Scarefest at Alton Towers is truly spooktacular
WHATEVER your age, you won’t want to miss one of the nation’s most loved attractions this fortnight as bloodthirsty vampires, crazed clowns and hollow-eyed zombies take over Alton Towers.
The Staffordshire theme park is alive with the undead as part of their annual Scarefest which runs until Halloween, and anyone with a love of the freaky and the fun should experience this macabre carnival of gore while it’s on.
With three live horror mazes, a zombie scare zone and the chance to ride some of the UK’s most iconic rollercoasters into the night, thrillseekers be warned: Alton Towers doesn’t just do Halloween, it is Halloween.
As we arrive at the park on the first Saturday of the event, the weather is perfectly on theme and fills the park with an autumnal crispness. In the grip of a pleasant chill, the park’s spectacular Towers – the origins of which can be traced back to the 8th Century - have a foreboding air; their outline sharper against the clear sky. Ominous music drifts down Towers Street and a palpable sense of excitement comes with it. Just ahead, providing the perfect central point throughout the day, is the Trick or Treat Party Stage.
Children gather round the stage, many of them dressed as ghoulish little monsters, lapping up the atmosphere. Throughout the day there are a variety of shows and as it’s close to Old MacDonald’s Farmyard, there’s plenty to keep younger minds occupied. Four fictional characters have come to the park for Scarefest: Franklyn, Skelvin, Patch and Phil – and they can be seen in and around the children’s area at various times throughout the day.
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Without a small person to justify our presence, we only visit Franklyn in his Freaky Farm before getting preoccupied with the more grown up elements of the delights, but it’s well worth a visit for anyone with a curious mind and a love of animals. Kids will love being up close to pythons and tarantulas and adults will be curious to know just what that cat-like creature does with coffee beans that makes the end result so expensive to drink!
Walking round the park, which is always beautifully maintained, pumpkins are scattered and mysterious creatures linger in the trees. The Dark Forest, where Th13teen is located, hosts the curious Ivy Men. These leaf-covered creatures – actors covered in so many leaves it’s impossible to see them amongst the trees until they move – prove a popular distraction for many of the park’s guests. Faceless monks linger at the entrance to rides and with so many guests dressed up and in the spirit of the occasion, it’s impossible to know where fantasy ends and reality begins.
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As dusk falls, the event shifts up a gear and it is here that the additional attractions put on for Scarefest really come into their own. The Zombie Scare Zone is a walk-through event which looks like something from 28 Days Later – burnt-out cars, smoking buses and abandoned hospital beds litter a darkened alley and you are invited to walk through. But all is not as it seems as grunting figures lunge from the dark, blood splattered and hungry – screams mix with giggles as guests are simultaneously entertained and horrified. By day the zone lacked the element of surprise that was integral to its success but once night fell, the zone took frightening to another level.
And once we’ve survived this experience, it’s time to take on the Terror Mazes, which are lauded by many who visit Scarefest – and it’s no surprise. The Boiler Room is an absolute blast but it is not for the fainthearted. Located where the Black Hole used to be, the build up to the start of the live event is all part of the experience. Constant reminders – written and verbal – that this is designed to scare you and should not be undertaken by anyone with underlying heart problems only up the ante. We creep round the first corner, anticipating some kind of shock only to be directed by a member of staff in Alton Towers uniform to the beginning of the maze. We’re slightly embarrassed but meet the group we’ll go round the attraction with. We’re told to hold the shoulders of those in front. The story starts and we are pushed into the dark maze full of twists and turns. Actors appear from nowhere and we are urged to run away from something that is chasing us. Despite the screams – and if there are none, be afraid: chances are you’ve lost your group and ended up with some of the creatures in there – there are tons of giggles and as we pour out of the maze, it’s clear that while we were undoubtedly truly terrified, it’s been in the best possible way.
The Carnival of Screams is a different matter and anyone who truly suffers from coulrophobia – a fear of clowns – will find it truly nightmarish as it’s the stuff of very twisted dreams. Actors taunt and chase you, forcing you into spaces that appear to be dead ends but give at the final moment, all to a soundtrack that threatens to haunt you long into the evening. Others in the group found The Boiler Room much scarier, but with Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King’s IT never far from my mind, it was truly terrifying for me.
Once darkness has fully swallowed up the park, everything looks very different and the chance to ride some of my favourite rollercoasters provides a welcome relief from the demonic clowns which are still etched on my retinas. Oblivion, which appears to plummet into the ground anyway, is an exhilarating plunge into all-consuming darkness that leaves you breathless and desperate to go again. Nemesis and Air are also fabulous in the dark. Rita – my favourite ever rollercoaster – is absolutely awesome: the track disappears in the dark and we’re travelling so fast that when we come to a stop, I’ve been laughing so much, I have to peel my lips back from my teeth.
But the centrepiece of Scarefest is undoubtedly the Terror of the Towers Scare Maze. Set in the Towers, it is much longer than the other mazes and while the plot wasn’t entirely clear, it was the most enjoyable of the three. Located deep within the Towers, groups of 10 are sent to uncover why the (fictional) renovation of the former stately home has been abandoned. We trawl through scaffolding and crates and grunting noises herald trouble, but it’s the pungent smells and the final section which involves a labyrinth of cages and strobe lighting that are so intense, the fear remains long after you leave.
The festival atmosphere is contagious and those guests who had dressed up in their own Halloween costumes and received curious glances early this morning, now seem to be in their element. Scarefest is more than a day out, it’s an experience that isn’t to be missed.
The park and the rides remain open until 9pm and the chance to enjoy these longer opening hours is worth a visit alone this half term. Those looking for more in the way of twisted terror can also book rooms at the hotel where clowns, zombies and vampires wait on guests. Scare Rooms are also available to book – but must be done in advance – where terrors are sprung on guests throughout the night.
To find out more about this spooktacular event or to book tickets visit www.altontowers.com