Things to do: Summer Solstice – watching the sun rise at Stonehenge

Crowds of people watching the sunrise at Stonehenge Enjoying the sunrise at Stonehenge Sunrise at Stonehenge

The Summer Solstice
Watching the sun rise at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice has been high on the wish list of things to do for some time. This year, as it’s my 40th year, I decided to make it happen. (also see: ‘40 Things to do in your 40th year’).

The Summer Solstice (also known as ‘Litha’ which menas stopping or standing still of the sun) is the longest day of the year and for many marks the true beginning of Summer. Stonehenge located in Wiltshire, England is one of the best known Neolithic monuments in the world, with its history according to archaeologists dating back at least 6,000 years. Stonehenge has been a considered a sacred place of worship for many different religions for thousands of years, but is most recently associated with Pagan festivities. The stones are said to have placed in perfect line with the sunrise of the summer and sunset of winter solstices, giving rise to the notion of a connection with ancient astronomy.  The sun rising above the heel stone just in front of,  and visible through the middle of the set of three Trilithon stones (see image below) on the sunrise of the summer solstice.

The energy and light of the sun has played a key role in many rituals and beliefs. The Pagan’s who worship the Earth Goddess, and Sun King believe that on this day they are at their most powerful, the goddess blooming like an expectant mother, with a land full of crops, plants and fruit and the Sun King, the representation of the summer sun, nourishing and protecting his earth goddess.

What to expect on Summer Solstice at Stonehenge:
I have to confess that I had romantic notions of Pagan Priestesses and Druids conducting rituals and ceremonies amongst the Stonehenge stones, to the silent awe of inquisitive but respectful but onlookers. What we were greeted with however was a lot of drunken Spanish students, US tourists and Swedish drumming band and a few guys who looked like they hadn’t found there way home since 1967. It has definitely become a place for people to party as opposed to pay homage to the gods. I have to say though that everyone’s presence was well intended and all were in great spirits even if some a little more ‘high’ spirited than others. Given that it coincided with the opening of Glastonbury festival I think that there may have been a few early festival goers making a stop on their way as it is just down the road. However considering that there were an estimated 13,000 people in attendance, it was a very peaceful experience.

The sunrise itself was quite magical. It’s not often that we have an excuse these days to stay awake through the night and watch the sunrise. On this occasion the sun rose at approximately 4.50am but the sky started to get light from around 3.50am.

The sky was perfectly clear meaning that we had a wonderful view. We stood inside the circle , and watched the through the middle set of Trilithon stones, which framed the whole experience beautifully. We touched the stones, absorbed energy through our bare feet on the grass and listened to the intense drumming which almost commanded the sun to take its place in the sky.

Would we do it again?
We (my partner Dan and I) definitely felt part of something positive, albeit a little less spiritual than we had anticipated. I don’t think that we would go back on the Summer Solstice morning, but would love to watch the sun rise again in the days around it when there were less revellers. Public access to Stonehenge is limited to the Summer and Winter Equinox, but I am sure that you could get near enough to enjoy the view, and harness the energies of the sun in more peaceful surroundings! (You can actually book private viewings outside of solstice with English Heritage).

What is the best way to get to Stonehenge for Summer Solstice?
Worried about traffic from the anticipated hoards, we opted to travel down the night before and stay in the village of Amesbury. Our B&B (Fairlawn House) was 4km from the site. Again to avoid being caught in any traffic, we chose to walk to Stonehenge from our B&B which was quite enjoyable even at the dead of night. We bumped into many revellers along the way who were heading to and from the stones. The route from Amesbury actually brings you up behind the stones, meaning that you can gain direct access (by hopping over a fence) instead of the rather long walk via the visitor centre. So it was great from a location point of view.

The B&B option was very sensible, but in order to save money, to drive down and home again would also be very easy. There was not as much traffic as we had anticipated, and there were lots of people at the stones with there sleeping bags catching a quick snooze in the morning sun before their drive home. Most people park at the Stonehenge Visitor carpark although you can also park in the nearby Amesbury village to avoid traffic/ parking issues.

Tip: As the sunrises the temperature drops (I now know that sunrise is the coldest point of the day). So although we had been perfectly warm all night, as the sun came up we were suddenly cold, so take layers! Also take a torch, we walked through fields in the dark on route and it was quite eery!


Have you ever been to Stonehenge? What are your tips? Where to you celebrate the Summer solstice? Do let me know if you have any extra tips or hints, or if you would like any extra info.

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