Fire, Festivities and the Macabre: 10 of the UK’s Weirdest and Most Spectacular Halloween and Bonfire Parties and Events
There can’t be many people who don’t enjoy standing outdoors by a crackling fire on a mild night surrounded by the unique festivities of Halloween and Bonfire Night.
Similarly, the consistent appeal of fairground rides and horror films suggests that a love of the ’frightening’ exists within most of us, waiting under the surface for release. Increasingly, households across Britain mark these occasions by decorating their homes, wearing fancy dress and inviting over friends and family.
Celebrate these dark, smoke-filled evenings with incandescent displays and raucous merriment. Enjoy the children’s parties, Catherine wheels, hot chocolate and sparklers, as the streets fill with youngsters walking in the dark with their parents, swinging gift bags full of Halloween cake, toffee apples and ghost balloons.
For those of you who relish this time of year, below is a countdown of the biggest, busiest and strangest events that help to bring a close to the summer and herald the approach of the dark winter months.
10. Edenbridge Fireworks, Kent
This small town in Kent puts on a big night every September when it holds one of the largest and most distinctive Bonfire events in the country. See the town’s Bishop of Bonfire lead as many as 1,000 flaming torches on a procession through the streets alongside decorated floats, marching bands and several eerie effigies. But it is not until the throng reaches the fireworks field that the famous Edenbridge Guys are unveiled — with the eponymous figure of Guy Fawkes himself making a regular appearance (along with a celebrity who has earned the scorn of the public over the past year). The evening is rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display that works as a backdrop to the burning of the guys, when the 10ft effigies are ceremonially set on fire.
9. Zombie Evacuation Race, North West London
Not for the faint hearted or weak of knee, this event sees ‘evacuees’ try their best to escape from a zombie apocalypse incident in the country’s capital. Runners must navigate a course in and around Allianz Park, overrun home of the Saracens rugby team. There they will be besieged on all sides by brain-hungry zombies looking for their next cerebral snack.
Those who make it to the end unmolested are ushered into the decontamination safe zone, while runners who have succumbed to the flesh-numbing infection must be taken for disposal.
The Zombie Evacuation Race is a chance to have some fun, get some exercise, and genuinely experience waves of panic as zombie actors lurch at you from around any corner.
8. Spooks & Sacrifice — Celtic Samhain Festival, the Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire
The Celtic festival of Samhain has been celebrated for centuries in the British Isles around the Halloween period, marking the transition from the end of the autumn harvest to the approach of the shorter and darker winter days. Associated with the Feast of the Dead, its customs and traditions have lent themselves to the modern-day celebrations of both Halloween and Bonfire Night.
At this time of year, the Crannog Centre invites people to get in touch with their ancient roots and partake in stories round the fire, witness animal-masked figures in procession and be party to the sacrifice of a wicker ram, plus much more. Harking back to traditions from a by-gone time, set against beautiful Scottish scenery, this is an unparalleled event that evokes the primal forces of the past in a safe, family-friendly environment.
7. The Haunted Castle, Warwick
There are few settings more suitable for the scary season than a centuries-old dusty castle. And Warwick Castle is no exception. During the week leading up to Halloween, this impressive edifice will host a series of spine-tingling events guaranteed to get the heart pumping. From horror stories set among the towers, to live owls and eagles circling around the turrets, the grounds will become the backdrop for a multitude of child-friendly Halloween activities. And for those who can hold their nerve, the castle will be open after dark, when the tortured spirits of the past are evoked in the bowels of the castle among the echoing corridors and stone-cold dungeons.
6. The Haunting, Birmingham
This is a chance to combine the ghoulishly spectacular with some hard beats. Trance out to a host of DJs spread over five rooms in the mammoth paean to the dark forces of dance. This is a grown-up party that offers twisted circus performers, caged zombies, crazed fire-breathers and a host of devilish characters dispersed throughout the audience who help to turn the event into a carnival of carnage — and one of the biggest Halloween parties in the country. Leave the children at home for this one.
5. Mr Fox’s Night of the Hunters Moon, Derbyshire
The best are not always the biggest. If you like high drama, Wicker Man-style creativity and an elaborate backstory, seek out the weirdling traditions of the Fox Dance. Like some chilling black mass, the fox-masked figures emerge on the Saturday night nearest the Hunter’s Moon before November the 5th to dance their strange and ancient rite, recovered from a now-lost tome by long-forgotten ancestors. Follow the dance through the streets to the village pub and observe the final bizarre, fire-strewn liturgy while partaking of the food and drink on offer.
4. Bonfire Night Celebrations: The Gunpowder Plot, Northamptonshire
Set in Boughton House, the ancestral home of the ‘father of Bonfire Night’, this event recalls the dark tale of that fateful night back in 1605 when a band of plotters colluded to blow up the House of Lords while King James I of England and VI of Scotland sat inside.
Edward, First Lord Montagu of Boughton was instrumental in the current tradition of Bonfire Night, after calling for a special day to be set up during which the whole country would give their thanks to the failure of the attempt.
Watch a live performance of the dramatic story set to music and finished off with a glorious fireworks finale.
3. Tar Barrels, Ottery St Mary, Devon
One of the more distinctive and dangerous traditions of the UK, this night involves local folk carrying flaming barrels, which have been soaked in tar and then set alight, through the town.
Devon is a county in which torch-lit processions and ancient ceremonies can regularly be seen in small villages and towns throughout the year, most notably around May Day.
This evening’s activities are of a similar flavour, with the tradition thought to have originated as a way of cleansing the streets of evil spirits. A brightly coloured procession also occurs on the Saturday before November 5, creating an intoxicating atmosphere of carnival and the bizarre.
2. The London Dungeon, London
Celebrate all that is ghoulish and macabre about history by taking part in this interactive theatre attraction. Join the Witchfinder General as he hunts down the brides of Satan ensconced among the holy and devout.
The London Dungeon has a long tradition of painfully extracting fun out of gory historical events, and Halloween lends itself perfectly to the live actors, special effects and sense of occasion that’s on offer at this popular tourist attraction.
1. Lewes Bonfire, East Sussex
Pray silence and read of the UK’s largest, strangest and most spectacular event of the season. Each year on November 5 (unless on a Sunday), the small East Sussex town of Lewes explodes in a riot of flaming torches, jostling processions and grotesque effigies.
Across the town, in the streets and alleys of Lewes, a host of bonfire societies use fireworks, floats and costumes to vie for the honour of being the greatest gathering of the night.
Over 30 processions contribute to a town-wide conflagration that lights up the evening sky like a biblical firestorm.
This event has it all, including: 17 burning crosses marched through the town, representing the burning of 17 martyrs in the 16th century; flaming tar barrels; a giant Guy Fawkes and 17th century pope; as well as the heads of chosen celebrities on spikes in effigy form, ready for the flames.
Up to 80,000 people have been known to attend the night, so best to keep a tight hold on any young ones.