Ghosts and Ghouls and all things scary!
It was in October 1991 that I made my first visit to America and was amazed at how huge Halloween was. Shops were full of costumes and snacks, every front step was decorated with pumpkins, orange plastic refuse sacks, with faces on, were stuffed with the fallen leaves and displayed on front lawns, shop assistants were in fancy dress and elegant businesswomen wore discreet witch-shaped earrings and stockings with a seam of tiny embroidered spiders.
Unlike in this country at that time, Halloween was celebrated by adults and children alike and whole families went out ‘Trick or Treating’. A a mask and a few bobbing apples in a bowl was the limit to Halloween in Suffolk and Norfolk, UK.
Fast forward 26 years and any American, finding themselves in Britain, would feel quite at home in October. If you look at the loaded shelves in the shops, it seems that we too like to be scared. Tourist attractions in our two counties have also seized the opportunity to attract visitors in the quiet spell between the end of summer and Christmas. Some Halloween events are for families and are held in the October half-term holiday, while others are most definitely aimed at adults...
Trick or Tweet at Pensthorpe – one for families
Pensthorpe Natural Park, by the River Wensum in North Norfolk, is a popular place for families to have a day out all the year round, with its four spectacular gardens, wildlife habitat, 300 acre farm and adventure playground, but in around Haloween, (20-29th October) they encourage visitors to discover the “grim and gruesome side of nature”!
“This October half term, you can tiptoe your way to Pensthorpe (avoiding the pumpkins and grave stones) for a spooktacular day of all things creepy, shivery and mysterious,” explained Jo Atherton, the Marketing and Publicity Officer. “There'll be spooky craft making and a creepy crawly trail to get you in the mood for a really exciting Halloween! Don't worry, there's nothing too scary here, so it's suitable for all ages and the extra activities for this event are included in the standard admission price.”
Ghost walks in Norwich and Ipswich.
A spooky walk in the dark is another Halloween favourite and, in Ipswich, the Tourist Guide Association have planned a special walk for 6pm on Halloween night – a Special Horrible History walk for families.
Meanwhile in Norwich, regular ghost walks with the mysterious Man in Man get even spookier! (27-31 October)
“Many of the people who come will almost certainly have been on one or more of my regular walks and want something different for that week. Furthermore, the numbers who want to do a Halloween event could not be catered for walking around the streets of Norwich,” the mysterious Manin Black explained.” So, we set up our outdoor staging and graveyard and tell 15 stories that are not Norwich tales but come from all around the world. I like to do some spooky magic and we have extra ghosts - the whole thing is set in the area by the Cow Tower which is a great place to tell ghost stories. There is a different theme every year and in 2017 it is Manin Black's best stories - a selection of my favourites from over the years. Mad magicians, killer monks and a murdered king all feature this year.”
Felixstowe Museum is holding a Spooky Day for 2 – 12 year olds on 22 October, and at Landguard Fort, the “Little Fort of Horrors” (for over 13’s) is on 29 October, with “live scarers, live music and terrifying tunnels!”
Also at Landguard Fort is a Ghost Hunt for over 18’s (over 16 if with an adult) but this is not an event with sheet-clad actors trying to scare you, nor spooky lighting and sound effects. This is more for those interested in learning about the paranormal, whilst exploring an historic site. On 21 October, paranormal investigators will lead small groups around the fort and there will be séances and sessions with a medium.
“Landguard Fort is a suitable venue because of many factors, first and foremost is because the venue is isolated, there isn't much near it, so it will be quiet (apart from the port)!” explained Steve Moyle, Managing Director of Ghost Hunt Events Ltd. “It is certainly dark, and there has been a fortification here since 1540 so, in terms of spirit energies, there have been a lot of people who have crossed this land, some who fought off raiders, some who defended from air attacks. The Fort trust also make available as much space as possible inside the fort, so we have access to about 55 different rooms, some of which may not be open to the public normally.”
Kentwell Hall, Long Melford Suffolk
Kentwell Hall offers a party atmosphere for the adults who come to be scared at Halloween. The Scaresville Haunted Village has been running for 11 years, and is open from 4 October- 4 November, (14 years and over, but children must be accompanied by an adult)
“You'll enjoy an unbroken trip lasting up to an hour of pure adrenaline-heightened tension as you journey through dark rooms, across open ground or water, through forest and garden,” the Kentwell team promise. “There is no let-up; no 'safe' zones in which to recover; no trailer-rides. By the time you leave, you will be exhausted from screaming and laughing so much, as we play with your mind!”
Kentwell Hall has not forgotten the younger ones though. They also hold “Halloweeneies - Kentwell’s School of Sorcery and Magic” in morning and afternoon sessions aimed at those aged 10 and under. (21 - 29 October)
Imagine a Harry Potter- type spell school, that will be held both in the 15th century Moat House building and in the trails around the Enchanted Forest,
“At Spell School, you will meet all manner of staff from the Caretaker to the Head Teacher, and your lessons will consist of wand making, potion class and an interactive spell lesson, but you will also visit the potion store and there will also be a couple of surprises on the day at the school for you to explore. Spell School will be inside and will take around an hour to pass through the classes through to graduation”.
It seems that we cannot get enough Halloween in Norfolk and Suffolk. The best advice is to book early as many events are so popular they sell-out. If you are not lucky this year, put a reminder in your diary for next summer, and seek out your local library, community centre or sports club. They will probably be organising a spooky event for Halloween 2017.
If all else fails, a few friends, a fancy dress costume, some apples bobbing in a bowl, a dark room and a spooky ghost story, should get you in the seasonal mood.
For more details:
Halloween Special - Horrible History For Families
Ipswich Tourist Guides Association, St Stephens Church, St Stephens Lane, Ipswich, IP1 1DP
This article first appeared in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazinbe, October 2017