THE ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the start of winter – or the "darker half" – used to be celebrated across several days around October 31.

Things may have changed over the centuries, but one shared element that hasn't waned is a desire to scare ourselves and enjoy some frightening fun at this time of year. How will you spend Halloween?

Here are some ideas to stoke the imagination. Well, if you are brave enough …

Haunted houses

If the walls could talk, no doubt Bannockburn House in Stirling would have a few stories to tell. It is said that restless souls still roam here, seemingly unable – or unwilling – to leave this historic pile.

History and Horror Tours offers a not-for-the-lily-livered glimpse inside the empty halls and echoing rooms that have earned a reputation for being among central Scotland's most haunted locations.

The company also runs tours of Castle Menzies at Weem, near Aberfeldy – said to have its own clutch of supernatural entities – as well as guided walks around Dunkeld and Perth, shining a spotlight on dark tales of witches, ghosts, grave robbers, murderers and thieves.

Tours run year-round. Ages 12+ only. Tickets from £10 (adult) and £7 (child). Private tours available. Visit historyandhorrortours.com

Spirits of Scone

The grounds of Scone Palace in Perthshire have been transformed into a series of themed zones for Halloween, including the Ghostly Woods and Zombie Graveyard. Enter at your peril given the unsavoury sorts lurking in the shadows, not least a cannibal family and Macbeth's witches.

HeraldScotland: Scone Palace at night. Picture: Peter DibdinScone Palace at night. Picture: Peter Dibdin

If you make it out in one piece, pick up a souvenir T-shirt, beanie hat or tote bag from the Spirits of Scone gift shop. Hot food is available from the Fright Night Cafe, along with marshmallow sticks for toasting over the Hell's Fire Pit.

Opens this weekend, then runs October 27 to 31. Not suitable for children under eight (under-16s must be accompanied by an adult). Tickets from £15 (adult) and £7.50 (child). Family tickets cost £40 (two adults and three children). Visit scone-palace.co.uk/spirits-of-scone

Thrills, spills and chills

Nothing says Halloween like a trip on a ghost train, one of several fairground rides that are part of The Spooktacular at Silverburn in Glasgow.

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Be it things that go bump in the night – the dodgems in this case – or dizzying contraptions that spin around until you come close to emulating that famed vomiting scene from The Exorcist, there are no shortage of ghoulish high jinks to be had.

Runs until October 31. A four-hour session costs £16.50 (adult), £13.20 (child) or £49.50 (family of four). Visit thespooktacular.com

HeraldScotland: The dodgems are part of the fun at The Spooktacular at Silverburn in GlasgowThe dodgems are part of the fun at The Spooktacular at Silverburn in Glasgow

If you go down to the woods …

The descriptive blurb for Cult at the Haunted Forest in Kelburn Castle and Estate, Ayrshire, is enough to send a shiver down the spine.

It reads: "A child has gone missing in the woods. You are tasked with finding her, but as you venture deeper into the forest you will discover an evil conspiracy and sinister terrors. Demonic worship, human sacrifice and unholy creatures await you."

Gulp, not one for the faint-hearted then. Pay it a visit if you dare.

Runs until October 31. Ages 14+ only (under-18s must be accompanied by an adult). Tickets cost £13.50. Visit kelburnestate.com/cult

Sink your fangs into lore

Gather round. It is time for a creepy tale. Legend has it that in the 1920s, two poachers took shelter in a remote bothy in Glen Tilt, Perthshire. They lit a fire and then, as one started to climb back out the window to fetch some water, something tore at his leg and started sucking blood.

Having managed to wriggle free, the wounded man and his companion went in search of the fanged assailant. Yet, despite a thorough search through the darkness, there was nothing – or no one – to be found.

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Some wags might blame the midges. We aren't so sure … Blood-sucking fairies known as Baobhan Sith (pronounced baa'-van shee) were once said to have haunted the mountain paths and the low roads of the Highlands to prey upon unsuspecting travellers, pilgrims, and hunters.

Other eerie stories tied to the rugged landscapes of Glen Tilt, part of the Atholl Estates which is home to Blair Castle, include that of The Whistler, the spirit of a shepherd said to be heard – yet never seen – as he coaxes his flock across the hills.

Visit atholl-estates.co.uk

HeraldScotland: The joys of Halloween night. Picture: Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesThe joys of Halloween night. Picture: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Enjoy a spine-tingling tipple

As the veil grows thinner this Halloween, you never know who might show up in your local watering hole. We all know some hair-raising bars, but some have scarier regulars than others.

The South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh were built in 1788 to house taverns, workshops and storage space. Today, the area is said to be a hotbed for paranormal activity, with many such stories attached to the pubs that now occupy the vaults.

Laying claim to the title of Scotland's most haunted pub is The Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street which, as the name suggests, is said to be frequented by a spectre with a blood-curdling scream.

It has been suggested this ghost has links to wealthy merchant Lord Nicol Edwards who lived in the vicinity during the 16th century and is said to have tortured women he believed were "witches".

Nearby neighbour Whistle Binkies is reportedly visited by The Watcher, an old-fashioned gentleman spotted several times over the years. Despite his sinister moniker, though, he seems perfectly content to eyeball fellow punters from a distance.

The pub's other ghost, The Imp, is a bit more hands-on, a mischievous entity that apparently likes to play pranks on the staff, such as locking them in cellars, moving things around and stopping clocks.

Visit thebansheelabyrinth.com and whistlebinkies.com

The Coffin Road

The Royal Marine Hotel in Brora, Sutherland, has a choice of guided walks – led by expert local guide Nick Lindsay – that are perfect for this time of year.

The Coffin Road Walk, lasting three to four hours, follows a path from the ruined church and graveyard at Clynekirkton towards the banks of Loch Brora at Oldtown, through hillsides steeped in history.

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A shorter option is the Graveyard Walk, lasting an hour-and-a-half, which focuses on the cemetery at Clynekirkton, imparting fascinating nuggets about those who have been laid to rest there over the years.

Visit royalmarinebrora.com

Drive-in movies

It is a Halloween tradition to terrify ourselves with a scary film or two. M&Ds at Strathclyde Park is hosting drive-in movies from October 29 to 31. The programme features The Cabin in the Woods, Goosebumps and The Invisible Man.

HeraldScotland: An American Werewolf in LondonAn American Werewolf in London

The Catherine McEwan Foundation Presents Halloween Lockdown Drive-In at Falkirk Stadium and will be screening classic movies on October 29, 30 and 31. Choose from Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, An American Werewolf in London, Hocus Pocus, Poltergeist and The Lost Boys.

For prices and timings, visit scotlandsthemepark.com and skiddle.com

A legion of phantom pipers

The haunting skirl of the bagpipes is the soundtrack to many a Halloween fable and almost every part of Scotland can lay claim to its own variation on this.

Usually, a piper enters a tunnel or cave. The music can be heard playing above ground for some time. Then it abruptly stops. The man is never seen again. In some versions, his loyal companion dog comes haring out alone, terror-stricken and completely devoid of all its hair.

Should you find yourself at Clanyard Bay, near Stranraer, or perhaps Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast, listen out for the eldritch sound of distant bagpipes.

Visit nts.org.uk and visitscotland.com

HeraldScotland: Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Picture: Kieran Dodds/NewsquestCulzean Castle in Ayrshire. Picture: Kieran Dodds/Newsquest

Otherworldly adventures

Alien invasion, creatures from the deep and a constellation of stars are part of the much-anticipated Paisley Halloween Festival presents Out of this World, an illuminated trail of installations and light displays centred on the River Cart, Paisley Abbey and the Town Hall.

Among the commissioned artists is Mike Jones who has designed a piece called Orionids that seeks to emulate the breath-taking sight of a meteor shower cascading over the river.

Studio Vertigo, meanwhile, has created two works: Nova, inspired by the mystical Star of the East, and Ursula Lassos the Moon, a tribute to lunar beauty.

Runs from October 28 until November 1. Visit paisley.is

Scary faeries

The annals of ancient Scottish folklore are filled with fearsome tales of the fey, faeries that spirit away hapless humans, never to be seen again.

A choice of two themed woodland adventures awaits in Luss. The Loch Lomond Scary Faerie Trail is open during the day and aimed at families and younger children, offering a whimsical mystery to solve en route to a magical pumpkin patch.

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As night falls, the Loch Lomond Halloween Encounter takes over. Geared towards older children and adults, it centres on a haunted woods experience with lights, sounds and special effects. Watch out for faeries, elves, ancient trolls and witches along the way.

Runs until October 31. Tickets from £8. Visit lochlomondfaerietrail.com

Going underground

Are you courageous enough to venture into the formerly plague-ravaged streets beneath Edinburgh's Old Town? This Halloween, the Real Mary King's Close is running a series of lantern-led tours.

There's been many unexplained paranormal happenings recorded here over the years from disembodied voices in the darkness and unseen hands reaching out to touch visitors, to shadowy figures spotted sweeping through the dimly lit rooms and passageways.

Runs October 29-31. Tours last one hour. Tickets from £20.95 (adult) and £13.95 (child). Visit realmarykingsclose.com

Walk in the footsteps of Macbeth

More than 400 years after William Shakespeare first penned Macbeth – a work reverently referred to in hushed whispers as "The Scottish Play" – it continues to captivate audiences on stage, page and screen alike.

The Macbeth Trail around Scotland brings together real-life places, historic sites and landscapes, alongside the locations used for the 2015 movie starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

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On the map created by VisitScotland is Dingwall, where Macbeth is said to have been born around 1005, and Forres where the fateful scene with the three witches took place, as well as Loch Leven, the Birnam Oak and Glamis Castle.

To download a copy of The Macbeth Trail, log on to visitscotland.com/macbeth

Meet a beastly bunch

The inhabitants of Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling, are gearing up for Halloween. Attractions include a pumpkin patch, firepits for toasting marshmallows, a trick-or-treat trail and giant hay-bale spiders. There's also a dinosaur forest and bespoke food trucks.

Runs until October 31. Tickets cost £16.50 (adult); £13.50 (child and senior). Pumpkins £3 each. Visit blairdrummond.com

HeraldScotland: Blair Drummond Safari Park. Picture: Phil WilkinsonBlair Drummond Safari Park. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Not all heroes wear capes

Brace yourself. The fictional city of Glasglopolis (you wouldn't want to say that in the dark without your glasses) is under attack from a strange toxic gloop as GlasGLOW returns to the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow for a fourth year.

The sound and light show tasks visitors with playing undercover reporters for the Glasglopolis Globe newspaper. They must uncover the truth behind the weird goings-on and save the city's annual pumpkin festival (a sure-fire journalism rite of passage as any rookie newshound knows).

With this year's GlasGLOW coinciding with the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the show's creators have devised a plot that draws on the global climate crisis. It will also incorporate much-loved elements of previous events, including Marshmallowland, as well as a bar and gourmet street food village.

Runs from October 27 until November 14. Tickets start from £20 (adult) and £12 (child). Visit itison.com/glasglow

HeraldScotland: GlasGLOW returns to the Botanic Gardens in GlasgowGlasGLOW returns to the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow

Creepy castles

What's the collective noun for a group of ghosts? A fright? A spook? Perhaps a ghoul gang? In any case, Inveraray Castle on Loch Fyne in Argyll, is reputed to have no less than five resident spectres.

Among their number is a young Irish harpist, believed to have been killed by the Duke of Montrose's men in 1644, who reportedly haunts the library and MacArthur Room. There is a ghostly laundry maid in the Old Kitchen and a piper in the Brown Library.

The grey lady is said to have only been seen by daughters of a Duke of Argyll. Another apparition known as the "Galley of Lorne" has been witnessed floating away on the horizon when a Duke dies.

At Edinburgh Castle, meanwhile, the macabre sightings include a headless drummer boy, a phantom dog and a former prisoner, rumoured to have perished when he was thrown from the battlements onto the craggy rocks below after hiding from his captors in a dung cart.

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Stirling Castle has a green lady, thought to be a servant of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a pink lady, some say is a war widow who wanders looking for her lost husband. Whichever one you spy, don't look her directly in the eyes. Legend has it that those who do won't live to see the dawn.

Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle are open daily. Tickets must be booked in advance. Visit edinburghcastle.scot and stirlingcastle.scot. Inveraray Castle is currently closed, reopening in 2022, but is taking group bookings (minimum 30 people) until October 31. Visit inveraray-castle.com

Pumpkin picking galore

While some of us still have a soft spot for the humble neep, pumpkins are becoming ever-more popular when it comes to carving jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween.

Picking your own (PYO) is all the rage and there are patches springing up across Scotland. Popular spots include Arnprior Farm in Stirlingshire and Kilduff Farm, near North Berwick, in East Lothian.

HeraldScotland: Arnprior Farm pumpkin patch. Picture: Mack PhotoArnprior Farm pumpkin patch. Picture: Mack Photo

Craigie's Farm near South Queensferry has around 20,000 pumpkins available to pick this year, ranging in size from mini to mammoth. Among the colourfully named varieties are Mars, Snowman, Knucklehead, Crown Prince, Harvest Moon, Polar Bear and Turkish Turban.

Other PYO pumpkin patches to check out include Cairnie Fruit Farm at Cupar, Fife; Westerton Farmers, near Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire; and Wester Hardmuir Fruit Farm, near Nairn, Moray.

All run until October 31. For prices, booking details and availability, visit kilduff.co.uk; arnpriorfarm.com; craigies.co.uk; cairniefruitfarm.co.uk; westertonfarmers.co.uk; hardmuir.com

Ghost tours to make you jump

Author and paranormal historian Richard Falconer leads guided walks through St Andrews, including around the university and cathedral.

Sceptics may want to think twice. As the St Andrews Ghost Tours website warns: "Do not come on this tour if you think the paranormal is fiction. There are NO fictional stories. This is one of the top ghost tours in the world for a reason."

Sightings and phenomena recorded on past tours are said to include the ghost of a nun, a white lady and the echo of horses' hooves.

Mercat Tours in Edinburgh is running a series of supernatural-themed itineraries this Halloween with an underground ghost tour of the haunted Blair Street Vaults, a spooky stroll through the Old Town and a visit to the forbidding tombs of the Canongate Kirkyard.

Visit standrewsghosttours.com and mercattours.com

Halloween family days out

If you prefer your Halloween to be more wholesome than gruesome, there are plenty of family-orientated events to enjoy.

Pop along to the Halloween Pumpkin Trail at Floors Castle, near Kelso, which takes place on a meandering mile-and-a-half route through the grounds. Keep your eyes peeled for letters carved on pumpkins along the way to solve two secret words. Runs until October 31.

Traquair at Innerleithen, Peeblesshire – Scotland's oldest inhabited house – is hosting a Halloween Fun Day next Sunday complete with wizards and witches' workshop, ghost stories in the woods, a pumpkin treasure hunt and a cellar passage experience with hidden surprises.

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Castle Kennedy Gardens near Stranraer is laying on a Halloween Festival that promises a fiendishly good time with the choice of exploring a pumpkin trail or a witch and wizard adventure trail. Runs until October 31.

Almond Valley Heritage Centre in Livingston is welcoming visitors for its After Dark In The Witches' Wood event, from October 29 to 31, offering the chance to explore a twilight world with strange creatures, described by organisers as "silly, scary, socially distanced fun for all the family".

For more information and prices, visit floorscastle.com; traquair.co.uk; castlekennedygardens.com; almond-valley.arttickets.org.uk

Samhuinn Fire Festival

The dark nights are nothing to be feared as the Samhuinn parade in Edinburgh – a contemporary revival of the ancient Celtic celebration of new year that marks the arrival of the winter months – demonstrates.

HeraldScotland: The Samhuinn Fire Festival on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Picture: Gordon Terris/The HeraldThe Samhuinn Fire Festival on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Picture: Gordon Terris/The Herald

Organised by Beltane Fire Society, it is a spell-binding spectacle to witness, with mesmerising performance art, wild drumming, fire-dancing, thrilling acrobatics and eye-catching costumes.

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Anyone wishing to attend this year's parade on October 31 must pre-register. Exact times and locations will only be sent to those who are registered.

Visit beltane.org and facebook.com/beltanefiresociety