If you have got it, haunt it

By Fiona McLelland

- Last updated on GMT

Top tip: pubs should promote their spooky history according to one expert
Top tip: pubs should promote their spooky history according to one expert
Pubs are among the favourite locations for ghosts across the UK. So much so it seems , that claims are often met with more than a pinch of scepticism. But if research really does point to some supernatural connection at your outlet, then you could be on to a winner.

Haunt for ghost hunters

Hygge: the antidote to Halloween

In stead of scaring your customers, how about wrapping them in a feeling of warmth and wellbeing this Halloween?

The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ – loosely translated as “cosiness with friends and family” – is a growing trend in British culture.

Amy Ilic, co-founder of Ardour Design, has some suggestions for capturing the hygge spirit.

  • Set out board games, cards and blankets at each table. That encourages people to go phone-free for the evening and give everyone they are with their undivided attention.
  • Go overboard with candles, especially at windows – the warm glow draws people in and sets the tone for the evening. Candles set out at different heights on tables and the bar creates an organic, effortless feel.
  • A diffuser burning with clove and orange oil will satisfy the sense of smell, evoking thoughts of spiced hot chocolate and mulled wine by the fire.
  • A room full of plants makes for better quality air. Place plants at different heights, and hang them with macramé hangers to add warmth and texture.
  • Try draping natural materials like sheepskins over your benches and chairs. It uplifts the space, making it feel more ‘hygge’.

For more design tips, follow @ardourdesign on social media.

If you want to stay at the Skirrid Mountain Inn for Halloween, you’ll have a four-year wait. The Welsh pub is reputedly one of the UK’s most haunted and attracts growing numbers of visitors on the hunt for a spooktacular thrill.

“We were the first pub on TV’s Most Haunted​,” says leaseholder Geoff Fiddler. “That was back in 2007, and it certainly brought us to the public’s attention.”

The pub dates back to the Norman Conquest and, over time, it’s served as a courtroom-cum-public house, and a place of execution with an oak hanging beam.

Fiddler says he’s seen a coachman with a tricorne hat standing in the doorway. And recently, while chatting with a customer at the bar, a plucking musical sound came out of nowhere then faded away again.

“I reckon someone was just passing through, playing his lyre,” laughs Fiddler.

Haunted Happenings, a company that runs paranormal events, brings groups of around 25 people in every Friday and Saturday night – and more frequently during Halloween. Guests enjoy a discounted pub meal from a set menu, followed by late-night ghost-hunting with psychics.

“It’s a great company to deal with,” says Fiddler. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years or more, and 60% to 70% of our accommodation bookings come from paranormal events.”

The pub also does a lot of 50th and 60th birthday parties. “People are looking for something different,” Fiddler explains. “Instead of just going for a drink, they come here to experience a bit of history.”

A fine line to tread

Ghoulish games for Halloween

Stuck for ideas for Halloween party games? Here are a few ideas from DesignMyNight, the company behind designmynight.com – a showcase for the UK’s best bars and restaurants – and the Collins reservations and enquiry management system.

1. Dead 21 questions: Everyone writes down the name of a deceased celebrity and places it in a hat. Taking turns to pick out a name (without looking), players hold the name to their forehead. They have 21 ‘yes/no’ questions to guess who they are.

2. True/false ghost stories: Take turns to tell three spooky tales: two must have happened to the storyteller, while the other is false. Everyone else tries to guess which one isn’t true.

3. Apple bobbing: Fill two large bowls with water, and put an apple in each. Two players, hands tied behind their backs, are pitted against each other – first one to fish out the apple with their mouth wins.

4. Monster Mash: This is harder than it sounds! Players count to 10, replacing any number that’s devisable by three and five with the words ‘monster’ or ‘mash’.

5. Halloween A-Z: Give out sheets of paper with the letters of the alphabet down one side, and pens. Teams get eight minutes to write one Halloween-related word next to each letter. The team with the most words wins.

In seven years at the Black Swan in York, leaseholder Maggie Anderton has seen a shadowy figure in the kitchen, and a horseman she likes to call Jack. But it was a couple of customers who gave her the biggest chill.

The ladies sat quietly reading the ghost stories on the back of the pub’s menu, including one about a pair of legs that frequently walk down the stairs. They told Anderton that they’d lived in the pub as little girls, but had to leave when their dad, the landlord, had a terrible accident, and had both legs amputated.

“That was a surreal moment,” says Anderton. She estimates that the Black Swan’s haunted reputation accounts for 30% to 40% of the pub’s accommodation bookings, and 35% of walk-in trade in the summer and winter tourist seasons.

The pub has tie-ins with two local ghost-walk companies. It displays posters advertising the walks, and the guides bring in their customers. The pub also hosts about 40 ‘ghost suppers’ a year for groups of 10 or more, which are followed by a private ghost walk. The pub takes the booking and pays the guide a fee.

Although good for footfall, Anderton says the ghost business is a fine line to tread.

“We don’t want to become gimmicky because we’d lose our regulars,” she explains: “The ghost stories draw in the customers, but we need to make sure they come back again and again.”

But she has one exception when it comes to gimmicks and that’s Halloween.

“Every year, we host a big Halloween party for charity, with a disco, fancy dress, apple bobbing and lucky dips. And we go a bit overboard with the decoration.”

London’s most haunted

Making the most of history

Curiosity about the supernatural is deep-rooted in our culture, according to Philip Carney, founder of the Ghost Pubs website.

The site lists in excess of 1,800 haunted drinking establishments and their ghostly stories, and refers customers to haunted accommodation and paranormal investigations.

Carney says: “The fascination with the paranormal reflects an interest in what happens when we die, coupled with a fear of the unknown. It’s resulting in a slowly growing dark tourism industry.”

However, it’s not enough for pubs to lay claim to a haunted past, he says. “Pubs need to research the history of the pub – supernatural or otherwise – then actively promote it.”

The Viaduct Tavern doesn’t disappoint the ghost hunters who come through its doors each day, clutching their guides to London’s most haunted pubs.

It stands on the site of a debtors’ prison and was home to a 19th-century brothel and opium den. Its cellar reputedly housed the holding cells of nearby Newgate Prison in the 1700s.

Visitors hope to see the restless spirit that roams the cellar or the ghost of a lady who hanged herself in the opium den.

The Fuller’s-managed pub is one of the last remaining Victorian gin palaces. It has all its original atmospheric features and the staff are keen to oblige with a story or two.

“We all know the history of the pub,” says supervisor Sam Manton. “We’ll take customers down the cellar to where the old cells were meant to be.”

The cellars also form part of the weekly local ghost tour. Then there are the late-night psychic events organised by Ghost Hunter Tours for would-be paranormal investigators.

“I’ve not seen a ghost here,” says Manton. “But a woman did give me a scare once when she came screaming and crying out of one of the ouija sessions.”

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