Get out your scariest, most creepy looking costumes, start buying those treats and put your pumpkins up, because Halloween is just around the corner. In celebration of the event - which is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic Festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts - we've put together something a little different. Halloween at home may be fun, but what about ancient, medieval castles with tales of ghosts and kings and queens who lived within the walls? Nothing beats the real thing. Here's a look at the Top 10 Castles in the UK, and the Halloween activities they have on offer this October.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Bodiam Castle has all the allure of a home built to house some of the most prominent British royals, mixed with that little bit of intrigue and mystique to spook visitors. It’s one of the most romantic castles in Britain, with spiral staircases, grand furnishings and a touch of history. The 14th century castle was once home to knights and you can even see the look-out they used during battles. It’s the perfect place to relive all those childhood memories of medieval battles, kings and queens.
During October half term there will be a whole week of Halloween festivities. The ruins will turn into an eerie labyrinth of themed activities, from the spine-chilling spooky challenge, to a tour of all the castles secret passages, all ending in a mystery that needs to be solved with clues given throughout the tour. It will be a delightful experience for children, and of course adults are more than welcome to take part.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Corfe Castle survived the English Civil War, but barely. The partially demolished building faced a challenge in 1646 when Parliamentarians attacked the grounds. Today, the remains of this attack add to the intrigue of one of the most iconic castles in England. It’s a definite favourite for adults and children, even the most uninterested teenager may be fascinated by the castle’s many rooms and rich history.
You will discover thousands of years of history when you tour the castle, which was once a royal palace and fortress. From the murder holes and arrow loops to the secret rooms and eerie grounds, the tales of treachery and treason are rife within the fallen walls. Halloween at Corfe Castle runs from October 27 to November 4 and the castle will be decorated with all the usual spooky trimmings, not forgetting the added mystery that comes with being a haunted castle.
Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Kenilworth Castle is huge, in fact, it’s one of the largest historic attractions in the West Midlands. The ruins were once home to Robert Dudley, the man Queen Elizabeth I was madly in love with. In 1575 the palace Dudley designed to impress his Queen was completed and her touch can still be seen throughout the palace - from the colourful garden to the lavish decor, the ornate palace was the epitome of an eccentric, royal life.
You can go back in time and experience what is was like to live like a royal this Halloween. While exploring the authentically recreated Elizabethan Garden, you can take on the Spooky Halloween Trail, a challenge that involves finding creepy clues placed throughout the castle grounds with the hopes of eventually figuring out where the hidden treasure lies. From October 19 to November 3, you can traverse the castle that was closed to the public for almost 400 years.
Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
You’ve heard the tales of Kings and Queens, betrayal and treachery and riches and power, but these days, the mystery seems to be lost - everything is readily available online or through social media. Imagine what it’s like living in a time where everything you knew came from word of mouth and your imagination - this is what life was like in Ludlow Castle in the 17th century. And now, you can get a taste of the experience.
By simply walking through the castle you get a feel of the lifestyle of a seemingly far-removed medieval society. This Halloween you might come across the ghost of Marion La Bruyere, a young woman who was betrayed by her lover when the castle was invaded. Every night Marion would lower down a rope to let her lover in, but one evening he left the rope hanging allowing the castle to be invaded by 100 men and leaving Ludlow defenceless against its enemies. Realising his betrayal, an enraged Marion slit his throat and threw herself off the tower onto the rocks below. It’s a scary story, and definitely only something that should be heard once a year, and what better time than Halloween?
Leeds Castle, Kent
Perfectly manicured lawns dotted with brightly coloured flowers play host to Leeds Castle, set in 500 acres of parkland. The castle has been through a lot during the past 900 years, from withholding sieges and hosting the medieval Royal Courts of Europe to acting as a prison for witches and even, at one stage, a hospital. Key figures such as Henry VII and Winston Churchill have stepped onto the grounds at some point in the past, giving the castle both a touch of royal and political importance.
Leeds Castle has a host of activities during Halloween Half Term and welcomes the whole family to join in on the spooky fun. There will be creepy crafts, face painting and a pumpkin trail on display throughout the grounds. If you’re brave enough, you can venture into the spooky maze. There’s also a slightly unpleasant side to the castle, which can be seen during the All Hallows Eve tour where you will learn about the Black Death and gruesome 16th century sawbones surgery.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
For some reason, Alnwick Castle seems far more ominous than other palaces. Maybe it’s the vastness of the building, or the multiple brown stone turrets set against the backdrop of nature that makes it seem scary, either way, the creepy atmosphere shouldn’t be enough to keep you away from this gem. The medieval castle certainly isn’t lacking in history and drama; tales of forbidden love and gruesome murders can be heard throughout the castle walls. And, what is certainly the cherry on top - Alnwick Castle featured in the first two Harry Potter films as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
These days however, the atmosphere at Alnwick is a little calmer, at least until Halloween hits. You can start off with the tamer activities such as making crafts and exploring the palace, or you can move on to the slightly more interesting tasks where you can meet characters inspired by the film. Harry and Hagrid get up to all sorts of magic and mayhem and you can join the students on their broomstick battles and potion making sessions. It’s a castle for the whole family, and this Halloween it promises to be a lot of fun.
Highclere Castle, Hampshire
This Victorian Castle isn’t as accessible as the other palaces on our list, but that makes a visit there all the more special. It’s set amidst more than 1,000 acres of beautiful parkland and is home to the Carnarvon family who have lived at Highclere since 1679. The current castle stands on the site of a house that was built much earlier, and this house was owned by the Bishops of Winchester for more than 800 years. In Highclere Castle’s case, the grounds carry far more history than the castle itself.
Highclere Castle isn’t always open, but a special arrangement will be made for Halloween. On October 14 and 24 there will be an exclusive private tour with tickets on sale from their website. It may seem like a tad more effort than getting into the other castles, but there’s a good reason. Highclere Castle is where Downton Abbey is filmed, so you’ll get to follow the lives of the Crawleys, and the servants who work for them, from the minute you to step onto the grounds.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh
The moment you drive into Scotland’s Capital city, you’ll see the somewhat forbidding silhouette of Edinburgh Castle. Since it’s perched on a rock that overlooks the city, all you have to do is look up and you’ll see the castle - it almost appears to be lording over the city. Battles and sieges were fought within the walls that housed royalty and servants, not to mention the generations of people who have been inspired by the castle’s design, architecture and history.
Both the Scottish and English struggled for control of the castle during the Wars of Independence, before the Scottish recaptured it in 1314 during a daring night raid. In October you can listen to Cromwellian soldiers explain how they laid siege to Edinburgh Castle, they’ll even demonstrate how they made the castle surrender. You can also visit the Great Hall and learn about what it was like living in the castle as you journey through its fascinating history.
Swinton Park Castle, North Yorkshire
Swinton Park Castle is also a hotel, and with numerous awards for excellent service, facilities and quality of cuisine, the hotel seems to be living up to the grandeur and reputation of the castle. It's the ancestral home of the Cunliffe-Lister family and it is slightly smaller than the other castles on our list, coming in at a comfortable 200 acres of parkland, although, the clear lake and lush gardens certainly makes up in beauty what it lacks in size.
Even though Swinton Park Castle will be open to hotel guests during Halloween half term, it still has a range of sinister activities on offer for the whole family. Events for the family run during the day from October 26 to November 23 and there is even an evening event on October 31. You can wade through the strange treasure trail in the parkland, go on a torch-lit Ghost Walk from the Deerhouse and after all that, if you’re brave enough, you can enjoy a stay in one of the castle’s lavishly furnished bedrooms.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Scotland has a number of iconic landmarks, but Eilean Donan castle ranks up there with the best of them. The castle, situated on an island where three great lochs meet, is recognised around the world. The scenery surrounding it certainly adds to the beauty - on a clear day you can see the greenery of the mountains and clear waters at the foot of the castle, but on an overcast day the beauty of the castle is wrapped in mist and dark clouds, making everything seem slightly unearthly.
For 200 years Eilean Donan lay in ruins after it was destroyed during a Jacobite uprising. In 1911 Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island and started restoring it. After more than 20 years of painstaking labour, renovations and of course money, the castle was reopened in 1932 and restored to its former glory. The castle is said to be haunted by Spanish troops who died there during an invasion, but you can decide for yourself when you visit the castle this Halloween - a word of warning: be sure to take a torch along, the lights are known to go out at odd times.