Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. From Past to Present.

4 06 2017

Although there was historically a Summer Fayre at Stonehenge held on traditional midsummer’s day of the 24th of June, it was only comparatively recently that the association between Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice Sunrise was realised.

Before Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the summer solstice had slipped out of sync with the old Julian calendar by 11 days. This meant that the Sun didn’t appear to rise from the Heelstone on 24th June. People somehow knew that they should be at Stonehenge on “midsummer’s day”, but the reason had long been forgotten.

Indeed, it was only in 1771 that the first link between the Heelstone and the Summer Solstice Sunrise was mentioned by Dr. John Smith, even though William Stukeley had identified that the Avenue lead off towards the solstice sunrise point some 30 years earlier. Smith churlishly didn’t even acknowledge Stukeley’s work in his book.

These days, of course, everyone knows about it.

Heelstone SunriseFrom about 3pm on the 20th June, Stonehenge closes to regular visitors in order for preparations to begin for the largest mass pilgrimage to a solar temple in modern times.

Up to 40,000 people begin arriving across the landscape on foot, or by car and coach to the fields by the Visitor Centre (parking charges are £5 per motorbike, £15 per car, live-in vehicle or minibus up to 19 seats, £100 per coach with coach-space pre-booking essential, and there is no discount for disabled badge holders) in advance of the monument being reopened at 7pm.

This is the one time in the year when anyone can spend the night inside the stone circle, and it gets crowded very quickly with travellers, drummers, pagans, druids, cosplay wizards and faeries, as well as more “ordinary” folk. Alcohol has been banned in recent years but evidence is obvious of prior indulgence in that and other recreational substances amongst the revellers. This “managed open access” has the feeling of a massive outdoor party rather than a respectful observance but most people seem to have a good time.

The locals tend to come for the evening on the 20th before escaping ahead of full nightfall, and the atmosphere is more family-friendly between 7pm and sunset around 9.30pm.

Solstice Eve

Ahead of sunset a number of groups tend to perform “all welcome” ceremonies in the centre of the circle, including the modern Druids usually led by Archdruid Rollo Maughling, King Arthur Pendragon or Merlin of England.

As night falls the entire field around the monument fills up and people gather in groups on and under blankets (no sleeping bags permitted) and while away the hours until the much-anticipated solstice dawn on the 21st.

A number of concession stands near the field entrance serve up tea, coffee and a variety of food to keep everyone warm, and there are first aiders, security marshalls, volunteer peace stewards and a low-key police presence to ensure everyone’s safety. Portaloos are installed all around the site as well as lighting gantries which are gradually dimmed as dawn approaches. Bags are security checked at the entrances to the field to intercept glass bottles or other dangerous items, and no animals are allowed apart from the drugs sniffer dogs on the gate.

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The “managed open access” at summer solstice has been in place since 2000 and I have attended all bar two of them. In 15 years, I’ve seen a clear solstice sunrise only twice – so if you plan to come, be prepared for a cloudy morning with no sight of the Sun.

Bring waterproofs and wear many layers – it can be unexpectedly cold at 2am in the middle of a field in Wiltshire, and it frequently rains (on occasion very, very heavily) overnight. Umbrellas are forbidden but a black plastic binbag makes an acceptable, if unfashionable, substitute.

Dawn occurs at 4.52 BST, but the Sun is always a few minutes late because the trees on the horizon to the northeast delay its appearance. As the centre of the circle is by now absolutely rammed solid, the Druid ceremony usually takes place by the Heelstone after sunrise.

The monument field has to be cleared by 8am so that the site can be tidied up and put back to normal in time for it to re-open to regular visitors by about 3pm on the 21st.

The attendees drift away back towards the car park and peace, of a sort, descends.

Crowds leaving

Now the real work begins for the on-site Historic Property Stewards who care for the monument all year round, and the army of temporary contractors.

The grass in the centre of the circle is “groomed” with rakes having been trampled flat by thousands of feet for 13 hours and the whole area of the monument within the henge bank and ditch perimeter is litter-picked on hands and knees. Lost property is gathered together in case the owners come back for it – though how anyone can forget a baby buggy is hard to imagine.

The visitor barrier ropes are re-installed around the circle, the interpretation panels are re-erected, the bench seats on the path are returned and the overnight infrastructure is taken away, along with several tons of rubbish. Sprinklers are deployed to revivify the turf.

The Stonehenge Summer Solstice experience is unlike any other – for some people it’s a lifetime’s ambition, for others it’s an excuse for a party.

For Stonehenge, this year will be something like the 4,517th time it’s seen people gather at this turning point in the seasonal round – it must have some stories to tell, and Stone 28 is probably the one to tell them – you just have to listen closely.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join an organised tour and save all the hassle.  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.

Relevant links:
Stonehenge Summer Solstice Open Access Arrangements.
Respecting the Stones
English Heritage Conditions of Entry
The Salisbury Reds special solstice shuttle service
Stonehenge Summer Solstice Tours and transport from London
Stonehenge Summer Solstice Tours from Bath

Follow @St0nehenge @EH_Stonehenge @VisitStonehenge @HighwaysEngland and @Wiltshirepolice for #summersolstice updates on the night.

If you are unable to visit Stonehenge on the Solstice you can watch our LIVE PERISCOPE STONEHENGE BROADCAST

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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.

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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.

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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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King Arthur takes council to court in Stonhenge parking row

30 09 2016

Even kings have problems with councils, it seems.

King Arthur in all his glory (Picture: SWNS)

King Arthur in all his glory (Picture: SWNS)

Arthur Pendragon, the self-titled druid king of Britain and who says he’s the reincarnation of King Arthur, is suing over a parking charge at Stonehenge.

He’s also taking action against a police force and English Heritage over the £15 fee.

King Arthur believes the charge is ‘illegal’ for worshippers to the stones for the summer solstice, dubbing ‘pay to pray’.

The charge was introduced for this year’s event on June 21, which saw 12,000 people flock to Stonehenge, in Salisbury, Wiltshire, to mark the longest day of the year.

When Mr Pendragon refused to fork out – saying the £15 fee is ‘grossly unfair’ as it is three times what tourists pay on any other day of the year – he was barred from the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The 62-year-old, who rides a motorbike, decided to take action against the ‘money-grabbing’ authorities because it breaches his human rights.

Mr Pendragon – an ex-soldier and biker gang leader who was born John Timothy Rothwell to parents May and Wilfred – said he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to win.

Who is the modern-day King Arthur?

Mr Pendragon is an English eco-campaigner and Neo-Druid leader of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, who believes he is the reincarnation of King Arthur.

He rose to fame in the 90s when he won a case at the European Court of Human Rights to allow open access to Stonehenge for religious festivals.

He said: ‘If you go to Stonehenge as a tourist today you will pay £5, but if you go there on the solstice as a pilgrim they make you pay ££15.

‘As soon as they bring in a parking charge, it means it is virtually impossible to attend unless you pay. They are stopping me from praying.’

English Heritage has previously stated that it needs to charge the fee as £60,000 is spent on parking facilities during summer solstice.

He said: ‘It is all about money. Stonehenge is getting 1.3 million tourists a year – it is English Heritage’s biggest cash cow.

Read the full story on the Metro website

More relevant links:

Arthur Pendragon Facebook Page: (Arthur is a Warrior, Druid, Witch and Pagan High Priest defending environmental and libertarian causes) https://www.facebook.com/arthur.rex.984

Arthur Pendragon at Stonehenge: Live Periscope video footage from the Autumn Equinox 2016 celebrations: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1vOxwRaaZMdJB

King Arthur launches Stonehenge parking legal action | Plymouth Herald

NEWS: Senior druid launches legal challenge over £15 parking charge at for solstice: http://www.spirefm.co.uk/news/local-news/2106390/king-arthurs-stonehenge-parking-wars-to-be-shown-on-tv/

King Arthur sues council, police and English Heritage over ‘pay to pray’ scheme: 

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First Day of spring: Stonehenge crowd gathers for Equinox sunrise

22 03 2015

The first day of spring has been marked by more than 800 revellers who gathered at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise.

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Despite a cloudy forecast, @St0nehenge tweeted the gathering had been “blessed with a perfect sunrise”

Druids and pagans were joined by a mass of revellers at the ancient monument to celebrate the spring or vernal equinox.

Open access to the stones was given from first light, 05:45 GMT, by English Heritage which manages the site.

Senior druid King Arthur Pendragon, who performed the sunrise ceremony, said: “We’re lucky, we used to get 200 people but now it’s up to nearly 1,000.”

Despite a cloudy forecast, @St0nehenge tweeted that the gathering had been “blessed with a perfect sunrise”.

“A lot of people are coming out to sacred places to celebrate the turning of the wheel, which is what paganism is about,” said Mr Pendragon.

“We don’t worship nature, we worship the divine through nature and so we worship at the times of the year when it’s auspicious – spring, summer, autumn and winter.”

English Heritage opens the ancient stone circle for the spring equinox as well as the winter and summer solstice

Full article (source) and more images at the BBC website: (Nice to see the BBC’s reference to our twitter account)

Follow us here for all the latest / ongoing Stonehenge news: https://twitter.com/ST0NEHENGE

There are many some fantastic images on the Stonehenge Stone Circle Flickr page

Merlin at Stonehenge
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1000’s flock to Stonehenge for Solstice Sunrise

21 06 2014

THOUSANDS of druids, revellers, tourists and families stood side by side to welcome the sunrise at Stonehenge this morning.

Stonehenge Solstice Sunrise

 

The longest day falling on a weekend and the clear sky drew a crowd of about 36,000, 15,000 more than last year, to the Summer Solstice at the ancient monument.

While party-goers banged drums and cheered in the stone circle, the Loyal Arthurian War Band druids performed their spiritual ceremony by the Heel Stone.

People come from all over the world to be a part of the celebrations at Stonehenge and the bumper crowd were treated to one of the best sunrises at the monument in years.

This year’s mood seemed more subdued than previous and Wiltshire Police said 25 arrests were made at Stonehenge and two at Avebury, which were mainly for drug related offences.

Superintendent Gavin Williams said: “We are please the Solstice celebrations have been enjoyable events for the majority of people attending. The road system worked well and many people used the public transport as we advised.

“Every year there are new challenges for us at Solstice but it is always a pleasure to see so many people enjoying the event.”





Stonehenge News Flash: Stonehenge byways to remain open

22 11 2011

A PLANNING inspector has ruled that byways surrounding Stonehenge will remain open.

The decision follows inquiries into proposals to close the byways as well as parts of the A344 and the inspector has decided that although the road will close, the byways should remain open.

English Heritage plans to return the area to grass as part of plans for a new visitors’ centre at Airman’s Corner.

Planning inspector Alan Boyland said: “I accept that Wiltshire has a considerably greater length of byways than any other county. This is not however, in itself, a reason for allowing a further loss for recreational motor vehicle users.

“In this case, the loss of a further 7km, particularly given the strategic importance of those routes, and without similar alternative routes being available, would in my view be significantly detrimental to the current users.”

At the inquiry, Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon objected to the proposals to close the byways as he said it is a violation of his human rights not to be able to access the area, particularly during Pagan ceremonies such as celebrations of the solstices and equinox.

Mr Pendragon said: “It appears that the inspector has erred on the side of common sense and found himself in agreement with the points made.”

The new visitor centre has got planning permission and despite funding problems English Heritage hopes the it can be completed by 2013.

Article: http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/salisbury/salisburynews/9378111.Stonehenge_byways_to_remain_open/#commentsList

Sponsored by The Stonehenge Tour Company – www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin @ Stonehenge








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