Vernal (Spring) Equinox at Stonehenge.

25 02 2017

The Spring Equinox in 2017 falls on March 20th and occurs at 10:28am GMT. The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°. Everywhere on Earth has a day and night of almost equal length and it marks the beginning of the northern spring season.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge.

Druids and Pagans enjoying the Equinox sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge. Copyright

There is considerable debate in the archaeoastronomy community as to whether the Equinox had any special meaning for the builders of Stonehenge. They had no accurate clocks by which they could determine when the day and night were almost exactly equal and discovering the mid-point between the Winter and Summer solstice can be done in a couple of obvious ways.

You can count the days and divide by two. Or you can mark the summer and winter sunrise positions along the horizon and divide that line into two equal parts. These two methods give different results.

For example, counting the days between Winter Solstice 2016 (December 21st) and Summer Solstice 2017 (June 21st) gives 182 days. Half of that is 91, meaning the midpoint would fall on March 22nd 2017 – two days after the actual Equinox.

north_season

The time is for the instant when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving northwards and has a celestial longitude of 0°

 

Using the “divide the horizon” approach causes an additional problem – at the Solstices do you mark the first gleam of the Sun appearing, the point when half of it is above the horizon or when it has fully risen and the full orb is standing exactly on the horizon?

The difference in position between using “first gleam” and “full orb” is about 1.5° because the Sun rises at an angle. As a result the halfway position could be 0.75° different depending on your choice and that is one and a half times the width of the Sun’s disc, potentially putting your Equinox out by a day or so.

In any event, there is no alignment through Stonehenge for the Equinox and what’s more there isn’t even a clear sightline directly through the monument that runs true East-West towards the Equinox sunrise position, in the way that there are clear sightlines for the Solstice sunrises and sunsets.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice photo of an equinox sunrise when it’s clear, because you can.

equinox-sunrise

English Heritage Charitable Trust allows everyone in to the centre of the monument for the Spring Equinox sunrise, in the same way that they do for the Autumn Equinox and the two Solstices, through their “Managed Open Access” events. It’s one of only four occasions in the year when open access is allowed.

It’s worth checking with their customer services department (0370 333 1181) a week or so ahead because sometimes they set the actual day of the open access to be different to the day when the Equinox occurs.

Equinox open accesses attract fewer people than the Solstices – in the several hundreds rather than tens of thousands – and there are modern Druid ceremonies which are held in the circle around dawn, so if you prefer a quieter experience then attending an Equinox is a good choice.

If you do visit Stonehenge on the Equinox please respect the special terms of entry and read this blog: ‘Respecting the Stones’

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join a specialist organised small group tour.  Use a only a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions of entry.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company offering award winning discreet tours from London. Solstice Events offer small group sunrise tours using only local expert guides.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Visiting Stonehenge this year for the Equinox or Solstice Celebrations? #ManagedOpenAccess

28 01 2017

Respecting the Stones
The conditions of entry for the Managed Open Access events at the Solstices and Equinoxes contain the following statements:

Stonehenge is a world renowned historic Monument and part of a World Heritage Site. It is seen by many who attend as a sacred place.  Please respect it and please respect each other.

Do not climb or stand on any of the stones – this includes the stones that have fallen.  This is in the interest of personal safety, the protection of this special site and respect for those attending.  As well as putting the stones themselves at risk, climbing on them can damage the delicate lichens.

… but some people seem happy to ignore these requests. I’m going to take a little time to explain that, strange as it may seem, the monument is actually quite delicate and damage to it does occur.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

The popularity of the summer solstice has grown over the years

In 1953 during an archaeological investigation a set of carvings were noticed on the inner face of one of the stones of the central trilithons (Stone 53, to be precise). These carvings weren’t the usual graffiti that’ve been incised into many of the stones over the last 200 years or so – people’s names, initials, dates and so on. They were in fact very ancient indeed, dating back to the middle Bronze Age around 1700BC and were of bronze axe heads and a dagger.

Here’s a photo from 1953 showing the ancient carvings, followed by a more recent one:

atkinson-croppedstone-53-modern

The ancient carvings are noticeably “softer” around the edges in the modern shot and this is largely due to the action of people’s fingers tracing their outlines over the course of the last 63 years. Sarsen may be hard, but it’s still a sandstone.

Some bluestones exist only as stumps and many are fallen. These get trampled over by thousands of feet at the solstices and equinoxes, and many have acquired a polish as a result.

One of two examples of bluestone are so soft that they crumble away at a touch and these have eroded down to stumps that barely break the surface of the ground.

It’s been a while since tourists were rented hammers by the local blacksmith so they could take souvenirs, but it’s not unknown even in modern times for people to try it.

vandals

Although deliberate damage is rare, it does happen. At the 2014 Summer Solstice, someone thought it’d be a good idea to start writing the date (in US format – 6.21.14) in letters about 3” high, using a marker pen, near the bottom of Stone 3.
stone-3-graffiti
This damage is permanent. The ink has been carried deep into the stone surface and the conservators have been unable to remove it.

At the winter solstice that year, another bright spark decided to annoint the sides of about a dozen stones with some kind of oil, leaving dark streaks over 18” long that will take decades to fade. If you’re going to annoint the stones with anything, then use pure spring water and not some nasty goo you’ve bought off eBay.

Thoughtless damage happens every year – candlewax from spilt tealights, rubbings with crayon that goes through the paper, forcing random items like crystals or coins into crevices, digging in the ground and even trying to light a fire on a stone.

Disrespectful damage – vomiting, urinating or even defecating on the stones – is less common but also occurs. It’s hard to imagine the kind of person who thinks that sort of behaviour is acceptable anywhere, let alone at our most famous ancient monument.

Stonehenge Summer Solsice

While standing on the stones is bad enough, climbing up them is far worse.

 

The fuzzy grey-green lichen that coats the upper reaches of most of the sarsen stones is a species called Sea Ivory (Ramalina Siliquosa) and usually only grows on marine cliffs, particularly in southwest England and Wales. It’s very easily knocked off by people brushing against the stones and large areas are destroyed by someone sliding back down having scaled any of the uprights.

There are at least 9 marine cliff species of lichen present, and how they ended up 50km from the sea is something of a mystery.

The last major study of the Stonehenge lichens was carried out in 2003. It found 77 different species, including two that are found in a particular recess of one specific stone and nowhere else on site, and another that only grows on one single stone at Stonehenge and nowhere else in southern England.

So the next time you decide to come along to an Open Access Equinox or Solstice Dawn, please be one of the people who understands how fragile the monument is and who treats it with respect.

Tell your friends too and – even better – if you find any litter that other people have dropped, please pick it up and put it in one of the bins.  Please share this article on social media and help raise awareness.

The stones, the ancestors, and the staff who do the tidying up after you’ve gone home and who genuinely love Stonehenge, all thank you! (This article was submitted with thanks by Simon Banton who worked at the monument for many years)

Stonehenge is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act and you must adhere to the regulations outlined in the act or face criminal prosecution. No person may touch, lean against, stand on or climb the stones, or disturb the ground in any way. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was). It was introduced by John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, recognising the need for a governmental administration on the protection of ancient monuments – more information

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join an organised tour.  Use a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company and Solstice Events offer small group Solstice tours using only local expert guides.

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Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

10 12 2016

King Arthur Uther Pendragon is the Chosen Chief and titular Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, a highly political modern Druid order that campaigns on a variety of issues primarily to do with Stonehenge.

8012908913_1b46a670da_z

These issues include protesting against the inclusion of human remains in English Heritage’s visitor centre exhibition, championing the right of celebrants to freely attend Solstices and Equinoxes at Stonehenge without having to “pay to pray” and calling for the return of the cremated remains that have been excavated from the Aubrey Holes and removed from the site by archaeologists.

He’s also got a long history as an eco-warrior and civil rights activist, protesting against road developments (notably the Newbury Bypass and Twyford Down) and of standing as an independent Parliamentary candidate for the Salisbury constituency.

When the media are looking for a soundbite from the rapidly growing pagan community in the UK, they invariably call Arthur and as a result the perception of many of the public is that he is the King of all the Druids. This tends to annoy some other people in the pagan and Druid community who resent the implication that Arthur speaks for all of them. Arthur, however, doesn’t claim this for himself.

What Arthur does believe is that he’s the modern reincarnation of the archetypal King Arthur of legend – returned to do battle for Truth, Honour and Justice in Britain’s hour of need.

arthur-closeupIn 1986 he changed his name from John Rothwell (ex biker and ex Army serviceman) by deed poll and he is unique in that his passport – in the name of Arthur Uther Pendragon – shows him wearing his crown.

The sword that he carries – Excalibur, naturally – is one of the originals made for the film of the same name. Its previous owner initially refused to part with it, on the basis that he’d only sell if the real King Arthur showed up to claim it. Arthur promptly presented his passport, much to the surprise of the owner!

His life story is too involved and full of startling magical coincidence to go into here but his biography “The Trials of Arthur” (C. J. Stone and A. U. Pendragon, Element Books, 2003) is worth reading if you want to better understand the man and his motivation.

After the government shut down the Stonehenge Free Festival with the infamous and appalling police violence of the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, an exclusion zone was established around Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice complete with roadblocks, razor wire, helicopters, horses and dogs. Years of conflict between the festival community and the authorities followed.

Arthur was a key figure in the campaign to re-open Stonehenge to celebrants and eventually took the government to the European Court in 1998, claiming that the exclusion zone breached his freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The exclusion zone was lifted in 1999 and in 2000 the first of the Summer Solstice Managed Open Access events took place, with around 5000 people attending a celebration through the night in pouring rain.

arthur-ceremony

These open accesses have continued ever since at Solstices and Equinoxes and it is doubtful that they would have ever begun if not for the campaigning of Arthur and others.

In the great British tradition of eccentrics, Arthur stands out proudly – he is the grit in the oyster, a thorn in the side of bureaucracy and passionate about the causes he champions.

You may or may not agree with him, you may like or dislike him, but you can’t deny that he gets out there and tries to change things in the face of almost overwhelming odds.

Without him the world would be a much less colourful place – as a nation, we could do with more of his kind.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Loyal Arthurian Warband website: http://www.warband.org.uk
“The Trials of Arthur” Book review
Follow King Arthur on Twitter
King Arthur live periscope broadcast at the Autumn Equinox
King Arthur and Stonehenge images on Flickr

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Ordnance Survey Benchmarks at Stonehenge

18 11 2016

Amongst all the various carvings on the stones at Stonehenge, from the modern graffiti of the 17th to the 20th century and the ancient axe heads and daggers from about 1700BC, there are three that are not often noticed.

These are the Ordnance Survey (OS) benchmarks.

The OS website says: “Bench marks are the visible manifestation of Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN), which is the national height system for mainland Great Britain and forms the reference frame for heights above mean sea level.”

The original reference datum levelling survey was begun in Liverpool in 1840 using a benchmark on St. John’s Church, and in 1844 it was changed to the tidal pole in Victoria Dock. The reference Mean Sea Level (MSL) for the datum was established over a nine day period of tidal observations.

A second levelling survey was carried out in 1912-21 and the datum was changed to MSL at Newlyn in Cornwall. In the 1950s a third survey was performed, still making use of the Newlyn datum.

The OS benchmarks at Stonehenge are in the traditional form of three lines / | \ beneath a horizontal bar which is the indicator of the reference height above the datum’s MSL at that spot.

stone-16-annotatedCoincidentally, this is a similar form to that of the Druidic “Awen” emblem which also uses three lines / | \  but positioned below three dots rather than a horizontal bar. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awen for the history and an explanation of this symbol.

At Stonehenge two of the benchmarks are on the Heel Stone and one is on Stone 16.

Stone 16 is the tooth-like stone at the southwest side of the monument directly behind the tallest stone on the site, and the benchmark is low down on the left of the southeast face.

 

This references the Newlyn datum, is 103.114m above MSL and was last verified in 1957.

The Heel Stone is the massive leaning stone some 80m northeast of the stone circle which famously (but only roughly) indicates the position where the sun appears on the horizon at the summer solstice as seen from the centre of the stone circle.

Its benchmarks are low down on the right hand side of the northeast faceheelstone-annotated

The upper one references the original Liverpool datum, is 101.346m above MSL and was last verified in 1900.

The lower one references the Newlyn datum, is 100.7m above MSL and was last verified in 1957.

From the Newlyn benchmarks, you can work out that there’s a drop of 2.414m from the one on Stone 16 to the one on the Heel Stone.

None of these benchmarks are visible from any of the visitor paths around the monument, although if the light is right (early morning or evening in summer) the upper one on the Heel Stone can just be made out from the National Trust field.

To see them properly you’ll need to come to one of the Managed Open Accesses at the solstices or equinoxes.

Alternatively, you can book a private Stone Circle Access visit which take place most days of the year before and after regular opening times.

STONE CIRCLE ACCESS

Stone Circle Access visits, give you a unique opportunity to experience up close this world famous monument. The visits take place outside of our normal general admission opening hours and are subject to very limited availability. Please note that this is not a guided tour, and touching of the stones is not permitted.  You can try Stonehenge Guided Tours for these special access tours

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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WINTER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE 2015

29 11 2015

English Heritage will once again welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Sunrise is just after 8am on Tuesday 22nd December and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

frosty-sunrise

Why 22nd December? 

Many people – not least diary manufacturers – believe that the Winter Solstice always falls on 21st December. But the celebration of Winter Solstice at Stonehenge is not fixed to a specifiic date – this is because of a mismatch between the calendar year and the solar year.

MANAGED OPEN ACCESS PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Please read and respect the Conditions of Entry for Winter Solstice 2015 and the English Heritage website.

Public Transport is being provided by Salisbury Reds buses and will be running from 06:00 from Salisbury.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are offering their usual transport with expert guide service from London and Bath. Booking essential (click here to book direct)

Please be aware that parking is very limited. There is a thirty minute walk, depending on where you are parked, in low light or darkness, from the parking areas to the monument. You are therefore strongly advised to bring a torch with you for personal use.

Accessibility – parking provision for people with disabilities

A limited number of permits will be avaialable for blue badge disabled parking and there will be dedicated accessible transport to the stone circle – which will begin just prior to the opening of the monument field. Please apply to Sandra.Ross@english-heritage.org.uk

Please note that there are no other amenities or facilities available to visitors until such time as  commences.

Conditions of Entry

Please read and respect the Conditions of Entry.

Stonehenge Audio Tour: Free Download from English Heritage

Follow Stonehenge and English Heritage on Twitter for Stonehenge Solstice news and updates

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Stonehenge Summer Solstice Celebrations. Managed Open Access 2015

2 06 2015

English Heritage is pleased to be providing Managed Open Access to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice on 20th – 21st June 2015.  Please help them to create a peaceful occasion by taking personal responsibility and following the Conditions of Entry and guidelines set out on these pages. CELEBRATING THE SUMMER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE  Stonehenge is an ancient prehistoric site and has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of Summer Solstice since time immemorial.

Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2012

Stonehenge Summer Solstice Sunrise

During Managed Open Access for Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, we support all individuals and groups conducting their own forms of ceremony and celebration providing that they are mutually respectful and tolerant of one another. Stonehenge is a place seen by many as a sacred site – please respect it and those attending. English Heritage continues to work closely with the many agencies and people from all sectors of the community and we would like to thank them for their help and support. Parking and entry to the Monument will be free, subject to the Conditions of Entry. Please do not arrive at the Solstice car park or Stonehenge in advance of the opening times listed below. Please note: As Summer Solstice this year occurs on a Saturday/Sunday, the roads around Stonehenge will be very busy. We strongly advise visitors to leave their cars at home and travel to Stonehenge using public transport.   The nearest train station is Salisbury and there will be a regular bus service from Salisbury to Stonehenge. Please follow @eh_stonehenge on Twitter for travel updates on the night.

Solstice Events UK are offering their usual tours and transport options from London and Bath.  They can be booked here

TIMINGS FOR SUMMER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE
  • SOLSTICE CAR PARK OPENS 19.00 hours (7pm) Saturday 20 June
  • ACCESS TO STONEHENGE MONUMENT FIELD19.00 hours (7pm) Saturday 20 June
  • LAST ADMISSION TO SOLSTICE CAR PARK 06.00 hours (6am) Sunday 21 June – or earlier if full
  • STONEHENGE MONUMENT FIELD CLOSES 08.00 hours (8am) Sunday 21 June
  • SOLSTICE CAR PARK TO BE VACATED 12.00 hours (12 Noon) Sunday 21 June

We hope the weather will be kind and wish you a peaceful and celebratory solstice.

SUNSET AND SUNRISE

Sunset and sunrise occur at the following times:

  • Sunset on Saturday 20th June 2015 is at 21.26 hrs (9.26pm)
  • Sunrise on Sunday 21st June 2015 is at 04.52 hrs (4.52am)

Visit the English Heritage Website for full details The Stonehenge News Blog Follow @ST0NEHENGE on twitter for frequent updates





2015 Stonehenge Summer Solstice News

21 05 2015

Stonehenge will close its normal visitor operation at 1500hrs (3pm) on Saturday 20th June and all day on Sunday 21th June 2015.

Detailed Information
• Last admission to Stonehenge on Saturday 20th June 2015 will be 1300hrs (1pm)
• The Stonehenge Visitor Centre will close at 1500hrs Stonehenge Summer Solstice Sunrise(3pm) and will remain closed for the period of Managed Open Access
• Sunset on Saturday 20th June 2015 is at 2126hrs (9.26pm) and sunrise on Sunday 21st June 2015 is at 0452hrs (4.52am)
• Stonehenge re-opens for normal admissions at 0900hrs (9am) on Monday 22st June 2015
Please note that the Stonehenge coach park will be closed during Managed Open Access for Summer Solstice and we will not be able to accommodate any commercial coaches on site during this time.

English Heriitage Top Tips for Group Visits
• Please remember to call or email with your booking well in advance to secure your preferred time slot
• Please ensure your final numbers are confirmed correctly – no refunds can be made once payment has been received or an invoice raised
• Please arrive at Stonehenge within your designated time slot. If your journey is delayed by more than 30 minutes due to exceptional circumstances, call with a revised arrival time so we can do our best to accommodate you
• If your group wishes to go off separately ensure your tour leader/guide/driver agrees a meeting point and time for the group within your timescales for the visit
• English Heritage offer coach drivers, tour leaders/guides and Blue Badge Guides one complimentary hot drink (excluding luxury hot chocolate) at Stonehenge. This is limited to one coach driver and one tour leader/guide or Blue Badge Guide per group and only available when accompanying groups

For all Stonehenge group bookings and enquiries, contact the exclusive Stonehenge line –
Mon-Fri 09.00-17.00
Tel: + 44 (0) 370 333 0604 (charged at local rates)
Email: stonehenge.traveltrade@english-heritage.org.uk

For all general Travel Trade enquiries, contact the English Heritage Travel Trade Team –
Mon-Fri 09.00-17.00
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7973 3529
Email: traveltrade@english-heritage.org.uk

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