Scaresville - The Haunted Village
Scaresville is a unique Halloween attraction at Kentwell Hall in rural Suffolk, England. Where it differs to most seasonal haunted offerings is that the attraction is one long circuit taking visitors around the grounds of a genuine country Hall and farmland in the form of one massive ‘haunted village’. It really doesn’t feel like a series of individual scare attractions, rather Scaresville is one big immersive attraction, which has grown steadily in popularity since its debut in 2009.
In order to keep things fresh for guests that have experienced Scaresville before, the organisers try to vary the haunted attractions each year, and this year has seen a number of changes, including the addition of the Unfairground. In previous years visitors would make their way to the Stables area where their scare tour would commence, but with growing patronage they needed to find a way to break up the crowds and de-clutter the waiting area, and so the Unfairground was born, and it works really well.
As the name would suggest it’s essentially an area themed as a traditional fairground, with food stalls, side-shows, fire jugglers, animated characters, etc. Of course, being the Unfairground, everything has a slightly dark and sinister flavour, including the names of the snacks. We passed at the opportunity to play Zombie Hoopla, instead we wandered, taking in the sights and speaking to one of the greeters who had been involved in setting up the event over past weeks. She admitted being somewhat nervous due to her impending tour of the site as a guest with a number of her friends!
On admission, groups are allocated numbers according to the available time slots and called in turn to assemble at the Stables for the start of their haunted tour. With groups of typically 8 to 10 people, we joined up with a party of six locals and after a quick run through of the rules (no touching etc) we were off.
Without giving too much away, what happens next is an entertaining and varied mix of scare areas (or scareas, if you will); over a walk that takes anything between an hour and ninety minutes to complete, with very few ‘dead’ spots (pun intended). Initially starting indoors with some enclosed walk-through rooms, you then head out through pathways, taking in many of the various outbuildings and then out into open farmland. There are various scenes, many themed, that you encounter as you walk in the dark around the course. Some of the old favourites are still here, such as the Rat Run and the Catacombs. You are also faced with a rope bridge over water (chicken route available), Billy’s Yard, a warzone, Jack the Ripper and numerous other frights, and the scarers were actively following us around like unwanted shadows.
Overall there were some good startle scares, but perhaps not as many as in previous years, and on occasion the group’s anticipation of potential scares, especially in the naturally-edgy walk through the forest area, was left disappointingly short of action, which may be explained by the recent adverts in the local area for extra volunteer scarers. If you get spooked by scary creatures moaning and grunting in your face you won’t be disappointed this year, but for us we felt there were plenty of missed opportunities for more startles and surprises.
The organisers have planned the route this year to include a lot more of the outbuildings than in the past, and this works well. Notably missing from our previous visit was the Yew Maze (Yewcastle), which we really liked last time, nevertheless there was plenty along the route to keep us all thoroughly frightened (I mean entertained).
A few key things to mention if you want to experience Scaresville for yourselves - Kentwell Hall is located in a very rural part of Suffolk and is a challenge to get to via public transport. You really need a car. Also, plan for the weather – it’s a working farm, so the site can get muddy, especially with so many visitors. Although it was a clear dry night on our visit, the heavy rain over previous days resulted in some very boggy sections so wear sensible footwear, such as heavy shoes or rubber boots. By the end of the tour our shoes and trousers were literally caked in mud right up to the knees! The weather was also playing havoc in the car park (it’s a field) and when we left almost every car was requiring a push through the mud from the parking stewards…a logistical issue they may need to give some thought to for future years.
Our only real disappointment was that groups were going through the course just three minutes apart, which regularly led to bunching up and bottlenecks around the course. Having the Catacombs maze quite early on the route may have also played its part, as groups can easily spend 20 minutes in there trying to find the way out! With groups so close together it was almost impossible to avoid some advance notice of imminent scares, and also the regular stopping for groups ahead disrupted the natural flow, leading to a somewhat disjointed experience. On reflection we think Scaresville may be a victim of its own success, and with demand so high the management are clearly trying to get as many paying guests through as they can in this limited Halloween season, but the increase in patrons and the apparent lower number of scarers took the edge off the experience in a way we didn’t encounter on our last visit. Larger gaps between groups are needed, but to do that they would have to limit the guest numbers, however we felt that this would make the scaring much more effective for guests.
Our overall assessment, Scaresville 2013 is a very entertaining 60 to 90 minutes of screams, startles and scares, and well worth a visit. Top marks to the organisers for the way they convert all the farm outbuildings, forest, fields and walkways into a safe but thrilling Haunted Village. The Unfairground is a great idea to break up the queueing experience. Sort out the bottlenecks, and increase the gaps between groups, and it would be the perfect offering for the witching season.
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