The Solstice is up there with the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, Henley Regatta and Wimbledon as things to do in the summer social season, writes National Trust intern Lindsay Lyon.
I had heard about the people who get naked, the druids and the party people who descended on the stones as one of the ways to make the most of Britain. So when the unique opportunity came along to volunteer and to meet and greet the revellers at the event, I knew that the time had come to experience this often talked about atmosphere.
People have been gathering at the mysterious stone formation in the Wiltshire landscape for thousands of years, and will be for thousands more. This solstice was a historic one, ahead of plans for a visitor centre and for one of the roads to be recovered with a green field.
With the sun making a sudden appearance in the early evening, a group of us made our way to the Stonehenge cottages that was to be our base for the night. One was particularly appealing, with a thatched roof, pink stone and thatched gate.
The UNESCO world heritage site is on a strange promontory, nestled between two motorways. The stones themselves actually look less imposing then they do in photographs and on film. Some of these had been moved all the way from South Wales. Their exact function remains unknown but they have an incredible beauty about them.
Our team got started at 10.30pm where we handed out maps and bin bags to people coming from across the country to mark this celebration of the sunrise. Everyone was friendly, positive and dressed in allsorts. We reported back the numbers of visitors through the gate back to English Heritage every hour. Overall there were 20,000 visitors!
Our shift passed by quickly, thanks to the good company we were keeping. Getting to meet the Wiltshire landscape team was great and they told us how the greenery surrounding Stonehenge is of archaeological and wildlife interest. There is a full programme during summer and autumn to explore this rather special area full of giant hares and birds. There was a baby bunny hopping around one small raised mount, which was definitely one of the highlights of my evening!
The stones were lit up blue, and the people who were there were clustered into their groups having a merry time. It looked and sounded like a music festival, with drumming and people dancing all night long. It was magical touching one of the stones and being inside the circle, wondering how these were positioned by humans all those years ago.
The solstice itself marks the decline of life, as nights get shorter. The sister event – the Winter Solstice – marks the beginning, the surviving and the rebirth of the cycle towards spring and summer. It is easy to forget nature and seasonal cycles while in Heelis, so learning more about the significance of this place was really a lovely experience.
The well-known pagan Arthur Pendragon, who reportedly believes he is the reincarnation of King Arthur, was a savvy interviewee to the numerous cameras that were covering the event. The principles of paganism have universal appeal – renewal, birth, death, earth, peace and the passing of seasons. The ceremony itself and the druid way of inclusive crowd participation in worship was interesting to watch. Prayers of peace towards the North, East, West and South were ordained by a rather jolly chap.
Finally, an impromptu belly dance performance and dance off signified the rising of the sun and the start of Midsummer’s Day.
It was a really great cultural and heritage event, and a recommended experience.
By Lindsay Lyon, Fundraising Database and Prospect Research Intern
- Find out more about internships at the National Trust here