Leisure Review: Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre

What is It?

Located near Lifton in West Devon, it holds the National Fairground Collection, working heritage pieces from several hundred years worth of fairground rides. The site wants to take you on a journey from the dawn of the fairground through tho the golden age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It includes moving equipment and vehicles, arcade games and fruit machines and some of the best examples of fairground engineering of yesteryear.

Dingles Fairground Heritage Center 01
Copyright MG Mason 2017

Arrival

The best way to reach Dingles is via the A30. Lifton has two exits, whether you’re coming from the west or the east the best option is to get off at the east-most junction. Dingles is brown signposted from this junction. From there, you simply follow the brown signs along country lanes until you reach the facility. It’s in the country along some B roads without white lines but easy to reach. If you’re coming from South Devon (Plymouth way), go through Tavistock.

Entrance fee (correct at July 2017): All of the rides require tokens which you can buy at a discount on entry. If you want entry without tokens (you just want to look around the exhibits), it’s presently £9 for an adult and £7 per child. If you want to buy tokens for the rides, it’s £12.60 per adult and £10 for a child. This is good value because you get 10 tokens for £3.60 (adults) or £3 (children) which are sold on site at 50p each, basically getting 1/3 off the tokens cost. If you sign up to the Gift Aid scheme, you get unlimited entry for a year.

The First Hall

Once you’ve paid to get in, you’ll go down a ramp to the first hall. In here is a small arcade of vintage fruit machines – some mechanical and some electronic – include some old British favourites and some you might be unfamiliar with. This is also the main part of the exhibition where there are some great 19th-century fairground games, rides and spare parts on display. These are non-working and for display purposes only. There is also a time tunnel, a brief run through the history of fairgrounds and some classic vehicles. The exhibits are marvellous but the state of the hall leaves a lot to be desired. It’s like an old warehouse with a concrete floor and plastic corrugated roofing that hasn’t been cleaned in years. It’s quite messy and unappealing which is a shame considering how well looked after the exhibits are.

DIngles Fairground Heritage Centre
Copyright MG Mason 2017

The Vehicles Exhibition

Part of the same building but accessed by going outside into a small courtyard, there are some impressive late 19th and early 20th century vehicles lined up with display boards. Again, the room in which they are located is a little grubby and looks like a building site. I didn’t expect a glossy museum but improvements are certainly needed in this part of the centre. People would want to spend more time there if the collections were set out attractively in a pleasant setting. While these areas are not the primary draw, they feel an afterthought and that means people bypass them.

The Main Hall

Naturally, this is the main reason people come to Dingles – not for the displays but to see and ride on the working collection. They have Dodgems, a Moon Rocket, a Chariot Racer, a steam powered Carousel, two coconut shys, a shooting range, a Hall of Mirrors, a Ghost Train, a Mini Waltzer (for children) and several others for younger visitors, and a penny arcade as well as a couple of exhibition caravans. This is where you will spend the tokens but it’s not 1 token per ride. Most are 2 tokens each but some vary. The Dodgems are 3 tokens per car (you can fit two adults in quite easily).

Copyright MG Mason 2017

The side acts could do with a review though. It makes no sense to have 2 tokens for a go on the Carousel but 3 tokens to take 4 shots with an air gun against the targets. In my opinion, each of these games should be 1 token or 2 at the most. Used wisely, you can have a go on most of the rides. If you don’t feel 10 tokens is enough you can purchase them at the machine for 50p each so it will hardly break the bank to buy more. Also in the main hall is a penny arcade for when you want to take a break from the rides.

Facilities

It has a cafe with plenty of seating selling the typical things you would expect to see at a tourist attraction – tea, coffee, cake, scones, sandwiches, baguettes and paninis are pretty standard fair. This is Devon so cream teas and pasties are a must. It’s simple food and the prices are reasonable. I’ve been to places with worse food and higher costs so seeing reasonable prices is always a bonus. There is a second coffee shop in the main hall selling tea, coffee and snacks too, change machines at the arcades and the token machine just inside the main hall.

It’s disabled accessible with ramps allowing you to go right through the facility. There are sets of toilets at the top end of the first hall and newer toilets outside in the courtyard. Speaking of which, there is nothing in the courtyard except a couple of benches. What would have been wrong with putting an outdoor exhibit here or even a candy floss stall? Modern museums are all about the experience.

Verdict

Dingles is a great day out but some of it feels like a missed opportunity. The exhibitions are in a bit of a sorry state and not very welcoming. I feel they could have done more to make the place a bit more presentable or to create a more authentic atmosphere. This counts doubly for the working rides. They’re in a large warehouse, basically. A few things are missing – there is no candy floss machine for example and no stalls selling toffee apples. Modern Living History museums have gone a long way to creating an authentic experiential heritage environment. If Dingles is not careful, it could slip behind.

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