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Oct. 29, 2022

Day 59: Darktober at M&D’s Scotland's Theme Park in Scotland

Day 59: Darktober at M&D’s Scotland's Theme Park in Scotland

An abandoned farm’s bloody history is revealed during Darktober at M&D’s Scotland's Theme Park in Scotland. Scotland's Theme Park has been celebrating Halloween with a maze since 2014. The maze is part of this year's larger event called Darktober,...

An abandoned farm’s bloody history is revealed during Darktober at M&D’s Scotland's Theme Park in Scotland. Scotland's Theme Park has been celebrating Halloween with a maze since 2014. The maze is part of this year's larger event called Darktober, which acts as a second gate for the park. Today, we’ll learn about the event from Carly McCleary, who produces the maze. Follow along to our Hauntathon:


Carly McCleary: My name is Carly McCleary and I write and produce the Scare Attraction Darktober at M&D. M&D is a small theme park in Scotland.

Philip Hernandez: Can you give us kind of like the structure of the event? Is it a classic may style like we would see here in the US? Or how is it laid out?

Carly McCleary: Yeah, it's a classic maze style. We do have rides on at night. During October we call it Darktober where we open up a selection of our top theme thrill rides at night for customers to enjoy. But it's a singular maze. There aren't many theme parks or amusement parks in Scotland at all, and I think we were the first to start a scare event, which was in 2014. We started off with zombie viral called Outbreak the first year. I think that's the standard, isn't? It certainly is up here. this is kind of a standard first haunt. So, we had Outbreak and then we took it to Outbreak Reinfection, then Evolution, and then we moved on to Night Terror. Night Terror was a show where you were trapped in your own nightmares and couldn't wake up. So, we had two years of nightmares and then we had Gateway to Hell.

Carly McCleary: All of our stories. We're trying kind of seep in truth. We try and soak it in truth and urban legends from the local area, or things that have really happened to ourselves. This year our story is based in an old, abandoned farm and it's called The Well. It's based on an old urban legend in the north of Scotland over an old farm. The farmer had seven daughters, each daughter took turns to go to the well to get water, and this one day he sent each of them in turn, and they didn't come back. When the bodies were found, the bodies of his daughters were found, the well had been burnt to the ground and the bodies of his daughters were found around the well.

Carly McCleary: The thing that we do a little bit differently, I think to most haunts, certainly here, is we have a pre-show. So, we have a theater-type show that lasts around about 5 minutes. This year it's actually an old-fashioned campfire story. So, you come into a clearing we've got a campfire burning and we've got a girl with this torch spooking and shining it on her face and telling the story about the farm before this story comes true. It really is a theater experience, and this year we actually have an illusionist working with us. So, we've got a full-on old school buzz saw illusion where we've got our girl getting sworn in half, and we've got a half body illusion later on the haunt where they can't see any legs underneath the table and the girls kind of lying on it with entrails everywhere, it's lovely.

Philip Hernandez: Lovely, huh?

Carly McCleary: It's a sight to behold.

Philip Hernandez: Is it a separately ticketed event?

Carly McCleary: Yeah, it's a separately ticketed event. The park didn't used to be open in the evenings during October before this event. So, you can go to and events, you can click on the. Well or Darktober, and you can buy tickets for the scare attraction.

Philip Hernandez: Are you getting the same fans that come during the day that are coming for the Halloween events? Or are you bringing all new people? And are people just coming for the haunt?

Carly McCleary: It is definitely a different audience. We have some people, probably the kind of young teenagers who come with their families, do their rides during the day, they’re coming with their friends and maybe one elderly relative at night to the maze and things. But, in general, it's a different audience that we see. We also found during the pandemic our audience changed completely as well.

Carly McCleary: 2020 we were in deep locked down, it was only outdoors events that were allowed. Actually, our indoor maze, the bones of it was all up, and then our Prime Minister put us back into lock down. So, we had a week to turn our maze around and put it into an outside environment. Basically, what it meant was that, one, we had to completely re-market the event, and two, we got a completely new audience. Because there were people, maybe like my parent's age, that were usually on a Friday/Saturday night they'd be going out for dinner and a few drinks and things, and there was no way to open. So, that's what we found. A lot of people were just like, it was just something different and something that was actually open during the pandemic.

Philip Hernandez: Probably the majority of people that you are seeing have not done something like this before and it's really outside of that.

Carly McCleary: We really are probably like at least 20 years behind you guys when it comes to this market, especially in Scotland. In England, there's way more mazes, but there's way more people as well. There are way more people in England, so they are a bit further on. But in Scotland, I would say we're probably, for an annual scare attraction, I definitely think we are one of the longest running if not the longest running annual scare attraction, so kind of a seasonal attraction, and we're in our 9th season. So, it's not a long time in comparison to a lot of the ones in the US.

Philip Hernandez: So, you opened October 2nd this year and you're running through Halloween, and it looks like you have quite a large schedule. You're open the weekends, but then also later on Thursdays as well, so that's a lot of show nights.

Carly McCleary: We would usually have another weekend under our belts by now but because the September weekend bank holiday weekend up here was so early, we decided to kind of hold it back this year. So, usually we would run six weekends, either Friday to Sunday or Thursday to Sunday, and this year we're going five and then ending on the Monday on Halloween. It's really interesting because I remember going over to Ohio when I was 16, went over just maybe the end of September, and everywhere was decorated for Halloween and I was like, "what is going on?" It just wasn't a thing over here, but you see it more and more. I think that's what always happens, we always take the best American ideas, and we catch up when you guys are on to something else.

Philip Hernandez: You change it too. Usually, cultures will adjust it in some way, like it doesn't always come over the same way.

Carly McCleary: Absolutely. We speak about this an awful lot because, although all my stories are based on maybe old wives' tales or the stories of warnings that your mum and dad told you, because obviously we're not born with fears. I think there's only, I think the only two fears we're born with is falling and loud noise isn't. Everything else is taught, everything else is through some sort of trauma. In Scotland, there are just legend upon legend upon legend of backstories to troll through, and for me, that's what's exciting about doing what I do. That's what I love about doing what I do, finding a story within the story that kind of relates to today.

Philip Hernandez: What has been the most challenging piece of writing this year's show?

Carly McCleary: I think for this year we've just come off of two years where a lot of people didn't even know we were open. Our brand name was Outbreak, which we had to change, so the brand that we'd built up for six years was just gone, and we had to take on Darktober as our name. So, people are going," Where's Outbreak? When's Outbreak coming back?" We're having to kind of build on something under the Darktober umbrella.

Carly McCleary: Scotland farms are everywhere. They're vast, usually there's corners of them that aren't seen all the time and things. If you've ever walked through a Scottish farm at night, they're usually remote, they're usually in places where there's not a lot of streetlights and things, so they can be spooky. They can be really spooky places. If you take that Setting and put it into a horror genre. I think it was just we did it with that real fear. I know that I remember being younger and not knowing that sheep cough and walking. I see you're laughing, but that's terrifying, as a teenager I remember walking through and just hearing this cough and thinking someone was behind me, and it was a blooming sheep. So, I think for me my background was in theater, it wasn't in scaring. I'm a huge scaredy cat. When I was asked to become involved in a scare attraction, I was kind of doing it like this, "OK so if you just hold that jump scare and try it again. OK, go." And then running away.

Philip Hernandez: That's funny.

Carly McCleary: I think the fun of the fear is infectious, it's the most infectious industry I've ever been involved in. And the loveliest people. It's just such a contradiction, because you have all these people that are like covering themselves in Latex, burns, warts, grossness, and things, and they're the nicest people. I've found that throughout, whatever kind of scare attraction I've been to, I've really found that there's a real sense of community in the scare industry, which is amazing. It's lovely.

Philip Hernandez: Where do you see the event developing?

Carly McCleary: I'm thinking like this is going to be the fastest growing industry in entertainment. I think that there's a huge scope for it to become bigger. I'm so lucky. M&D is a family business, the Taylor family that I work with, they really trust us and allow us to kind of bring our vision to life, and really kind of give us free rein when it comes to stories and things like that. I think, for me, I would like to have something that runs beyond Halloween, and I would like to have it in different places. I think in central Scotland there's is scope to have a few mazes running over the year, even if it might be linked to escape rooms or things like that.

Carly McCleary: The industry needs to get bigger up here, it does, and everyone goes, "are you not worried about competition and things?" And I'm always like, "no, absolutely not, because the more mazes there are, the better it is for us. Because it means more people are going to be aware of the industry." There's no fear in that, you want your industry to be growing, you want it to be getting bigger, and you want more people to be aware of it. I would always encourage people who are looking to get into this industry, even if it's right next door to where we are doing it, do it, just do it. Give it gold because it's just good fun, isn't it?

Carly McCleary

Writer and Producer of Darktober