Eye spy with my little eye... something beginning with fun! This leisurely boat ride around the farm was one of the highlights of Old MacDonald's Farmyard combining a number of fun and interactive features to create a fun game for all the family.
Once safely on your way, the dragonfly host welcomed you aboard in the first of many poems scattered through the ride. Passing through a set of willow arches, your host started to read out a riddle with clues as what you'll find beyond the tunnel - a series of hives surrounded by bees.
Once you guessed which animal the riddle was about, on each boat there were buttons to press that would play the correct sound before you moved on to the next scene - a herd of dairy cows. Each scene had a riddle about the animal in question and a corresponding animal sound button to press, so a fun game to play with the family was to see who could press the right button first.
After a duck pond in the third scene, the boat then passed a hill of rabbit warrens, before moving though another set of yew arches revealing a sheep dog herding his flock, as you passed behind the windmill at the entrance of the farm. Alongside the entrance the boat passed by a set of hen houses before heading passed the final scene, featuring a sty of pigs eating turnips.
From here it was a short ride back into the station near which a cat and mouse were sat.
The Life & Times
The ride started life as the Canal Boat Ride, one of the opening day attractions of Britannia Farm in 1989. When it opened it was the only ride in the area, and in its original format it was a leisurely ride though the paddocks of the farm. In its early years therefore the animals of the farm where the main attraction and there was little in the way of additional scenery aside from the occasional willow arches.
In this format the ride survived first the arrival of Safeway Farm and later the areas transformation into Old MacDonald's Farmyard in 1995. The new Farmyard however was very much more centred around rides than animals, with a much reduced range of livestock living on site, so it was only a matter of time before the Canal Boat Ride got an update.
That update came in 1999, when the ride became the Riverbank Eye-Spy. The ride course itself remained unchanged but now the ride took passengers on a journey around a number of 2D sets featuring a whole host of farmyard animals, with the addition of on ride audio asking them to identify the animals as they passed by pressing a button, which then played the matching sound.
The new look brought a new energy to the boat ride, very much bringing it into the new look Farmyard, meaning the ride lasted long after the animals of the farm had departed.
What happened next...
Whilst the new concept for the Riverbank Eye-Spy was a popular addition to the ride, the 2D sets were relatively insubstantial and so did not age well and quickly the ride began to look tired. In 2007, when the Farmyard got a general tidy up, Alton Towers gave the ride a face lift by replacing the old 2D sets with cartoon style 3D models. The new sets improved the experience considerably, bringing the cartoon animals from the 2D originals to life.
As well as replacing the original sets, several of them were enhanced with the addition of extra elements, such as a sheepdog to herd the flock in the sheep scene (which also gained a pair of goats) or new frogs floating on lilly-pads in the duck pond. Entirely new scenes were also added to the ride during the projects, with new cat and mouse figures near the station and the field by the ride exit gaining a bull and horse in residence.
The different experience breathed new life into the ride that saw it through its final years in the park. In 2013, the last game of eye-spy took place and the farmyard finally fell silent as the Riverbank Eye-Spy closed early in October to begin its transformation as part of CBeebies Land Development.
But the story didn't end there... and indeed the ride itself continues to operate to this day, now transformed into the pithily named In The Night Garden Magical Boat Ride. Where once pigs and sheep roam is now home to Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and all their friends from the night garden.
Some theming elements of the original ride survived the most recent change, most notably the willow arches that have been part of the ride since it was first built back in 1989. Indeed much of the landscaping from the Riverbank Eye-Spy also survives in the new ride with the new scenes built within them such as the hill of rabbit warrens, which has now had Macca Pacca's cave built into its side. The notable exception is the duck pond from the original ride, which has been built over to create a home for the HaaHoos.