I hope you all had a Happy Halloween. In the week leading up to all the usual costumes, candy, and parties, I started to reminisce about a decidedly unique Halloween weekend spent in a haunted castle in York, England. I am now just starting to write about this experience because I saw and did things that weekend that were completely new to me and new experiences are always a good thing.
My two girlfriends and I went on this trip that was hosted by our work abroad sponsors, BUNAC. Our slightly odd but entertaining tour guide, Andy, drove us four hours north of London in a small van that was one of two filled with college grads and students just like ourselves. By the time we reached Yorkshire, it was the perfect setting for a spooky Halloween. It was dark and windy and rain was pouring down on us as we made our way into Bolton Castle, a crumbling, medieval castle from the 13th century. We could not see anything surrounding the castle except the flashlight held by our guide leading us all inside. Most of the castle was in ruins, save for the big dining room which would not only be where we would feast but also where we would sleep since it had the most floor space for all of our sleeping bags.
Once we stowed our bags away, we were taken to one room to change into our costumes that were provided for us. To fit the medieval atmosphere, most of the girls changed into maiden dresses except for me. By the time I got to the clothes rack all that was left for me was a long cotton shirt which basically was a sack with a rope around the waist. I did have a hood and a plastic sword, albeit a bent plastic sword, but a sword nonetheless, so those two things more than made up for the fact that I was a girl wearing men’s clothes. There was no doubt we all felt pretty silly but then who cared? You only get to look ridiculous in an ancient castle in the English countryside once in your life.
We went back into the dining room for our traditional medieval feast. In the middle of the room, was one long banquet table reaching from wall to the other and the fire-place was full of big flames to keep us warm. We stuffed ourselves with turkey drumsticks, stew, loaves of bread with butter, a variety of meats, hard-boiled eggs, and jugs of beer and wine were ours for the taking. Everything was delicious and authentic but the best part of the meal was when one of our servers introduced himself as Lord Bolton. Obviously, the girls and I immediately fawned over him since he was cute, he was a Lord, and he owned the castle. He was the closest to royalty and to Prince William we were going to get while living in England. We did not have a chance to talk to him during dinner but made it our personal mission to take a picture with him before we left the next day.
After dinner, we were split into groups to go on a scavenger hunt throughout the castle with lighted candles guiding our way up and down steep spiraling staircases and down narrow passageways. I met my new teammates who were horribly drunk and so it was amusing to let them lead the way as they yelled out obscenities and stumbled down steps all for team spirit and unity. I thought they would drop their candles and burn their costumes or fall down on the stairs and hit their heads but we made it safely to the end of the hunt. I do not remember what the prize was or what place we came in, but I will always remember laughing at my inebriated new friends until my stomach hurt.
As the night went on and the rain stopped for a little while, our tour guides took us through some of the bedrooms, kitchen, barn, and dungeon and stopped in each spot to tell us a scary story that took place there. They were the usual stories of people dying in their beds and such, stories that you smirk at and never believe but going through the rooms at night was enough to spook my friend Liz. As we were getting ready for bed in the dining room, she made sure to place her sleeping bag between Krissy and I for extra protection and I also put my plastic sword next to us should we need to defend ourselves from who knows what. She would wake me up later in the night to escort her down to the bathroom with the sword at my side and apparently she kept poking me throughout the night trying to wake me up, but to no avail, because she wanted to know if I too heard the ghost banging a door open and shut. Even though I was wearing thermals and socks underneath my pajamas and wrapped up tight in my sleeping bag, I was still freezing but it did not matter because the setting was perfect. I drifted off to sleep with the fire still going and listened to the new rain and wind pounding onto the castle. It was exactly what you would expect a night in an ancient castle to be like.
In the morning, we went outside to finally see the endless rolling green hills surrounding the castle and despite the gloom and clouds, a few rays managed to filter in through the windows of all the rooms we now more bravely explored. Crumbled walls towered over dusty four-poster beds and carpets in the bedrooms, isolated barrels in the shed, and cooking utensils in the kitchen. The stillness of everything was so beautiful and we wondered what it must have looked like when it was fully alive. Once we finished our self guided tour and headed toward our vans that would take us back to bustling London, I spotted Lord Bolton lingering outside the entrance. Liz and Krissy were still inside the gift shop so I just started asking him questions about the castle trying to stall until the girls came back outside. He was easy to talk to which was good for a shy girl like me so by the time the girls came out, we were ready to take a picture with him and complete our mission. We could not wait to go back home to our housemates and brag about our royal conquest.
All I did on the drive back to London was stare out the window at all the greenery whizzing by and at the sheep here and there just grazing. It was nice to just sit there for a few hours and doing nothing else but appreciate the scenery and I thought about how lucky I was to be able to do not just this but everything else I did that weekend. Yes, some of it was cheesy, corny, and cliche but it was something new. It was a change from the sugar highs and parties, which don’t get me wrong, I still love to do, but sometimes change is good and when you have an opportunity for change you should take full advantage of it. Good moments will pop up here and there that will stand out forever in your mind against the usual.