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Kent’s got the spookfactor

It’s dark, there are strange creatures running around the streets, your stash of chocolates is disappearing quicker than the sun on a bank holiday, and it’s 31st October. It can only mean one thing: Halloween. But what is Halloween exactly? And why do we do the things we do on that one creepy night every year?

The History of Halloween


The word Halloween (also known as Hallowe’en) is a shortened version of the term ‘All Hallows’ Eve’. Celebrated on 31st October, it is traditionally said to be the one time of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest which, so they story goes, means that those beings who ‘live’ beyond this mortal coil can burst through and go on the rampage. Why is the security veil so thin at this time? It’s because the next day, 1st November, is All Saints’ Day. The idea behind Halloween is that the saints grow weary as the year trudges on, so just before their special day, when they are glorified and remembered (which renews their strength), the world is at its most vulnerable.

Many Christian celebrations have their origins (the dates at least, but often many of the rituals as well) in ancient pagan traditions, and Halloween is no exception. Its origins can be found in the old Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest period. The Gaelic people believed that if the crops weren’t harvested on time, then the dead would come back to life to destroy what was left, and wreak havoc over the earth.

In order to frighten these viciously destructive creatures away, the Gaels would often light bonfires to keep the sky as bright as possible, and fool the monsters into believing that they had missed their chance and that a new day had dawned. However, on the off chance that some of the spirits decided to chance venturing out anyway, the farmers and their employees would dress up to confuse the un-dead into believing that another creature was already at work in that particular field, and it was hoped that they would then move on elsewhere. When there weren’t enough people to make it look convincing, vegetables were carved into frightening faces and placed on doorsteps to scare the ghosts away.

These days Halloween still keeps with tradition, and there is dressing up, bonfires, pumpkin carving, and costume parties. There is also trick or treating, which is becoming more and more popular than ever in the UK, and originally came from Irish and Scottish immigrants when they moved to America. It was called ‘souling’ back then and involved exchanging prayers for cake. Costumed children (although more often than not there are adults joining in the fun too!) go from door to door shouting, “Trick or treat!” when their knock is answered. If they are given a treat (sweets or chocolate, for example), they leave the house alone and move on. If they are not, then tradition dictates that they play a trick on the homeowner. In the past, this could have been something like throwing flour or eggs (or both!) at the house to show that the householders were not generous. Today, however, it is the social norm to expect children on Halloween, and many people buy in sweets for the occasion. For those who would prefer not to give away treats (new parents, for example, those in wheelchairs, or people who work shifts), it is seen as acceptable to place a polite note on the door with an explanation.

The first known mention of trick or treating comes from a Canadian newspaper in 1911, which published an article about small children begging for nuts and candies whilst singing rhyming songs. It wasn’t a well-known practice (and wasn’t termed ‘trick or treating’) until around 1934, making it a fairly recent – yet extremely important – addition to the Halloween night fun and games.

Kent’s Halloween Haunts

No longer confined to the neighbourhood and family home, Halloween celebrations have taken on a completely new meaning of late, and we’re enjoying every second of it. Gone are the days of witches’ hats and apple bobbing, as spooky mazes, ghostly trails and haunted rides have taken over in favour of a much scarier, forbidding October-end. Cranking up the fear factor, these Kent events promise to make all of your screams come true in 2014.

Day Haunts

Halloween at Half-Term // 25-31 Oct
It’s half-term fun for the whole family this October as Leeds Castle thrills with its Haunted Halloween Hunt, Spooky Quest, stories from Raggedy Jack and more. Available to a variety of age groups, the Haunted Halloween Hunt will take place around the Woodland Walk, while the Spooky Quest will involve clues from a host of scary characters dotted around the Castle Estate. If you prefer treats to tricks, ensure your little ones come dressed to impress for the daily fancy dress competition. Taking place at 2pm near the maze, the best blood-curdling outfit will win a prize.
10.30am-5pm (last admission 3pm). Price: Normal admission charges apply, with small additional fee for the Spooky Quest. Day ticket (including Castle and grounds): Adults £19, Children £11, Concessions £16, Under 4s go free.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone ME17 1PL
Halloween Fear and Fun // 25 Oct – 2 Nov
With plenty of ghoulish daytime fun and frolics to be had at Rare Breeds’ annual half-term Halloween extravaganza, you’ll have trouble persuading your little terrors to leave. Enjoyable for the whole family, the farm will feature Halloween ghosties; Scare Glow, a unique and exciting UV experience; Spooks Quiz Trail; creepy face painting; Vunderbar the Wizard; Rare Breeds’ infamous pig racing; and a daily fancy dress competition. Better still, if this all sounds like hungry work, head to the Granary restaurant for a selection of deadly delights.
10.30am-5.30pm. Price: Normal admission charges apply. With Gift Aid: Adults £9.95, Children £8.50, Senior £8.50, Family £28.
Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch, Ashford TN26 3RJ
Witches & Warlocks// 25 Oct – 2 Nov
Halloween-themed craft workshops and ghoulish activities mean there will never be a dull moment at Hever Castle this half-term. With prizes for the best Halloween costume each day, don’t forget to dress up your little ones (big kids welcome too). Listen to creepy tales in the witches and warlocks hovel and take on the challenge of the spooky trail, searching for clues hidden around the gardens to solve the challenge and win a terrible treat. Take the quiz in the Castle to learn all about the history of witches and warlocks, but don’t be surprised if you’re left quivering and quaking by time you leave.
Gardens open 10.30am; Castle opens noon; Last admission 4pm; Final exit 5pm. Price: Castle & Gardens, Adults £15.50, Children (5-15yrs) £8.70, Concessions £13.25, Under 5s & Members go free.
Hever Castle and Gardens, Edenbridge TN8 7NG
Haunted Castle // 25 Oct – 2 Nov
Will you take on Kent’s most haunted castle? Be prepared to be scared this autumn half-term as a frighteningly great day out awaits you and your little ones. Are you courageous enough to enter the Tunnel of Terror or say boo to a ghost or two? Have a go at creating creepy crafts and dress up to win a prize for the best children’s Halloween costume, bestowed on the most spine-chilling attire each day.
10am-5pm. Price: Non-members: Adults £17.50, Children £10.50, Concessions £15.80, Family £45.50. English Heritage members go free.
Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover CT16 1HU 
Spooky Half-Term Fun // 25 Oct – 2 Nov
Little monsters can look forward to a spooktacular Halloween at Kent Life Heritage Farm Park this October, as the award-winning attraction pledges to entertain visitors with a host of ghostly goings-on. Brave the snakes, spiders and scorpions in creepy cuddle corner or take the plunge with slimy zorbing. Test your artistic skills with daily pumpkin carving and ghoulish fancy dress competitions, take a terrifying tractor ride, or – if you dare – join one of the many scary characters for a ghost story. Kent Life is also a fun and safe place for kids to go trick or treating. Go and knock on the doors of its frightening farmhouses and historic homes to see who’s lurking behind them.
10am-5pm. Price: Adults £9.25, Children (3-15 yrs) £7.25, Concessions £8.25, Under 3s go free.
Kent Life, Lock Lane, Sandling, Maidstone ME14 3AU
Half-Term Family Fun // 25 Oct – 2 Nov
Join Ightham Mote this half-term and discover its prized pumpkin patch, a tradition that the American owner of Ightham Mote, Charles Henry Robinson, would have been familiar with. Next up, locate the jack-o-lanterns that have been carved by staff and volunteers throughout the garden on the pumpkin trail, and don’t forget to pop into the Squire’s Room to make pumpkin-themed crafts.
10.30am-5pm; house opens 11am. Price: Normal admission charges apply. With Gift Aid: Adults £11.50, Children £5.75, Family £29.
Ightham Mote, Mote Rd, Sevenoaks TN15 0NT
(C) Nadia Mackenzie

(C) Nadia Mackenzie

Halloween at Belmont // 26 Oct
Spend your Halloween at Belmont House and Gardens this year, where there will be lots of tricks and treats in store for all the family. The afternoon will include a spooky trail around the gardens, pumpkin carving and more; plus, there are plenty of handcrafted events, arts and crafts for your little ones to enjoy throughout the day.
12pm-3pm. Price: Adults £5, Children £2.50.
Belmont House, Belmont Park, Throwley, Faversham ME13 0HB
Halloween at the Powell-Cotton Museum // 27-31 Oct
Join in the hair-raising adventures at Quex Park’s Powell-Cotton Museum this Halloween, as you and your family travel to the haunt of the White Lady. Before your journey begins, you will create and decorate a lantern that will help to light your path. With your willow and paper lanterns, you will then trek in the footsteps of Percy Powell-Cotton to the dread tower hidden amongst the trees in the northern woodland of Quex Park. At this ill-fated location, you will then hear the horrifying tale of an ancient tomb, a terrible curse, and discover the identity of the White Lady.
3.30pm-5pm. Price: Book in advance. £8 Adults, £6 children (maximum of 20 children per tour).
Quex Park, Park Lane, Birchington CT7 0BH

Night Haunts

Broadwitch Hauntfest // 17-18 Oct
Not only are you invited to Broadwitch Hauntfest, you are the guest of honour. Join in the fun at the ever-popular Spooky Castle; witness horrors at new haunt, Thirteen; endure deranged doctors in Containment; and quite literally run for your life through the Fields of Fear. In what is said to be its most grotesque and spine-chilling year yet, Broadwitch is certainly not for the faint-hearted. A coveted winner at the 2014 Scare Awards, this hauntfest could well be the answer to your worst fears. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.
Times TBC. Price: £10-£66 (depending on how much of a hauntfest you intend to have).
Broadditch Farm Shop, Manor Farm, New Barn Road, Southfleet DA13 9PU
The Terrible Tales // 24-31 Oct
If you’re looking for some grown-up chills this Halloween, head to The Canterbury Tales in Kent, where Chaucer’s classic stories will be taking a sinister turn with live horror performances in a church graveyard. Drama students from the University of Kent will perform the attraction’s popular Terrible Tales, which has recently been updated with new twists and turns. Performances are followed by a guided tour through the attraction, where nasty surprises await as you walk the diseased streets of medieval England. For the really brave, there is a late night tour on 31st October that kicks off at 9pm.
7pm. Price: £10 per person (not suitable for under 12s). Book online before 30th September and receive a 20% discount. Alternatively call 01227 454888.
The Canterbury Tales, St. Margaret’s Street, Canterbury CT1 2TG 
Ghost and Gourmet // 25 Oct & 1 Nov
Don’t miss this hugely popular and terrifying tour of Ightham Mote at night. With only the flickering of candlelight to guide you, visitors are invited to walk through the house and listen to the stories of its past inhabitants. However, watch out…their ghosts maybe visiting too. Does all this scary business sound like hungry work? Do not fret, as once (if) you come out of the spooky tour alive, you will be treated to a delicious supper in the restaurant.
7pm-10.30pm. Price: £37.50 per person. Booking essential on 01732 811314.
Ightham Mote, Mote Rd, Sevenoaks TN15 0NT
Shorne Scream // 31 Oct
If you dare, join in on this eerie evening trail in the midst of Shorne Country Park’s woodland. With only a mere lantern to light your path, there is no telling who or what you might encounter lurking in the woods. The event is suitable for children over eight years old, however under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.
6.45pm-9pm (slots available). Price: £7.50 per person.
Shorne Woods Country Park, Brewers Road, Shorne, Gravesend DA12 3HX
Blood, Boils and Black Death: Evening Halloween Tour // 31 Oct
Discover the unpleasant side of ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ as this Kent favourite invites you to join their guides for an all Hallows’ Eve tour. In what is sure to be a hideous affair, you will learn all about the castle’s wonderfully diseased and gruesome history, including tales of it ravaged by the grisly Black Death and its part in the ruthless 16th-century sawbones surgery. Some stories may be unsuitable for younger children. A reasonable level of fitness is required to participate in the tour.
6pm-9pm (hourly slots). Price: £15 per person. Max 20 people per tour. Tours must be pre-booked online. Some stories may be unsuitable for younger children.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone ME17 1PL
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