Will you be chosen by the mysterious nature-worshipping woodland dwellers? Is it even a good thing if you are?
|Theme Park||Alton Towers|
|Park Area||Mutiny Bay|
The storyline is based around The Beornen, a mysterious group who have been spotted living in the woods near Alton village. This group take part in a festival every year around Halloween, celebrating the Earth and the worlds of the living and the dead. As part of this festival, outsiders have been invited to take part in a ceremony in which select participants will be "chosen" ... but is being chosen a positive or a negative? And what is really going on surrounding this initiation ritual?
The Welcoming is among the best of the scare mazes devised by Alton Towers and is the first maze to take up residence in the Courtyard in Mutiny Bay. As a location it works well, with guests entering the queue near Marauders Mayhem and exiting the maze through the big archway opposite Wicker Man.
As guests wait in the final part of the queue they are handed a cotton bag to be used as a hood, but told not to put them on until instructed. The information given about the hoods is a little misleading - recorded announcements throughout the queue suggest guests "may" be required to wear a hood and "must comply" if asked to do so. In reality, everybody is required to wear one for part of the maze.
Guests are split into small groups of around ten people, and ushered into a short preshow before entering the maze proper. The first scene puts them right at the centre of a festival taking place with the woodland dwellers. They interact with the group, selecting some of them as "chosen" by marking them on their faces with black paint.
Moving on, the group walks through several scenes depicting the community's primitive living quarters. Towards the end of this, everyone is instructed to place their hoods over their heads, grab onto a rope and follow it deeper into the maze. This blindfolded section is nicely done, although not as immersive as the experience was with the Molly Crow scare maze in 2015.
After reaching the end of the rope and having their hoods removed, the group (or whatever part of the group has managed to remain together up until this point) find themselves in an underground passageway with what look like tree roots dangling through the tunnel ceiling. Emerging back into the open, they enter the final scene where they discover the truth about what is really going on in the woods ... the ritual intensifies to a climax as guests encounter a burning man. They move along quickly passing a burst of fire and a priest-like figure who tells them they will burn in the flames, before leaving the maze and escaping back into the evening blackness.
Although Wicker Man was well into construction by Scarefest 2017, many of the details of the rollercoaster including the name had yet to be revealed. With the ride having opened at the beginning of the 2018 season and the huge Wicker Man statue well in the public consciousness, there was no need for secrecy at Scarefest 2018, which led to a few changes to the maze from its first incarnation.
The opening festival scene remained, as did the walk through the Beornen's village. The hooded part of the maze was removed however, replaced by an extended route through the woodland dwellings which gradually become more and more filled with smoke as increasingly agitated members of The Beornen excitedly pronounce guests as being the next offerings for the Wicker Man.
The finale has changed substantially too - gone is the underground passageway, burning man and priest. Instead, guests find themselves walking through the centre of the Wicker Man himself, with huge flames leaping up either side of the wooden structure in which they are surrounded. As a climax it works really well, and the heat of the fire is easy to feel on a cool October night.
Overall, the maze is more intense than the first version, but is still well paced with a slow build into the spectacular final scene. The removal of the hooded section has made The Welcoming more immersive too, as there is no need for staff to help guests faff about putting on and taking off their hoods in the middle of the maze. With the changes for 2018, it remains an example of Alton Towers at its finest.
The Welcoming: Be Chosen is located in the Courtyard in Mutiny Bay
The Welcoming: Be Chosen sign
Entrance to the queueline
The Welcoming: Be Chosen at night
Entrance to the scare maze
Scare maze entrance
Guests exit The Welcoming: Be Chosen
Aerial view of the maze from the Sky Ride
The woodland dwellers can occasionally be spotted roaming the park
A mysterious woodland dweller
The community tend to shy away from modern technology
Participating in their rituals
The official prequel experience for SW8
An overview of the maze as seen from the Sky Ride, with the new 2018 finale and supporting gas tanks visible towards the bottom of the photo