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Hallowe'en events - family fun and frights at Warwick Castle

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Hallowe’en has changed a lot since I was a lad.

My parents described trick or treating as ‘organised begging’ and issued a blanket ban on any of their children leaving the house on the evening of October 31. And to make sure we didn’t receive any ‘beggars’ at the door, all the curtains at the front of the house were drawn, the lights were switched off and we scuttled around the house by torch light.

Move forward three and a half decades and Hallowe’en, in general, has become very much a fun date in the calendar - and not just for the children.

More and more spooky experiences have been created in the UK - many taking inspiration from American theme parks where the weeks around Hallowe’en have for many years been an invitation to try to scare the living daylights out of visitors… and they succeed.

Warwick Castle’s creation for October 31 is its Haunted Castle event. It takes the tried and tested formula of using actors to play spooky - and sometime downright frightening - characters and drops them into the setting of the stone castle… including the dungeons.

But families fear not, the experiences cater for all age groups, with some aimed at smaller children and others at the very brave of us.

Head to the Haunted Hollows and younger children can meet some friendly Hallowe’en characters, passing through different zones, all ghoulishly decorated, that are best seen after dark. Children can chat away with a skeleton or help a swamp monster back to its home… it’s charming and easy-going for the youngest of children.

As is a trip to the Witches Tower, where you can settle down on the carpet for a story from a witch who really does detest princesses. More fun for youngsters can be found at the Junior Ghost Hunt and wander around the castle grounds and you’ll meet plenty of other friendly characters, from witches and a corpse bride to wizards and a witch hunter - my six year-old daughter, Elin, now considers a number of witches among her good friends.

Many of the characters provide the entertainment on a central stage where there are shows throughout the day and evening… some are a little scarier when the sun has set.

Things start to get even darker - and the age restrictions start to apply - over at the Dead of Knight (12+ and from 5pm) scare maze and the Paranormal Encounters (10+), a feature that provides its own take on the television show, Most Haunted.

But the highlight - as you would expect - is a trip to the Castle Dungeon (10+) experience, where the most gruesome of characters has been assembled to take visitors on a 40-minute journey through the castle’s grisly past, a trip that brings you face-to-face with deranged kitchen staff, a torturer, the executioner, monks, a judge and a very frightening nun.

Each has a story to tell from their rooms in the depths of the castle. The bloody history of the time is brought alive along with its brutality and superstitions, all with great suspense.

At times you’ll be sat in the dark, knowing something is about to make you jump. But what? And when? You may be looked straight in the eye by a kitchen worker, in a room where the open cavity of a dead body lays on a table, and she’ll confide: “I like to pull out the bits.”

You may even find yourself in front of the judge, or about to be decapitated on the executioner’s block…

The dungeons experience manages to mix horror, history and Hallowe’en with a bit of wicked humour. And isn’t that exactly what we should expect from the modern Hallowe’en experience?

The Haunted Castle runs at Warwick Castle until November 3. Advance daytime tickets cost from £20 per person and include the chance to see the excellent falconry show. Evening tickets (available from 5pm from October 24-31) are £15 per person, again when booked in advance. Tickets including the Castle Dungeon experience cost from £25 per person.

Warwick Castle also has a Knight’s Village where families can sleep for night in riverside lodges, with prices starting from £80.50 per person per night including breakfast, car parking and two full days at the Haunted Castle.

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