Halloween has more of a British heritage than you might think. Here, we round up some of Britain’s best Halloween events for 2015…
Halloween today is celebrated in spectacular style in the US, but did you know the roots of the festivities in Britain stretch all the way back to the Celts? The festival’s name derives from being the evening before “All Hallows’ Day”, but its pagan predecessor Samhain, which marked the end of summer, was a day when Druid priests believed that the dead could return to haunt the living and, to counter this, they built large bonfires to ward away spirits.
When the Romans invaded Britain, they added their own customs to the festivities. Two of the most notable were the celebration of Feralia – the Roman commemoration of the dead – and the day of honour for Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees. The symbolic fruit of the latter was the apple – a possible reason for the game of bobbing for apples.
Even one of the best-known symbols of Halloween – the Jack O’Lantern, the demonically grinning carved pumpkin – has origins closer to home than you might imagine. According to Irish folklore, a man called Stingy Jack tricked the devil – in one version of the story into paying for his drinks. As a result he was allowed into neither heaven nor hell and was given just a single ember to light his way, which he kept inside a hollowed-out turnip. When Irish immigrants took the tradition with them to America, they began to use pumpkins instead of turnips, and the former made their way back to Britain.
This half-term, there’s a huge range of Halloween activities going on across Britain. Here are 25 of our top things to do and places to visit…
Spooky stately homes
This Halloween, haunted houses across the country will be inviting the brave through their doors to explore history’s horrors. At Blenheim Palace, from 24 October to 1 November, families can take the Pumpkin Trail around the Pleasure Garden, hop on board the Blenheim Palace ghost train or take a ghoulish candlelit tour at 5pm on 30 October, for which booking is necessary. At Lincolnshire’s Burghley House, the legendary Spooky Tours will make a return too (on until 31 October), offering a chance to journey by flickering torchlight into some of the less visited areas of Burghley – the creepy cellars, the forbidding outbuildings and centuries-old cloisters – to unearth their secret history with the help of local ghost expert Martin Tempest. Places will be limited and are expected to sell out fast, so early booking is advised.
At Beaulieu, rumoured to be one of Britain’s most haunted places, with ghostly sightings in the 13th-century abbey and at Palace House, there will be plenty of strange going-ons for all the family to enjoy, from Halloween quiz trails to spooky story-telling.
Chatsworth’s Halloween trail promises man traps, a 16th-century book of spells and, in the garden, hidden pumpkins, an abandoned tunnel, spooky storytelling and lessons on how to how to make a witch’s broomstick.
Frightening fairytales and spooky stories will be the focus at Audley End in Essex, from 26 to 30 October, where storytellers will be exploring the dark side of children’s tales, delving into the fables of the Brothers Grimm and reveal the terrifying truth behind the bedtime fairytales you’ve grown to love…
Fearless souls can get into the spirit of the season, as they confront ghosts and ghouls at some of the country’s most haunted castles. Guided only by torchlight, venture into the darkest depths of Kenilworth Castle, where you can hear tales of ghostly apparitions and devilish deeds on an eerie evening tour back into Warwickshire’s wicked past. Meanwhile at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire, on 30–31 October, some of past residents are promising to reappear during a truly terrifying night (which is not recommended for children under ten).
Mini monsters can also join in the fun. In Kent, children will be spellbound at Leeds Castle’s Witches and Wizard Academy from 24 to 31 October or can brave the tunnel of terror at haunted Dover Castle, from 24 October to 1 November.
Beeston Castle will be going batty and uncovering the secret world of the vampire’s best friend, while at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk there will be Gruesome Goings On from 26 to 30 October, with an exploration of ghastly gallows, horrific hangmen and terrifying torture in a look at crime and execution in medieval times.
Tudor World in Stratford-upon-Avon will mark Halloween with lantern-lit ghost tours of the building, around the town and for all the family, with Halloween shows focusing on the darker side of the Tudors, plus a trail and prizes for the children. For the truly brave there are overnight ghost hunts.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace promises to be haunted by spooky characters from his plays. Listen out for ghostly apparitions reciting creepy excerpts from well-known works. At Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother, carve a pumpkin and hear the legend of Stingy Jack. At Hall’s Croft, where Shakespeare’s daughter lived with her husband, hear ghost stories inspired by some of the objects found in the building.
At Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn whom some believe haunts the building, this year’s theme is Haunted Hever, with ghostly goings-on, creepy craft workshops and prizes for the best Halloween costume each day, from 24 October to 1 November. Those brave enough to follow the spooky trail can search for clues hidden around the gardens to win a terrible treat, and special Halloween-themed meals and snacks on the menu in the restaurant are sure to revive flagging spirits.
The first recorded house on the site of Peterborough Museum was in the 16th century, when a grand mansion was built there for the Orme family, who were given land in the area by King Henry VIII in 1536. Now half a millennium on, the 500-year-old haunted vaults will open for the first time to the public – just in time for Halloween. Tours culminate in the Ghost Room, where slamming doors, strange noises and a threatening male presence have been reported. In this dimly-lit cellar as the sounds of footsteps echo eerily in the corridor outside, visitors will hear of some of the most spine-chilling encounters experienced in the museum, which allegedly has eight resident ghosts and is one of the most paranormally active buildings in the country.
Museums at Night
For the first time ever, Museums at Night – the UK’s annual after-hours festival of arts, culture and heritage – will take place twice this year, with the second festival taking place over Halloween weekend, 30-31 October. During the festival, hundreds of museums, galleries and historic spaces all over the UK will open up late and put on a range of special night-time events, with Halloween: Voyage of the Damned taking place at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, on 31 October; Contagious! at The Canterbury Tales, Canterbury on 30 and 31 October; the opportunity to sleep in one of the National Trust’s haunted houses on the spookiest night of the year at the Newton House Sleepover at Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire; Things that go Bump in the Night at Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter on 30 October and a special night at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall.
Reputedly playing host to hundreds of ghosts, with bats and frogs aplenty, creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween. Between 6pm and 8pm on 31 October, expect to get properly spooked on a free ghost walk along the canal near Paddington. Ducking cobwebs, bats, ghosties and ghouls, you’ll creep along the towpaths of Little Venice listening to history and hearsay about local navvies, murders and hauntings.
Elsewhere in Britain, the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the Monkey Man – a hideous shaggy-coated being at Bridge 39 near Norbury, who is believed to be the ghost of a boatman that drowned there in the 19th century.
As one of the longest on the canal system, construction of the Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire was a major feat of engineering. Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men. A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805, but over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights. The tunnel runs straight through the hill, so it has been suggested that the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the new one is perhaps where the ghostly navvies are still working. Something to think on during the long, dark nights this Halloween…
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