Edinburgh Zoo's Spooktacular is their first evening Halloween event - we take the family along

There’s a dozing gibbon, folded into his hammock, up in the tree canopies. This is also past roosting time for the flamingos, who look ghostly white in the dusk.

By Gaby Soutar
Monday, 18th October 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Monday, 18th October 2021, 5:37 pm
For the first time ever the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is hosting a family friendly Halloween trail at Edinburgh Zoo. In partnership with NL Productions, the team behind The Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry, the wildlife conservation charity will welcome guests on a spooktacular light trail on select evenings throughout October. Visitors can listen out for a rustling amongst the trees and peeping eyes as visitors make their way through the park, meeting lots of spooky characters from witches and wizards to scarecrows and spiders. Tickets for Edinburgh Zoo Spooktakular are on sale now at edinburghzoo.org.uk/halloween.

It’s probably best that they sleep, or they’d be very confused by human behaviour.

We’re experiencing Edinburgh Zoo’s Spooktacular – the zoo’s first evening Halloween event.

It runs on selected dates until 31 October and has been designed in partnership with NL Production, the team behind The Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry.

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Visit Edinburgh Zoo after dark this Halloween

You can visit from 5:30pm until 9pm, and we go along at 6:30pm, which is slightly too early, as dusk hasn’t quite fallen, and you really need darkness for the full effect.

Still, maybe we should ease ourselves into the scares.

It starts easy, with some spooky scarecrow pumpkin-headed people, who are quite friendly looking, sitting up in their wheelbarrows. There are some cute newborn pumpkins too, with dummies and hats. My nephew, aged two, likes these. Maybe his generation will know nothing of neepy lanterns.

There are also some creepy wolves, perched on top of what I think is the old reptile house.

They look rather scrawny and mangy, and one of them is wearing a short-sleeved shirt, like Teen Wolf. I’m sure the pack of African hunting dogs that live here would make short work of him. I hope they’ve double locked their enclosure, or there might be a stand off.

One of the trail’s highlights is a light and projection display on what used to be the lion enclosure, with staggered rocks on various levels. They use the tiers to create a 3D scene, with a witch’s castle, rows of pumpkin heads and little doorways. The youngest one in our party runs away when a projection of spiders scrambling on a web appears, and it makes us all feel a bit itchy.

Apart from this minor scare, the whole experience is horror lite. You’d have to have a very nervous disposition to get the heebie-jeebies. This is no Edinburgh Dungeon. My nieces are eight and ten, and they’re maybe slightly too old for the event, though they still love it.

The tiny nephew only really jumps when a plume of dry ice puffs out, as we pass through an archway of webs and faux skeletons. The grown-ups get a laugh from the signs that hang up along here - “Don’t touch this, it’s definitely cursed” and “We got sick of hiding the bodies”.

I’m sure that the remains of some of the zoo’s more annoying visitors – the ones that bang on Tian Tian’s window, or hog the viewing points – are here.

There are some lovely visual moments, which remind me of Edinburgh Zoo’s Giant Lanterns events of pre-Covid times.

These include the moon, with a witch silhouette on one side and a wolf on the other, and the tree that’s threaded in luminous strings. There’s also a bush covered in a discombobulating light projection, with rustling noises within. We scurry past.

The pet cemetery is not as scary as Stephen King’s take on the genre, with the grave of rabbit, Mr Fluffy, and a ghostly guinea pig and parrot.

There are also lots of thespians, scattered around the mile and a half long route, which makes the whole thing more interactive.

We especially enjoy a chat with the witch, who has an excellent evil cackle, which you can practically hear from the car park. She’s definitely from the method school of acting.

She complains about her ex-husband (he appears, as a spell master, later on) and lets kids ride her broomstick.

The benign and Tolkien-esque wizard is lovely too, with a puffy mane of white hair and a staff.

There’s another younger and more lively wizard by the kids playground.

At one point, I see him being chased by a group of about six feral five-year-olds. It’s gone all Lord of the Flies, and I wonder if they’ll take him down like prey. They may be high on sugar from the various eating opportunities scattered around, like waffle cones, Screaming Peacock burgers or marshmallows, which you can toast over a brazier.

None of the actors jump out on us. That’s my ultimate fear. I keep an eye on all the shrubbery en route, just to make sure there’s nobody lurking.

Even though I get the sense that one of those scraggy wolves has been following me around the whole time, we all leave with our nerves intact.

Take your littlest ones here for some low-fi but quite charming scares.

Adults £17, children £11, tickets at www.edinburghzoo.org.uk