Last spin for Belfast's Big Wheel
After three years of lighting up the city centre skyline, of thrilling — and frightening — curious locals and tourists in equal measure, the Big Wheel at the City Hall is about to be dismantled.
The huge structure will be wheeled away to another destination.
Ironically, of course, it is leaving us at a time when it has never been more popular.
Yesterday’s long queues speak for themselves — or do they? If they were a regular thing, the wheel would probably still be with us.
But the company running the structure has got a late injection of business from folk wanting to sample its delights for the last (or in some cases, first) time.
Mark Mearns from Belfast said he was devastated when he heard that the wheel, which has a total of 42 gondolas, was to move out of Northern Ireland.
“It has been great to have a world-class tourist attraction in Belfast and I’m gutted that this is my last visit,” said Mark, who arrived at City Hall yesterday for his third spin on the wheel.
Amid rumours of a move to Dublin for the wheel, which will be dismantled from late on Thursday evening, John Lowery of Great City Attractions refused to comment, but he did say the company are not ruling out a return to Northern Ireland.
As the clock struck the deadline of 6pm, two other Big Wheel veterans kindly let me share their final spin and assured me the views on such a clear day would be worth the wait.
James Pollock and his nine-year-old son Gareth travelled to Belfast from their home in Carrickfergus for their fourth trip on the wheel, which also saw one of its youngest visitors that day, in the shape of eight-week-old Alex McCrea from Omagh.
“The best thing about it is the way you get to see everything in Belfast from up here,” Gareth told me as we rose higher into the sky in our glass gondola.
Looking out from the top of the wheel over the various landmarks including the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, to the roofs of terraced houses on the outskirts of the city and beyond to the Black Mountain, it is easy to see why the attraction has enjoyed so much success.
Gareth’s dad James said it was inevitable the Big Wheel would have to close eventually.
“I suppose, like everything, the wheel has run its course,” he said.
Assistant manager Mark Mahon recalled that panic buttons had gone off at least once every day in his time with the wheel, as vertigo overcame initial bravery.
“We’ve had to get people off and calm them down a number of times, even fathers who would nearly jump out and leave their children because they were so scared of the heights it reaches,” he said.
With this in mind, and as a wheel debutante, it is safe to say my nerves began to get the better of me but I was reassured by a number of Big Wheel fanatics who were returning for their third or fourth visit.
The 200-feet high attraction, which has drawn various celebrity visitors, including Gavin and Stacey stars James Corden and Matt Horne saw Belfast join a host of other European cities with a tourist attraction designed to allow a bird’s eye view of the city’s landmarks.
It hit the headlines in June last year when 38-year-old Patrick Joyce scaled the structure in protest at travellers’ housing rights.
But now the wheel’s final spin has spun and, in just a few days’ time, this popular attraction will have disappeared off the Belfast skyline for good.