Grab your broomsticks, it’s Halloween! Here’show to keep your little coven spellbound and the not-so-little monsters in your life cackling at some of Britain’s top haunts.
Apparently, we have the Celts to thank for Halloween and its creepy traditions. According to some scholars, the last day of October marked the end of the Celtic calendar and was the day they chose to honour their dead. Unfortunately, the Celts also felt this was the time when the barrier between worlds became wafer thin, allowing spirits to cross over and mingle with the living in order to destroy their recently gathered crops. So, to prepare themselves for this medieval fright night, the Celts across Britain and Europe disguised themselves as ghosts and ghouls to wander unopposed, further arming themselves with lanterns carved from large seasonal vegetables and lighting bonfires. Sound familiar?
Of course, the well-to-do were far too important to indulge with such supernatural superstitions, so the poor offered to pray for their dead as well – in return fora small cake or, if you like, a treat. Conversely, in Irish mythology the Pooka (think Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) would also be around to play pranks. Of course, you can’t miss the trick.
The name Halloween originates from the mid-1700s and is derived from the Scottish All Hallows’ Eve – the night before All Saints Day, which is November 1 – and, with the Church starting to restrict Pagan practices, Irish settlers heading to America took their traditions with them.
And that’s how a festival dedicated to death snowballed into the multi-million-pound fun night we know and love today. Given such a macabre backstory, it’s really no surprise the best places to get spooked at Halloween are Britain’s myth-laden stately homes and castles. We feature five which we are sure will help raise the chill factor.
From October 19 until November 3,the castle becomes a dead cert for those looking for bloodcurdling tales. With a choice of scare levels – Plucky Pumpkins, Daring Dukes and Brave Knights – you can meet a host of bizarre characters, wondrous witches and even the crew of the Paranormal Encounters TV show as they try to discover why the ghosts of Warwick cannot leave.
Further details: warwick-castle.com
Said to be one of the country’s most haunted castles – which encouraged staff to keep a special ‘ghost book’ to record the eerie experiences of visitors! You may even bump into the ghost of Sir Charles, said to wander the corridors of his former home, or catch the distinct whiff of horses coming from the empty riding school.
Further details: english-heritage.org.uk and search for Bolsover Castle
Visitors to Oxford Castle, another of Britain’s most haunted buildings, will be met by a host of Halloween-themed fun; from Bill Spectre’s ghost trails and midnight ghost tours of the castle, to the jailbreak escape room puzzle game, as well as Trick or Treat evenings, pumpkin carvings and ghost hunts for families and children.
Further details: oxfordcastleandprison.co.uk/events/event/ghostfest
Fancy exploring the darker side of history among bright lights? No better place than an illuminated tour of the ruins which inspired Dracula, Bram Stoker’s classic horror story where you can meet witches and witch finders.
Further details: english-heritage.org.uk and search for Whitby Abbey
Margam Castle in Port Talbot can be a chilling location at the best of times and is said to be the home of the nasty and angry spirit of a gamekeeper who really throws his weight around! The castle has seen a lot of paranormal activity so their after-dark Halloween Ghost Hunt should be a ghoulish experience.
Further details: eeventbrite.co.uk/e/halloween-at-margam-castle-ghost-hunt-south-wales
Added to the above, the London Dungeon is promising something terrifyingly spectacular in their Halloween show (thedungeons.com) while younger thrill seekers will love Brick or Treat, the spooktacular sleepover event at LEGOLAND Windsor (legolandholidays.co.uk). And just to prove ghostly goings-on aren’t confined to dry land, the skeleton crew of a ghostly pirate ship has moved into Portsmouth Historic Dockyard bringing with them Halloween crafts, face painting, a deathly disco, kids trail and lots of competitions (historicdockyard.co.uk). Of course, if you prefer your Halloween to be more home-based there are several things to keep the youngsters occupied before they go Trick or Treating. The English Heritage website (English-heritage.org.uk) carries helpful guides to making creepy lanterns and masks, as well as proposing a change to the modern trend of carving pumpkins by reverting to the more traditional turnips. No self-respecting party would be complete without apple bobbing, another game which can be traced back to the Celts, who tied apples to trees to encourage the sun god to return the following year. Then it’s off for the much-loved house-to-house procession where clusters of Grim Reapers, zombies, Captain Jack Sparrows, ghosts, skeletons and even Hulks knock on doors and demand: ‘Trick or Treat?’ Whatever would the Celts have made of it all?
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