By Rhonda Carrier
Steward to more than 400 historic and archaeological sites around the UK, from Stonehenge to the world’s first iron bridge, English Heritage is a great place to turn for inspiration when it comes to educational days out with the family, including at Halloween. The following are guaranteed spine-chillers that will delight ghoulish-minded kids while giving them a good old dose of history, whether during October half term or all year round.
Best known as inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula, Whitby Abbey has had its own fair share of spooky happenings. The Abbey's founder, St Hild, is said to sometimes be seen in the upper windows of the Gothic ruins, and on 6 January – the old Christmas Day – a phantom choir can often be heard within the ruins. There are also stories of a mysterious horse-driven stagecoach being driven over the cliffs here. Local legend dictates that the lack of seagulls in the area is down to St Hild, who forbade them from flying over the abbey. October half term is a great time to visit Whitby – the abbey ruins are stunningly illuminated, costumed characters emerge from the shadows to tell the tales of the town's past, including a Victorian undertaker and The Resurrection Man with his story of Burke and Hare, and the evening will be rounded off with a live performance of Dracula.
Dover Castle, Kent
The castle at the Channel port of Dover has what can only be described as a turbulent history, stretching back more than 2,000 years to Roman times. Over the years, a multitude of ghostly sightings have occurred, most notably of a mysterious woman in red and a Napoleonic drummer. Second World War naval officers have also been seen, and the creepy sounds of some of the wartime operations that took place in the tunnels have been heard.
1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex
Paranormal phenomena and sightings have been rife throughout the 944 years since the Battle of Hastings. On the anniversary of the battle (14 October), the ghost of the former King Harold is said to appear at the spot of his eventual demise, now occupied by the grand high altar of the abbey church. Visit the site on a rainy day and the battlefield seems awash with the blood of this gruesome battle (the likely reasoning for this is iron oxide in the soil).
Portland Castle, Dorset
Some visitors to this garrison stronghold built in 1540 have encountered members of the Tudor forces, others have felt themselves being barged by inexplicable forces in an otherwise empty room. During the Civil War, surgery was performed on the kitchen table here, and odd scents and smells are still regularly picked up on it (eeeeewwww).
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall
This was home to a number of garrisoned soldiers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so it’s unsurprising that among the many restless spirits seen lurking inside are soldiers in red tunics and ghostly horses (the latter thought to have been eaten by desperate soldiers during the Civil War siege). Previous custodians of the castle have been woken by the sound of ghostly hooves on turfed-over cobbles, and a member of staff has seen apparitions of a woman haunting the keep. Other spooky sightings include the ghost of Anna, a scullery maid who fell down the stairs to her death; fearful screams heard from the stairwell are believed to be Anna's final moments. Visitors have also reported seeing strange green lights in the kitchen and the figure of a ghostly woman climbing the stairs.
Read more about UK family breaks.