Monday, 22 June 2009

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

From one extreme to another. A week ago we were rubbing shoulders with royalty at Trooping the Colour, and then this weekend we decided to take a trip over to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

Record crowds were expected this year, due to the fact that the solstice fell on a weekend and because the weather hasn’t been too bad lately. So, we decided to try to avoid the worst of the traffic by leaving on Saturday evening and staying at Stonehenge overnight. The car park was opened at 7pm on Saturday, but we didn’t leave home until 9pm. The drive to Stonehenge was really pleasant. The roads were mainly empty, which made a lovely change in itself, and as we passed through the various villages on our way people were out enjoying their Saturday evenings. At this time of year the evenings stay light until well past 10pm, and people love to make the most of the longer days. We took a slightly different route than I normally would when I am working in the area, as I figured that the main road that goes past Stonehenge would be extremely busy (and I wasn’t wrong!!). It made an enjoyable change to see a few slightly less familiar places, at a time of day when we are rarely out driving.

We were a little surprised at how little traffic there was on the roads, but as it turned out that was mainly because we chose our route wisely. The main route to the Stones was gridlocked for much of the night, but we were able to drive right up to the entrance to the car park without having to queue up at all. The car park was, in fact, a field adjacent to the Stonehenge site that had been opened up just for this one event. We parked up quite quickly and decided to wait in the car for a few hours before heading over to the monument site itself. It was 11pm before the last of the sunlight disappeared, and we were far from alone as we waited out the night hours in the car park.

We had planned ahead for this wait and had brought with us some food and drink as well as a few other home comforts. As night fell so did the temperature! We were a little surprised at quite how cold it got overnight given that we were finally welcoming summer to the Northern hemisphere! :-) As we waited we played a few games, listened to the radio and did some people watching too. We also threw some envious glances over at a nearby camper van that looked the height of cosiness to us as we hunkered down in the chill of our little car. The warm light behind the curtains of the van and the thought of being able to lie down in a “proper bed” seemed like the idea of heaven to us as we struggled to get comfortable and warm! :-)

The hours ticked by and struggle as we might to get some sleep, it was impossible given the cold, cramped quarters and noise from all around us from the other people who also chose to wait in their vehicles. But soon enough we decided to head out towards the Stones and enjoy the atmosphere as everybody waited for the rising of the sun and the arrival of summer. It was supposed to be a half-mile walk over to the site, but it seemed at least twice that long in the dark and over rough ground. Once through the two sets of security checks, we were finally at the Stonehenge site amongst the thousands of other people of all different backgrounds and reasons for being there.

For the solstice, the owners of the site – English Heritage – allow everybody free access to the stones. This resulted in a mad crush around and within the stone circle itself. Of course we couldn’t let the occasion pass without going in the stone circle ourselves, so we braved the masses and pushed and manoeuvred our way through the crowds. Eventually we were right by the stones, and able to touch them – a rare privilege. We took a few photos and some video footage, but eventually the crush of people became just too much and we decided to make a retreat and watch the rising of the sun from a little further back!

Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate fully, and whilst it stayed dry and eventually started to warm up again as the sun started to rise, the skies were clouded over as dawn finally broke. It was slightly disappointing, as was the behaviour of some of the people there who seemed to view the occasion as an excuse for an all-night drinking session! But, we were not down-hearted as we walked back to our car afterwards. This was an occasion that we have both wanted to experience for a long time, and we are pleased to have done so. We hope to return again in future years in hopefully less cloudy weather and with maybe a few less drunken yobs about.

Apparently there was a record 36,500 people at this year’s solstice and the car park was full up by 3am on Sunday morning. We timed our exit as well as our entrance though, and were able to get out without any problems at all. The drive home was almost as pleasant as the drive down, with even less cars on the roads – though there were plenty parked all over the place by people who weren’t able to get into the car park. We got home before 7 o’clock and went straight to bed to get some well-earned sleep!

Happy (belated) Solstice everybody, and welcome to summer!!


Ivanhoe said...

Planning your entry & escape route ahead was so smart. I always get stuck in the traffic :o)
I did not even know it was summer solstice on Sunday until my hubby mentioned it...

Mountain Woman said...

I came over after reading Dori's post. I can see why you were both a little disappointed. I enjoyed reading about your experiences and enjoyed the photos as well.
Happy summer to you both.

Brit Boy said...

We were very lucky with the traffic, I fully expected an extremely long wait - especially on the way out!

Mountain Woman
Glad you enjoyed the photos. The experience wasn't quite what we hoped, but maybe it will be better in the future. Happy summertime to you!

Anonymous said...

I found Stonehenge disappointing in general to be honest, when I visited. I didn't think there was any atmosphere, and I would have hated that crush. Try Avebury another time :)

Happy Solstice!

Brit Boy said...

I know what you mean. Stonehenge is not presented in the way it might be, and the visitor centre is a joke. Hopefully they will be making some changes soon, including closing the road that runs within yards of the stones.
Avebury is great and was the very first place that I took Dori when she first came over here. I hear that the solstice there is a little more relaxed, so we may give that a go next time. :-)

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