Winter Solstice: A Small Group Gathered at Stonehenge for a Soggy Solstice.

21 12 2020

Despite English Heritage cancelling the Winter Solstice celebraions this year in the interests of public health, a small group gathered at the heel Stone on National Trust property to mark the winter solstice and witness the sunrise after the longest night of the year.

About 5000 people usually gather at the Wiltshire monument, on or around 21 December, to mark the Winter Solstice. The solstice is one of the rare occasions that English Heritage opens up the stones for public access.

English Heritage did a live stream of the solstice sunrise and this can be viewed on their website

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Watch the winter solstice LIVE from Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Stonehenge Winter Solstice ban criticised by senior druid – BBC NEWS
The Sun Stones: The Story of the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Winter Solstice: Wild tales of slaughtered bulls, human sacrifice and much merriment – THE SCOTSMAN
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
http://www.Stonehenge.News





The Sun Stones: The Story of the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

20 12 2020

It was dark, darker than Glynneth could remember. In all of her eleven years she hadn’t known a night like it. It seemed to go on forever. She pondered this as she sat hunched nursing the small fire, huddled in her hand-me-down cloak that always dragged in the mud when she collected kindling or got caught on brambles during the berry moon. With a stick she nudged the unburnt section of log closer to the flames. The embers stirred, glowing and spitting sparks up into the vast night sky, where the gods sat gathered around their own fires.

As a sudden icy gust whipped the flames, Glynneth shuddered and tried to shut out its freezing touch, as cold as her baby brother’s toes as he wriggled into the bed they were humiliatingly forced to share, top-to-toe, within the family hut. He always tried to snuggle close, to steal her warmth – and no matter how she shoved him back she’d always awake to find him curled around her like a dog. Yet even their hound stank less than him at times.

Still, they were family. And as her mother always told her – they had to look after each other. It was a big, hard world out there – and nobody beyond your tribe would give a cowpat about you.

They all irritated her at times, but life was so frail – like the flames she nursed on the longest night of the year – as they all knew. Everyday they were reminded by their father how lucky they were to survive; how lucky they were to still have their mother who recovered from bringing them into this world. There were many families in the tribe who weren’t so lucky.

Yet ‘lucky’ was relative – as their father also reminded them. As it meant more mouths to feed, more chores to do. They all had to pull their weight.

And so Glynneth found herself tending one of the watch-fires burning that night. She could see them like a constellation, glowing in the dark across the stark winter landscape – grass and scrub glittering with a hard frost. And dominating the plain – the Sun Stones. Their negative presence – a deeper darkness against the night – unmistakable.

There, the priests gathered to perform their secret rites. She could hear the throb of their deer-skin drums. They would be at it all night, building to a crescendo by dawn.

Before sunrise she and the other watchers would take a burning brand and process into the stern presence of the stones, crossing over the white ring of chalk into the sacred place. There they would dowse their flames in the frost and greet the rekindled sun.

This is the first time Glynneth has been allowed to tend a watch-fire by herself. It was drummed into her what a great responsibility it was, lighting the way – collectively creating an avenue of golden light to guide the power of the reborn sun into the crucible of the stones, channelling its life-saving energy into the land. Once again tribes from far and wide had gathered.

Once again Glynneth was unnerved by their strange accents and impenetrable tongues. But for the first time she had noticed a boy from one of the seafaring tribes who had travelled down from some remote island in the unimaginable north – a boy with an unruly shock of black hair from beneath which glinted eyes of sky smiling at her as he too prepared his watchfire in the gathering gloom of the previous afternoon. She could not see him now, beyond the small star of his fire, but the memory of that smile made her cheeks burn.

Was he looking across to her fire at that moment? And what was he thinking? What strange land had he come from? And would his lips taste of the sea? She blushed at the thought, and quickly doused such nonsense. She had a job to do!

Impatiently, she poked at the fire – wishing the endless night would end, and she could join in the great dance that always followed the sun’s rebirth. Maybe then she would start to feel warm again.

And maybe she would even bump into the boy.

Every year new fires were made from the stray embers of the old – friendships, marriages, alliances … interlocking like the sun stones, becoming stronger together. Over the next three days there would be much feasting and oath-taking. News of the year would be shared – wry assessments of good or bad seasons, skirmishes and feuds, over a few too many horns of mead or ale. And with sore heads, full bellies, and promises pledged, the tribes would make their farewells and begin their long trek home, scattering to the obscurest groves, vales, and coves of the land.

And with each new sunrise, the sun will linger a little bit longer in the sky and life will slowly return to the slumbering earth.

Glynneth rubbed her arms and exhaled a frozen cloud of breath. That time could not come soon enough, but for now … she could swear that the sky was starting to get a fraction brighter. Now she was able to start making out the lay of the land – the long line of the Avenue, sweeping down to the slowly winding river. The watchfires still glowed, but it would not be long before their light would be overwhelmed by the rekindled sun. She could see the figures huddled over them, blowing on hands, or stretching and stamping feet.

And opposite her, on the other side of the flickering divide of parallel fires, the eyes of a dark boy from a distant isle shone.

Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and Herepath: a Wiltshire songline. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of the Marlborough Downs (where he lives) and beyond.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Watch the winter solstice LIVEfrom Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Winter Solstice: Wild tales of slaughtered bulls, human sacrifice and much merriment – THE SCOTSMAN
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – HOLIDAY EXTRAS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
http://www.Stonehenge.News





The Rebirth of the Sun: the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

11 12 2020

The Winter Solstice sunset at Stonehenge is, alongside the Summer Solstice sunrise, its defining alignment. For thousands of years it has been witnessed and celebrated by the countless pilgrims who have trekked to the unique monument. The story of Stonehenge is part of the vaster epic of the sun.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice with and without the pilgrims

4.63 billion years ago our sun burst into life – a nuclear reactor fusing 500 million tonnes of hydrogen each second. Its parentage was grand and mysterious – a dense cloud of interstellar gas and dust experiencing the passing shockwave of a supernova. From this immaculate conception the solar system was born. The resulting nebula eventually coalesced into our glorious sun, father of the planets in our solar system family and bestower of fortune on his favourite offspring: Earth. Here conditions in the Goldilocks zone between the extremes of intense heat and cold proved favourable for another explosion – this one of biodiversity. A perpetual work in progress, the natural selection of evolution eventually produced homo sapiens, a hominid that was the best of many drafts.

Enter, a mere 200,000 years ago, humankind.  

            For a long time our ancestors scratched a living – although some no doubt proved excellent hunters, expert gatherers. Some were even good at art. But then the Ice Age came – the ultimate lockdown. When the survivors emerged, stiff-jointed and blinking at the sunlight, the land had changed – scoured and shaped by the retreating glaciers. Strange stones were left upon the chalk in the south of the (now) island that became the ‘British Isles’, a chip off the proto-continental blocks, Laurentia and Gondwana: the wayward offspring of the Old and New Worlds, as they became.

            Around 6000 years ago our restless hunter-gatherer ancestors started to settle down and began to grow crops and husband livestock. Some of them eventually decided a particular spot on Salisbury Plain would be perfect for a big white circle of packed chalk, glowing in the moonlight amid the scrubland. The bank and ditch enclosure of the henge was formed with antler picks and oxen-shoulder blades, and lots of sore backs and elbow grease. Just as they were catching their breath from a serious bit of landscaping, some irritating priest decided it would be rather nice to have a timbered circle (of which the Aubrey Holes remain). Then another bright spark, perhaps trying to outdo the first decided that some strange blue stones from 250 miles away would be even better. With much to do the eighty stones, each weighing a backbreaking 4 tonnes each, were transported from the Preseli Mountains in Wales to the sacred plain of Salisbury. These were placed within the henge, with an entrance way pointing towards the midsummer sunrise.

            At the mirror sight of Durrington the south circle was aligned to the midwinter sunrise. Both sights – the henge of the living, the henge of the dead – defined by their relationship to the mighty sun.

In the third phase of Stonehenge’s 1500 year construction the mighty sarsens, or ‘grey wethers’, scattered over the Wiltshire Downs but clustered in a particularly attractive clump in what is now West Woods were transported the ‘workers’ camp’ at Durrington, before being dressed and dragged to the ring on the plain. Here 60 were place in an ingeniously interlocking outer ring of trilithons, with an inner horse-shoe of 15 more. These were aligned to catch the ball of the sun like a gigantic baseball mitt as it rose over the outlier Heel Stone at the time of the summer solstice sunrise – the longest day of the year, when the northern hemisphere is tilted (at 23 degrees – approximately the angle created between an outspread index finger and thumb) closest to that fiery nuclear fusion reactor, 147.35 million km away. The photons generated there take 8 seconds to reach Earth – golden strings pulled taught to the plain, guided by the Avenue, as though to the bridge of a vast violin. Each year two major chords are played upon it – the summer and winter solstice, each note lingering for precisely half the year. Minor chords are played upon it as well, modulated by the respective ‘bridges’ of the trilithons and surrounding monuments – the equinoxes and various lunar and celestial cycles. The deeper chord of the winter solstice is drowned out annually by the sometimes vast numbers who converge to the summer solstice glorious crescendo – but those who are wiser know the quieter, stronger power of the midwinter music. And the ancestors knew too – for they made sure to align Stonehenge to it in an alignment of equal importance to the midsummer one.
            The winter solstice sunset, framed by the inner trilithons, is a breathtaking cosmic drama, re-enacted every year – the ultimate mystery play. And not wishing to miss out on a good party, the people of the Neolithic came from far and wide (as the large quantities of charred animal bones left over from midwinter feasts at Durrington attest) to witness and celebrate the rebirth of the sun, when after three days of  apparent stillness upon the horizon it begins its six month journey back to its northernmost point. From generations of observation the stone-builders knew that the solstitium, the still point, marked the turning in the sun’s annual migration (or rather our migration around the sun): from this nadir the days will start to get longer. The light and warmth will return. This was of huge significance to the ancestors, and it is no less so for dwellers of the northern hemisphere, affected as we are by the cold and dark in all kinds of ways. Our planetary sun lamp is the antidote to our collective seasonally adjusted disorder. We bask in it. Even if we cannot feel its warmth on a chill day, we can feel uplifted by its presence. It reminds us that however dark it gets the light will vanquish it – our solar hero will save the day.

Winter Solstice Ceremony at Stonehenge led by senior druid, Arthur Pendragon.

            And so witnessing the winter solstice at Stonehenge – whether at sunrise or sunset – is to commune with those who designed and raised the stones, and who have been bearing witness for millennia. It is a humbling and inspiring experience, one that puts our lives into perspective, and realigns us to a vaster cycle – allowing us to all dance to the music of the spheres

Dr Kevan Manwaring (Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2020) is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and more. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

For everyone’s safety and wellbeing, this year’s winter solstice celebrations at Stonehenge have been cancelled. English Heritage will be live streaming the event for free online.

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Links:
Watch the winter solstice LIVE from Stonehenge, wherever you are in the world! ENGLISH HERITAGE FACEBOOK
Winter solstice: Why do pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year? THE TELEGRAPH
Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present. – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
What has Stonehenge got to do with the winter solstice? – METRO NEWS
Celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge – HOLIDAY EXTRAS
Solstice and Equinox Experience Tours – SOLSTICE EVENTS UK
The Stonehenge Sostice Pilgrims – STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice, and the Druids – INTERESTRING ENGINEERING
Respecting the Stones.  Managed Open Access –STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tours – STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge News
http://www.Stonehenge.News





ONLINE LECTURE: Stonehenge: new light on its origins. 9th December 2020

5 12 2020

The lecture is due to start at 7.30pm. ONLINE using Zoom Webinars. Attendees will be emailed the link shortly before the lecture is due to begin.

By Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory, Institute of Archaeology

Fundraising Event: A talk by Mike Parker Pearson . Stonehenge: new light on its origins

Recent excavations in the Preseli hills of west Wales have revealed new insights into the sources of the famous bluestones that were brought 180 miles to be erected at Stonehenge. Together with new evidence that these were among the first stones to be erected at Stonehenge, a break-through in scientific analysis of the cremated remains of people buried at the monument is casting new light on this important if mysterious link with the far west. Recovery of DNA from human remains is also changing our understanding of Neolithic people at this significant time in British prehistory. The lecture will also update on the circle of substantial pits found during geophysical surveys surrounding Durrington Walls published earlier this year. These recent discoveries from fieldwork and archaeological science are producing new and exciting insights into who built Stonehenge and why.

A fundraising lecture for Wiltshire Museum.

Tickets – £15 (£12 for WANHS members)
BOOK ONLINE HERE

Wiltshire Museum
*Wiltshire Museum is now open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 4pm (closed 1-1.30pm)*

See gold from the time of Stonehenge! Wiltshire Museum is home to the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain. Explore the galleries, see the outstanding collections and find out more about the fascinating history of Wiltshire and its people over the last 6,000 years.

Our brand new Prehistoric Wiltshire Galleries tell the story of the people who built and used the world renowned monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury. Unique gold and amber objects date back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age – the time of shamans and priests, learning and culture across Europe. Later periods, including the Iron Age, Romans and Saxons, are also featured, together with the story of Devizes and the surrounding area. There are fun activities for all the family throughout the Museum.

Special exhibitions are held throughout the year – displaying the work of renowned artists, the Wiltshire landscape or highlighting more of our vast collection. Visit our website for details of current exhibitions and events. We have an extensive archive and library, which is open to visitors and researchers. Our collections are Designated by the government as being of national importance.

The Stonehenge News Blog
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Stonehenge versus Avebury

4 12 2020

The world-famous Neolithic monument of Stonehenge is on everyone’s bucket-list, or seems to be – going by the droves who visit it every year – but many miss out on its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site at Avebury, only 17 miles away. What are they missing out on, and is it even better? Does it out-henge Stonehenge?

When in Wiltshire, one should most certainly visit Stonehenge, which is undoubtedly the world’s most famous stone circle. But one should also make time to visit Wiltshire’s “other” stone circle, Avebury — which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world.

Stonehenge has long been a must-see for any visiting England and venturing beyond the capital – and rightly so. The iconic stone circle, standing proud on Salisbury Plain, is one of the seven ‘modern’ wonders of the world (as opposed to the classical ones, of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza survive), and in 2019 1.6 million people visited it.  Let us first consider its attractions before looking at its great ‘rival’, Avebury.

To its deficit are: the hordes of tourists, queues, pricey entrance fee, and the fact you cannot walk amongst the stones unless you’re on a special private access tour, such as Stonehenge Tours run).

Right, so that’s Stonehenge. Now, let’s travel north (17 miles by crow) to Avebury and consider its attractions…

  • The largest stone circle in Britain at 1,088 feet across, comprising (originally) 98 sarsens configured as one large circle containing two smaller ones.
  • The henge of Avebury is deeper, wider, and far more tangible than the slight dip of Stonehenge. If it is ‘henge’ you want – Avebury is the place to experience it.
  • The only stone circle with a pub in the middle of it (The Red Lion!).
  • Free to enter (except for parking).
  • You can walk amongst the stones.
  • The Avebury landscape (all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) contains incredible, unique monuments, including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe; West Kennet long barrow (the best preserved example of a Cotswold-Severn transepted barrow tomb); the Sanctuary; Seven Barrows; the Ridgeway; Fyfield Down sarsen field; and Windmill Hill early Neolithic enclosure and Bronze Age barrow cemetery.
  • A selection of small businesses selling local produce, art and crafts.

To its deficit, the visitor facilities are pretty basic (a small car-park that is often at capacity in the summer; the National Trust tea rooms are currently only offering takeaway; and service in The Red Lion is glacial). The post office/grocery store is probably the best option for a quick snack.

Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Avebury offers so much and any visitor to the area is missing out on something very special if they don’t include it in their itinerary. While access to Stonehenge remains restricted during current ‘lockdown’ rules (and closed for the Winter Solstice) Avebury provides an excellent alternative that will not disappoint.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury) He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of Wiltshire, where he lives with his archaeologist partner.

STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY LINKS:
Official website of Stonehenge & Avebury WHS (World Heritage Site). STONEHENGE & AVEBURY WHS
Award-winning museum displays featuring Gold from the Time of Stonehenge. THE WILSHIRE MUSEUM
Ancient stone circle, museum and manor house in the heart of the Avebury World Heritage Site. NATIONAL TRUST
Visit Stonehenge and Visitor centre. Book tickets ENGLISH HERITAGE
Avebury: Wiltshire’s “Other” Stone Circle. TIME TRAVEL BRITAIN
Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Specialist (depart from London) STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Tours (depart from Salisbury). STONEHENGE TRAVEL COMPANY
Stonehenge and Avebury Tours (from Glastonbury) TORS TOURS
Stonehenge and Avebury Guided Walking Tours (depart from Bath). THE STONEHENGE TOUR COMPANY
Plan your visit to Wiltshire. Official Wiltshire Tourist Information Site. VISIT WILTSHIRE

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