Haunted UK: How to celebrate Halloween in style
By Lisa Hansson
This spooky holiday is increasingly popular in the UK, with fancy dress parties and Halloween events at many schools, colleges and universities. You’ll see carved pumpkins, Halloween-themed sweets in the shops, children going trick-or-treating (knocking on neighbours’ doors to ask for a ‘treat’ – or threaten a ‘trick’ if they don’t get it!), and homes decorated with images of pumpkins, spiders’ webs, witches, ghosts and monsters.
You can make as much or as little effort as you like, but for most students, it’s the perfect excuse to get a group of friends together for a night out with a difference! If you need some ideas, this is our list of eight great ways to spend Halloween in the UK…
1. Dress up for a Halloween party
Many institutions will be holding a Halloween ball or disco this weekend, and it’s likely to require some form of fancy dress – time to dig out those broomsticks and face paint! Find out what’s going on at your students’ union, or look out for events at local student bars, pubs and clubs.
In Derry-Londonderry, crazy costumes are essential at Halloween (©Northern Ireland Tourist Board)
For an unforgettable street party, head for the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland – the biggest Halloween carnival in Europe! There are lots of events going on all weekend, such as night markets and performance art, but the highlights are the spectacular parade and fireworks display on Friday night.
Or why not throw your own party? You could ask each of your friends to bring gruesome food and drinks (see no. 5 for recipe ideas), plan some gory games, or host a horror movie marathon and invite people to dress as their favourite scary character!
2. Take a ghost tour
To get scared while getting to know your local area, try a ‘ghost tour’. These are walking tours that take you to several ‘haunted’ locations after dark, with guides to teach you about the area’s history – often the more sinister events you might not read about in the history books! Some also have actors in ghoulish costumes to scare you along the way.
Spooky sightings (or clever camera effects?) on a ghost walk in Derby (©VisitBritain)
There are ghost tours in many cities across the UK, including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Derby, York, Birmingham and London. London’s Highgate Cemetery is also worth a visit – there have been a few ghostly sightings here, but the famous cemetery is better known as the final resting place of intellectuals and writers such as Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams and George Eliot.
You could also take a trip to the small village of Pluckley in Kent, which – according to the Guinness Book of World Records – is the UK’s most haunted village! It’s said there are 12 spirits roaming the roads and woods in this area, including a phantom schoolmaster and highwayman.
The village church and cemetery in Pluckley, Kent (©VisitBritain/Britain on View)
3. Visit a haunted castle
Do you dare spend the night in a haunted house? Boost your chances of spotting something spooky with a stay at the 12th-century Chillingham Castle in Northumberland (which features its own torture chamber), Ballygally Castle Hotel in Co. Antrim or Ackergill Tower in the Scottish Highlands. Guests in these rooms often report strange noises and shadowy figures – supposedly the victims of medieval executions.
Inside the Great Hall of Warwick Castle (©Steve Gerrard)
If staying overnight sounds too scary, there are many more places in the UK known for their ghostly residents – these grand old castles could send a shiver down your spine even before you hear the stories!
In the Midlands, both Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle have special events for Halloween, such as after-dark tours and paranormal investigations. Pendennis Castle in Cornwall and Dover Castle in Kent offer eerie evening tours for adults only, while Oxford Castle is hosting a whole month of Ghost Fest events, including murder mystery evenings and dinner parties.
For the truly fearless, Glamis Castle in Angus claims to be ‘Scotland’s most haunted castle’, and Plas Teg Mansion in Flintshire is known as one of the most haunted buildings in Wales.
The exterior of Warwick Castle, just across the River Avon in Warwickshire (©James Kerr)
4. Have some thrills with your chills
If you find rollercoasters more exciting than poltergeists, many of the UK’s theme parks and funfairs hold special events for Halloween! Ride some of the world’s scariest rollercoasters in the dark – or brave the ‘live action horror mazes’ at Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights in Surrey, where films like The Blair Witch Project come to life in terrifying detail. There’s also Howl'o'ween at Chessington World of Adventures and Scarefest at Alton Towers in Staffordshire.
5. Indulge in Halloween treats
There are no particular traditions when it comes to Halloween food in the UK, except that it’s a good excuse for sweet treats! If you enjoy cooking, there are some great ideas for spooky snacks on BBC Food – such as cobweb cupcakes, Devil’s food cake, and a blood-red fruit punch.
And if you’re really skilled, impress your friends with a copy of this amazing pumpkin cake!
A frighteningly creative cake from The Cake Shop in Oxford (©VisitEngland Images)
6. Bring literature to life
The seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire is a pretty place for country walks, cosy pubs and fresh seafood dinners… so it might surprise you to learn about its connections to Dracula! The legendary 1897 novel by Bram Stoker – and the inspiration for countless vampire stories today – is partly set in Whitby. It’s believed Stoker visited the town in 1890 and was inspired by its history, its atmospheric churches... and its bats.
Left: The harbour in Whitby looks harmless enough (©VisitBritain/Britain on View); Right: The remains of Whitby Abbey, a monastery from 657AD, on the cliffs above (©VisitBritain/J.McCormick)
For Harry Potter fans, the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, is offering ‘Dark Arts activities’ and special tours of the original Harry Potter film set. You can walk down a dark Diagon Alley patrolled by Death Eaters, try duelling with a magic wand, and even see Hogwarts’ Great Hall laid out with the Halloween feast from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!
If you can’t make it this weekend, don’t worry – the new Dark Arts part of the studio tour will be a permanent feature.
7. Celebrate like the Celts did
Many modern Halloween customs are believed to be based on ancient traditions from the Celtic festival of Samhain (or Samhuinn), which was always celebrated on the night of 31 October to mark the point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
You’ll find the usual pumpkins and trick-or-treaters in present-day Edinburgh, but there’s a unique way to celebrate here too – a parade of drummers, fire dancers and medieval characters through the city centre, in a modern version of the historic Samhain festival! This is a great opportunity see Celtic folk music and dancing, as well acrobatic performances and fireworks.
Fire dancers at the Halloween Carnival in Derry-Londonderry (©Northern Ireland Tourist Board)
8. Get cultural at the theatre or cinema
The Rose Theatre in London, famously the first theatre to stage Shakespeare’s plays, was abandoned in the 17th century – but thanks to a regeneration project, you can now see new plays amid the ruins. In a special event for Halloween, Antiquaries of Terror: Hallowtide at the Rose promises to ‘bring alive tales of history and horror’ from three classic storytellers.
In Belfast, the Grand Opera House is also reviving the classics with a special showing of the cult film Ghostbusters. There’s more retro fun in Glasgow where the world's oldest Music Hall (a traditional British variety theatre), the Britannia Panopticon, will screen spooky films in its Blood Thursdays season, and at Manchester’s annual horror film festival, Grimmfest.