waterslide. Additionally, the Lost World River Tour, built in-house, allows visitors to see the dinosaurs and Lost World inhabitants in a whole new way. Families can take an individual relaxing boat ride and tour the prehistoric paradise, while for a more exciting experience visitors can try the 360° thrill of the Gyrosaur, one of the most daring rides at Gulliver’s Valley.

On the edge of the park is Western World, a wild west themed area. Here guests can walk through a reconstruction of a wild west street complete with individual play areas and drop by the blacksmiths, bank and jail house to enjoy a fully immersive western experience. Rides in the area include Apache Falls, a spinning raft ride built in-house and designed to make a splash and provide plenty of thrills throughout its elevated course. Also on offer is Desperado Drop, a 12m drop tower from Moser’s Rides that provides a spectacular view of Gulliver’s Valley before a thrilling drop. Guests can also enjoy the sights of Western World by hopping on board Sioux City Express (SBF/Visa), a short train ride with multiple carriages designed to transport visitors back to the wild west.

Smugglers Wharf offers a nautical adventure inspired by pirates and swashbuckling tales. The area features a classic pirate ship ride from Zamperla called the Ghostly Galleon. Pirate Percy makes special appearances at Smugglers Wharf as he searches for his buried treasure, while on Blackbeard’s Barrels, which was again built in-house, guests can choose their own barrel for some serious spinning action.

In Toyland, an outdoor area, families can enjoy a number of rides and attractions particularly aimed at younger guests, including a Ferris Wheel (SBF/Visa) and the Jumbo Jetters round ride (Zamperla), while in the Build Zone, a construction themed area, fully operational, full-sized diggers can be sampled by both children and adults in an experience families can enjoy together as they dig, build and create.

Bringing things indoors, Gully Town is the heart of Gulliver’s Valley’s huge indoor complex. This expansive area includes multiple play zones and attractions that are ideal for children aged five and under. Pre-schoolers can explore themed attractions such as Gully’s Garage and the Animal Hospital and there are also special appearances from the Clangers and Tiny and Small. Gulliver’s famous Chuckle Street is another element of Gully Town.

In addition to those mentioned, a variety of other key rides and attractions are also available, among these being the Paragliders (Chair-O-Planes), Melody Mayhem and Prairie Ponies from SBF/Visa, the Rocky Ridge Railway family coaster, Frantic Fire Trucks, Rockin’ Tug, Pterosaur Turmoil and Treetop Drop, all from Zamperla, and the Lilliput Carousel from Concept 1900. More rides from Zamperla and SBF/Visa are to follow in the future, as is an indoor Splash Zone.

Explaining more about where the new park’s visitors will come from, Dalton noted: “The park is very close to Sheffield, just 20 minutes away, so that is the core area, but we also reach up to Newcastle and over to the east coast areas. Leeds and West Yorkshire generally provide some other big conurbations for us to tap into. The park has a design capacity of 3,000 per day in Phase One.”

And she continued: “Phase One is what we have opened this year and we have a new area planned for next year. So we are moving forward already. We are continually developing all our parks and this one is the same.”

As mentioned, the opening plans for Gulliver’s Valley were, not surprisingly, impacted by the coronavirus pandemic with the official launch having to be put back approximately a month. Dalton confirmed that the pandemic affected things significantly.

“We reduced visitor numbers greatly so we could ensure social distancing, but at least we are open,” she says. “There was a period when we didn’t think we’d be open this year but we worked really hard to make it work with sanitising, social distancing, extra cleaning and so on. It’s a challenge with the general public as they do forget certain things they should be doing when in a park or similar venue enjoying themselves.

And of the other parks in the group? “We are significantly down on numbers. You can’t be closed for four months of the season and not be. We’ve had reduced capacity numbers but filled out every day of the school holidays. There was more business out there than we could take unfortunately. And of course we don’t know how things will go for half term (due shortly after this article was written) and the Christmas holidays yet.”

Opening a new park at any time is a challenge but to do so under the present circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic clearly added to those challenges. The Phillips family is to be congratulated on the creation of the fourth Gulliver’s park and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later that their efforts can be truly rewarded with operations, and visitor numbers, getting back to normal.

At a glance

Opened in July 2020

Fourth park in the Gulliver’s group

Key element of Rother Valley development

Over 30 rides and attractions

Six themed areas in Phase One

Choices of accommodation

Zamperla and SBF/Visa key ride suppliers

All details correct at the time of publishing – InterPark magazine Nov/Dec 2020 edition