ALISON PHILLIPS and daughters enjoy a day out at Alton Towers

THEY say never go back to somewhere you have treasured memories of, in case a return visit leads to disenchantment.

But I was intrigued by the idea of a 21st century wooden rollercoaster, having vivid childhood memories of riding the swaying, rattling cars up the slope on the Grand National and the views of Blackpool seafront before that stomach-dropping plunge.

I also wanted to see if a theme park rendevous would work now that my adult children are living away from home, bridging that sometimes awkward gap when you run out of conversation even with your nearest and dearest - after all, we do call/text/skype each other quite a lot.

So we all met up at Alton Towers, which is so tucked away in the Staffordshire countryside it takes a surprising amount of time to drive there once you get off the M6.

I had forgotton just how big the resort is, and how long the queues can be - half an hour just for the monorail in from the car park, so I walked, very fast. We managed to meet up OK at the turnstiles, and, the girls having done some online research and assuring me that the Wicker Man, the park's latest attraction and the aforesaid wooden thrill ride, would have the longest queue, we raced in that direction.

There was the usual Phillips family quarrel over the map-reading but we got there, to see the boards declaring a 70-minute wait - and the ride had currently stalled.

But it looked great, belching clouds of smoke and flame, so we decided to wait it out. I tried to remember as much of I could of the plot of the 1960s horror film, which sounded terribly tame to my horror-gore-fest-loving daughter.

They did get the ride working again soon, and as it rattled and rumbled over our head we looked at the wooden structures as they leapt and trembled and began to wonder what we were letting ourselves in for.

It ground to a halt several more times due to teething troubles, and some people wimped out of the queue, but we decided not to and ate breakfast as we swopped gossip.

So was it worth it? Absolutely, a great ride, with twists, turns, plunges and leaps, though not the 360 loops some rides now boast.

The part where you plunge through the flames had us all screaming, but it was more fun than terror, even the smallest and youngest riders seemed to feel happy this was a thrill, rather than a fright, experience.

We'd decided to try and get on all the big rides if we could, as some were new since we last visited, so we bypassed the more family-friendly log flume and made for Nemesis.

It's still as good as ever, hurling you upside down and what seems like inside out with not once but two 360 loops in just about the right ride time. And only a 30-minute wait, long enough for a packet of crisps and a drink - we decided long ago the way to deal with hunger, while preventing motion sickness, at theme parks is to take your own supplies and graze your way round, avoiding the cafes except when you want a hot drink.

That treat over, we went for Galactica, only to find it is what used to be called Air, and as we hadn't felt the 'fly-through-the-sky-like-Peter-Pan' idea much cop on our last visit we abandoned that idea.

We took the 'short cut' down the valleyside to get to the opposite side of the park, which is when once again I remembered about distances. Shorter it might be, steeper it definitly is.

Once there the queue for Rita was a bit longer, but we needed more food and anyway one of our party said this sort of ride, where you go from 0-fartoofast in much less than 60 seconds, was their favourite.

Staggering off that, I reckoned something a little gentler was needed so we headed for Hex, recommended by a friend of one of the girls who said it 'messes with your head'.

We felt this was a must-try, and there was hardly any queue, so in we went.

I have to say the queueing area, in a faux castle, wasn't impressive but once you were inside it definitely took your breath away - and all without leaving your seat - we think.

To be honest, by the end of the ride, which at one point makes you feel as if you're in the middle of a giant kaleidoscope, we weren't sure if we would come out to find the whole place had turned upside down. It was like being in Hogwarts when the staircases suddenly move and what was solid becomes thin air - brilliant.

We'd left the Smiler, the park's largest rollercoaster and one with the most fearsome reputation, to the end. An hour's queueing seemed OK but we'd reckoned without the irritating groups of teens on a school trip who were all around us and the hideously annoying music and jingles. Smiler? by the time we got on the thing I was ready to strangle someone.

Which might have coloured my view, because I thought it was a bit too long, a bit too fast and trying a bit too hard. I prefer Nemesis, where you get the same thrills faster. It's telling that it was the only ride we said we would not bother to do again.

And finally came Oblivion, long one of my favourites, and its slow crank up the hill...the ever-so-long pause on the cliff edge..... and then it hurls you through 90 degrees and face first vertically down into a hole in the ground. Brilliant!

Like all theme parks, Alton Towers isn't just about thrill rides, and there were hordes of families with younger children having the time of their lives too, just as we did all those years ago. As well as the hordes of tweens and teens for whom Alton Towers may well have been their first experience of being allowed to enjoy themselves free range while their parents relaxed in a cafe.

New this year is CBeebies Land, where Bing and Flop - if you've got tinies these will no doubt be more than familiar friends - are waiting to take your kids with them on their very own Alton Towers adventure.

Whatever age you and your family are, this is still a great day out with so much to do you go home exhausted. Ticket prices start at around £35 online, and there is a huge range of season passes, special offer and ticket deals so it really pays to shop around before you go. Travel time from Wiltshire is between 3-4 hours depending on where you are in the county, but the roads are usually clear as its worth setting off to be there when the gates open and have the full day experience.

You can stay on site or nearby too if you think the journey home is too much to do in one day.

All in all, it was just as good as I remembered it and there are some new rides which have added to the fun. A great day out so long as you love theme parks - which is why we leave one member of the family, and I don't mean the cat, at home.

Alison Phillips