SPECIAL FEATURE: Gulliver's Valley resort taking shape in Rother Valley

By Gareth Dennison | 19/07/2019

SPECIAL FEATURE: Gulliver's Valley resort taking shape in Rother Valley

GULLIVER’S boss Julie Dalton admires the drop tower that arrived days earlier and admits it would be her favourite if she was still testing the rides today.

A theme park is emerging from an empty field and there is a peaceful buzz about what was once the Pithouse West colliery site to the south of the borough.

Julie (pictured) and her brothers grew up trying out new additions to dad Ray Phillips’ theme park empire, which began with models in the family garden in Matlock, Derbyshire, 41 years ago.

Decades on, the excitement of a new park has not faded for mum-of-two Julie (49), who is involved from initial sketches to finished features.

A Wild West street already feels like a film set and will soon have a haunted silver mine, a bank for heists and tunnels under the jail.

To the other side is the Lost World, which is awaiting the arrival of dinosaurs and will be bigger than the whole of the family’s original park at Matlock.

A plateau has been measured out for the centrepiece rollercoaster in between but its theme remains a secret for now. 

“I’ve got to keep some things as a surprise!” says Julie.

A batch of mini-JCBs is nearby, already waiting for youngsters to play at being like the 15 construction workers here now putting the park together.

And if she still had the enviable childhood pastime of testing out the rides, where in the new Gulliver’s Valley would Julie head?

“I’d be on the drop tower, that’s my fave,” she said. “I love the water rides, but only on really sunny days because I don’t like having a soggy bottom — and you do get soggy, that’s what water rides are all about.

“I love the fact that we bring parks alive with experiences. It’s not just about the rides, it’s about the actors and people within it that will make that experience different.

“I’m taking you and going: ‘Today you’re a cowboy.’ You put your Stetson on and your badge and get into it. That’s where you take it from a simple experience to one they’ll remember for life.

“You can stay in a lodge overlooking this and it’s a cowboy lodge. Or maybe when you open your curtains, a dinosaur walks past.

“You can’t get that anywhere else. This is what is different. It’s not just sitting you on a ride. What’s important is the experiences.”

Julie added: “People need that ability to step away from the mundane, put the iPads and phones down and let kids be kids.”

Most of the rides will be hidden from view from the approach off Mansfield Road, Wales, until visitors head through the entrance building to see the fairytale castle, carousel and themed areas.

Phase one — due to open in spring 2020 — will fill about 50 of the 250 acres Gulliver’s has bought and will eventually grow into.

“It’s an absolutely amazing site,” said Julie, who is leading on this one with brother Nick Phillips. 

“You don’t know where you are and that’s the whole point. At the moment, there’s a little bit of road noise but nothing else.

“We know there’ll be good days and there’ll be bad days. But if you make sure your good days outweigh the bad ones, you keep going and expanding.

“It’s all about having the right team around you. That’s critical; having the right people in place to bring this to life.”

And plenty want to be part of the party. There were 3,000 applications for two duty manager jobs at the £37 million attraction. There’s 250 vacancies to fill, not including construction.

Julie said: “I’s really exciting to see it coming alive. I’m based in Warrington and come across twice a week. Every time I do, there are parts that weren’t there last time.

“From all the talk, all the discussions we had, we now have the backbone of a theme park. 

“You take a moment and walk through and go: ‘Wow, this is real.’”