Halloween Thrills: South East England
Halloween is on the horizon, which means all around South East England, spook lovers are preparing for a scare! Of course, this haunted holiday also coincides with half-term, so – depending on the age of your children – you may want to keep the Halloween activities friendly and fun rather than all-out terrifying. Whatever level of scare factor you seek, there is a Halloween event out there to suit you and yours. Here are our picks of the bunch.
Ghostly ladies – most commonly clad in grey or white – have been said to crawl the corridors of this Edwardian mansion since way back when, making it one of the best spots to go in search of spirits, or at the very least, spine-tingling fun. On the evening before Halloween (30 October), Preston Manor flings open its doors and brave visitors can scare themselves silly in the unnerving underground cellars. Hear hair-raising accounts of the occult from house historians and ghost story connoisseurs, watch film noir shorts and sit down with a tarot reader to find out what’s in store for your future. The event is open to children over 10 providing they are accompanied by an adult, however some scenes from the film noir shorts may not be suitable for pre-teens so those with younger kids may want to choose one of the other Halloween happenings on our list.
Watch scary cinema, various locations
One of the best ways to have your socks scared off this Halloween is through the medium of cinema. For jump-out-of-your seat frights in Whitstable, book yourself a ticket for that classic suburban nightmare thriller, ‘Poltergeist’, at the Playhouse Theatre. If you’re staying in a holiday home near Canterbury, head down to the Waves of Horror festival at the Gulbenkian, where you can watch movies designed to keep you up all night. There are much-loved horror classics, including ‘The Blair Witch Club’ and ‘The Exorcist’, as well as some equally eerie contemporary takes on the genre, such as a ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ – a film billed as the first Iranian Vampire Western. And if the evocative cinematography and anticipatory music of a horror flick isn’t enough to chill you to the bone, the atmospheric setting of the pop-up Halloween cinema in Eastbourne’s Redoubt Fortress (which is screening ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ on 31 October) might just do the job.
Yes, you can just buy your Halloween costumes and decorations from a shop, but we think it’s much more fun if you try and make them yourself. Get your little monsters involved in the decoration process at one of the Halloween-themed craft events being held at the Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable. Have them create their own creepy mask for trick-or-treating, fashion DIY decorations at the Halloween mobile workshop or perhaps join them for arty fun during a Halloween ceramic painting session. The classes will keep the kids entertained during the half-term, and the crafts they make can be used to spook up your holiday home in honour of All Hallows’ Eve.
Ghoulish festivities are the order of the day on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway between 27 and 31 October. The family-friendly railway ride departs from Hythe Station. As it chugs along the tracks to New Romney, the shiver-inducing antics begin. There’ll be a ghastly butler and a petrifying witch, Halloween-themed games and – for the passenger with the most alarming costume – a best-dressed prize. Fortify yourself for the frights with blood-red hot chocolate, ‘witch finger’ hot dogs and a frightful desert buffet. Tickets, which should be booked in advance, include a Romney Rover (all day, all stations ticket), so you can stop off at other locales, such as Dungeness or Dymchurch, on the way home.
Medieval Canterbury is a town steeped in tales, many of which are of the spectral variety. Few people can relate them better than author and local historian, John Hippisley, who leads tour groups on a chilling stroll around town. The ghost tour – equal parts entertaining, educational and eerie – reveals the skeletons in Canterbury’s closet. Ghost tour attendees will hear about the macabre findings in what is now a popular Canterbury tea room as well as shocking accounts of what the cathedral’s security team are said to have witnessed while standing guard. The terrifying tours run every Friday and Saturday, and are suitable for children. Larger groups can arrange for private tours outside these times.
It’s not known if Bodiam Castle has seen much bloodshed (a siege of this 14th-century moated fortress was ordered in the 15th century though no one knows if it actually went ahead), but the partially-ruined castle has a seriously spooky feel nevertheless. Even the staunchest sceptics won’t find it hard to imagine otherworldly figures prowling around the dark halls here. During the October half-term, Bodiam is getting into the Halloween spirit with events specially designed to make the blood run cold. From 26 October through to 1 November, there is a family-friendly pilgrim trail at the castle grounds, and on 30 and 31 October, visitors can enjoy a warming meal at the castle before hearing some scary stories that will send them into a cold sweat. On 31 October and 1 November, the castle’s resident ‘crones’ will tell family-friendly tales of magic and mayhem.
This historic country home is pulling out all the stops to create not-too-scary family Halloween fun during the half-term. Take part in cupcake decorating and pumpkin carving workshops, follow a pumpkin-strewn garden trail and hear gruesome tales from the ‘Wicked Witches of the Wild Wood’. Toast marshmallow over the fire and sip hot chocolate spooned out direct from the steaming witches’ cauldron as you listen to their terrifying tales. If you’re going to Penshurst Place on Halloween day, be sure to dress up; after a storytelling session in the Buttery, there’s a fancy dress competition with prizes going for the most creative get-ups.