The Watchers: A Mystery at Alton Towers – Helen Cresswell


Two children Katy and Josh, are for various reasons, living in a foster home where bullying and beatings are commonplace.  They dream of escaping and after a day trip to the theme park Alton Towers, they dream of running away and living there to have fun, feel happy and soak up the atmosphere and try and grasp what it means to have a loving family life.

Upon arriving though, things aren’t what they expected, with strange goings on and a mystery to be solved in a valley with much history, Josh and Katy are drawn into something much deeper than just their daily survival.

We’d all like to escape for a bit and where better than a theme park, the rides, the thrills, the over expensive drinks and all that.  It’s a great idea until the realist in you sticks the boot in and asks, “where would you live, eat, wash etc”, and that’s when the thought of a comfy bed and some chicken fried rice has you trudging back to the monotonous work fest that is life.

Children on the the hand don’t think that far ahead and if they do they make it into something magical and adventurous, where there are no real consequences and that will be really fun and exciting.  Luckily for the reading public, a book like that may be dull so authors have to spice it up somewhat.

These days children’s literature seems more sanitised than it used to be whether it’s the censoring of Enid Blyton novels or possibly the fears of the author being sued for a child copying something that one of his or her protagonists did.  Well this book was published in 1993 and has a rawer edge, the language is sometimes phonetic or colloquial, there are subtle hints of abuse at the care home in which the children lodged, not to mention the harshness or indeed brutality of daily life.  We later see the protagonists stealing from shops and eating food out of bins.  with all this of course comes consequences, there are nods to the issues of illnesses, disease, unfit parents and the failures of The System, it’s a nice subtle commentary that kids of all ages will take in and learn from and adults will find the extra realism satisfying, if that is the right word.

This isn’t to say that the book is all doom and gloom.  The euphoria of being in Alton Towers, of being free is tempered by the realities of life but Cresswell never makes her stories to saccharine with ideal escapes and adventures, the element of danger from the mysterious people’s inhabiting Alton valley to the very real danger of illness in a place where there is no help despite the amount of people milling around.  The constant strange events coupled with their everyday struggles set to a cyclical backdrop of first, the eerie silence and shadows of night and then the bright days and laughing families is a reminder of how far away from their original goal the children are.

In fact the noise of the everyday crowds makes for a neat juxtaposition with the silent nights, that’s when the Cresswell magic happens,  in the dark where the weight of history and silence seems most heaviest.  Whereas in the day she manages to find those places just out of sight of the public where people never go but are aware of.  The back alleys, the dark corners which people leave well alone, the places which hold a certain fascination but also a sense of creepiness.

That’s what Cresswell does. she gives no let up at all in this 183 page book,  It’s short, tightly plotted and has enough mystery for adults who enjoy children’s’ books.  Part if the experience of the book(for the moment) is actually tracking it down as I believe it’s out of print.  I have a copy that was a withdrawn library book from a North east Lincolnshire library, Various sites do stock it second hand though. Here is the gratuitous self advert:  here’s another theme park that may interest you if you haven’t already read it and yes I do plan to do more on the story, promise!…

I would also recommend Moondial, here’s a clip from the first episode of the 1988 TV series, I’m hooked again, thanks YouTube.   the first few minutes are still as sinister as i remember…

9 Replies to “The Watchers: A Mystery at Alton Towers – Helen Cresswell”

    1. Excellent, I love the capitals in Unsuitable Person. You have an eye for a good quotation, this truly is a wonderful book, I shall pop over to yours shortly (as I recommend any fair traveller should also do) and have a proper read and comment.


    1. Yes please do, it is wonderful as are Moondial and The Secret World of Polly Flint, each has magic and realism combined, and are great for adults as well, if not more than children.


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