Alton Towers Scarefest: Halloween family fun

There were teens with full-on scary masks galore, as well as plenty of witches and wizards prowling around Alton Towers last weekend.

 But I was to make an unexpected contribution to Scarefest, the annual spooky festival at the Staffordshire theme park.

 Having enjoyed a whistlestop round of the big rides as the sun set, it was back to Alton Towers Hotel to freshen up for dinner. Trouble was: I’d forgotten my make-up bag. The horror! What was I to do? Surely daring to go face-naked would qualify me for a spooky prize. At least, if anyone asked, I could say it was the scariest thing I could think of…

 Scarefest is a three-week celebration of Halloween and the resort has really gone to town to mark the occasion.

 A huge pumpkin adorns the entrance of Alton Towers Hotel and there are dozens of the orange gourds around the fountain by the main doors. Skeletons and mock graves are set up in the theme park itself as well as scary characters, trick or treat doors and shows.

 But there were no tricks when it came to our room for the night: in fact, it was a real treat.

 Gone were the pictures on the wall, the tasteful curtains and a restful bed. In its place, poison ivy crept across mirrors, spooky pictures of haunted houses, glowing pumpkins and a monster portrait were on the walls, our curtains were black with cartoon ghost figures and there was a matching quilt. In the corner, on a table, another Halloween scene and some welcome scary sweets.

 In the bathroom, the shower curtain had been replaced with another one, showing cartoon monsters, green slime “dripped” from the bath panel and alongside the complimentary toiletries was some toxic slime to de-grime the children. Oh, and more poison ivy curled around the shower.

 But the piece de resistance for the children was a pumpkin piñata. The first ten minutes was spent bashing the hell out of it to release the treats within. It was exhausting to watch.

 One thing has to be said about Alton Towers: when it puts on its special occasions, it does them magnificently.

 The Santa hideaways and sleepovers are enchanting and magical for young children, but the Scarefest is great fun for families with children of all ages.

 While fearless older siblings can tackle the Field of 1,000 Screams and Boiler House, which both feature characters to scare you witless, younger children can get into the spirit (geddit?) of things by mask decorating or making a terrifying t-shirt to take home.

 During Scarefest, which runs until November 2, the park stays open until 9pm and some of the rides can be accessed in the dark.

 Of course, daylight hours are already filled with the screams of those tackling the rides. And you certainly need a strong stomach to face the 60ft sheer drop of Oblivion or the 360 degree Submission ride in X-Sector.

 But as day gave way to night, and with many visitors were taking their fancy dress obligations very seriously indeed, there were renewed squeals as the light faded and a sinister gloom fell across the park.

 It was just the right time to visit Hex, one of the most disorienting rides I’ve ever been on. Adventurous guests are invited to hear the curse that befell the Earl of Shrewsbury, who lived at Alton, in the 19th century when he shunned a beggar woman in the woods.

 As he was driven off in his carriage, she cursed his family, warning that when a branch fell from an oak tree someone close to him would die.

 Legend has it that during a terrifying thunder storm lightning struck and a huge branch crashed to the ground. Not long afterwards, a relation died in mysterious circumstances.

 It was then that he became obsessed with the curse and tried in vain to stop anymore branches from falling. Chains and ropes were thrown around it to protect it and prevent them from hitting the ground.

 The story is told in dark and scary rooms and, of course, there were plenty of squealing groups of girls. The screams continued when we moved to the final phase: the ride.

 Never have I been so confused. As the room – or was it the ride? – moved, I couldn’t work out if I was upside down or the right way up.

 I stumbled out a little more dazed than when I went in.

 I was a little hungry, too. So it was back to the hotel for dinner. The food has never been at the top of the list of reasons to stay at Alton Towers. The Santa sleepover meals were never memorable.

 But this time I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. We ate at the Secret Garden restaurant.

 A child’s meal costs £6.75 for three courses, from which they can choose from three starters, mains and puddings, while a la carte for adults costs £18 for two courses of £21 for three.

 I chose from the themed Scarefest menu: tombstones for starter (which masqueraded as giant mushrooms with mozzarella and tomatoes) and a creamy and rich spinach and asparagus risotto for main. Both were very good and certainly of a high restaurant standard.

 The steak and chips were also praised. Appropriate for such an event, the steak was rare. And bloody. Was that Dracula I saw lurking behind us?

 

FACT FILE

 

Jayne Howarth and family were guests of Alton Towers and stayed for one night at Alton Towers Hotel.

 

Scarefest runs until November 2, 2008. Many of the activities are free, although the Boiler House and Fields of 1,000 Screams cost £5 each or £8 for the two.

 

Family rooms at either Alton Towers Hotel or Splash Landings Hotel cost from £41.50 per person, per night, based on four sharing. Trick or Treat rooms carry a £50 supplement. There are various packages available for those wanting to visit the waterpark and the theme park as part of the experience.

 

 

For details, vist altontowers.com or telephone 0871 222 1644.