Amesbury to Stonehenge Solstice Lantern Parade 2016

30 11 2016

The annual lantern parade is back again this year on the 20th December 2016 starting at the Amesbury History Centre 4:45pm.

As usual the route will take the procession through the beautiful grounds of the Amesbury Abbey where we will stop for mince pies and mulled wine before making our way to the ancient spring where the solstice lantern will be waiting for us and our resident druid Frank Somners will perform a service.

amesburylantern-1

Amesbury Lantern Procession along the original “Avenue”

The fading solstice light at Stonehenge is taken and put into the solstice lantern which is kept alight all night to light the darkest night and then taken back to the stones the next morning to extinguish. This is a tradition that started a few years ago and has grown in popularity year on year.

Come and join us and our ancestors in celebrating the solstice. Lanterns are available from the History Centre for £3.50 each and there will be an afternoon of lantern decorating in the centre on the 20th until 3:30pm

Visit their website for more details

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Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2016: Travel Trade News

26 11 2016

Arrangements for Groups on Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st December

Stonehenge closes to visitors at the usual time of 5pm on Tuesday 20th December ahead of the annual Winter Solstice celebrations on the morning of Wednesday 21st December.

stonehengewinter

The last timed-ticket admission for pre-booked groups is the usual time of 3pm, providing a 2-hour window for groups arriving at this time to view the monument and enjoy the exhibition and other facilities in the visitor centre.

All coaches and minibuses and their passengers must be off-site by 5pm as usual.

Stonehenge re-opens to visitors from 11.30am on Wednesday 21 December.

Coach Parking for Winter Solstice 2016

Parking for coaches and minibuses bringing visitors for the Winter Solstice will cost £50 per vehicle and is provided from 6am until 10am in the Stonehenge Coach Park.

Coach and minibus parking for Winter Solstice is limited and tour operators and group travel organisers should contact the Stonehenge Bookings Team from today to book coach or minibus parking. Booking is essential.

There will be a number of temporary road closures in the local area. There will be no access to Byway 12 throughout the Winter Solstice access period.

Further Information for Winter Solstice

Access to Stonehenge for solstice is subject to the Conditions of Entry which we would ask tour operators, group leaders and drivers to ensure their group members are aware of and adhere to.

Stonehenge is in a field in the middle of Salisbury Plain and the weather in December will be cold and wet. Even if it isn’t raining, the ground will be wet from the dew. There may also be frost. Sensible footwear and warm, waterproof clothing are essential.

There is at least a 30 minute walk (in low light or darkness), from the coach park to the monument. Visitors are therefore strongly advised to wear strong, waterproof footwear and bring a torch with you.

Toilets at the monument field will only be available once the access period begins. There are no catering facilities in the monument field, however the café at the visitor centre is open for hot drinks and breakfast rolls from 6am.

On Wednesday 21 December, sunrise is at 8.09am.

The monument field will open at approximately 7.45am, depending on light levels and will close at 10am.

Stonehenge re-opens to day visitors from 11.30am on Wednesday 21st December.

Please visit the official English Heritage website for more details

Solstice Events are offering their usual small group Winter Solstice guided tour from London and Bath, ideal if you do not have your own transport. Visit their website

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Solar Astronomy at Stonehenge

4 11 2016

Most people are aware that Stonehenge is somehow aligned to the annual movements of the Sun.

Each year thousands of pilgrims, druids and party-goers gather in celebration, hoping to Stonehenge Avenue.jpgwitness the most famous of these – the Summer Solstice Sunrise on June 21st.

At this time of year, as seen from the centre of the monument, the Sun rises in the same direction as the centre-line of the Avenue – the ancient processional approach to Stonehenge – towards the northeast.

The Stonehenge Avenue alignment was first pointed out by William Stukeley in 1740.

Even though almost everyone believes the Heel Stone was put up by the builders to exactly mark the summer solstice sunrise position, this can’t be true because it stands off to the right hand side of the alignment.

Today the Sun seems to rise out of the top of the Heel Stone due to the modern trees that are on the horizon.

heel-stone-sunrise

Walking up the Avenue they would have seen the Sun setting exactly into the middle of the stones between the uprights of the tallest trilithon in the southwest. We can still experience this today, even though only one upright of that trilithon – Stone 56, the tallest stone on the site – remains in place.

There’s a secondary alignment too – from Winter Solstice Sunrise to Summer Solstice Sunset.

This was first described by Prof. Gordon Freeman in 1997 and it makes use of a “notch” in the edge of Stone 58 of the western trilithon to give a clear sightline across the stone circle.

Viewed through this notch, Winter Solstice Sunrise is seen over Coneybury Hill to the southeast…

winter-solstice-sunrise

If they weren’t there, sunrise would be almost a Sun’s width to the left – and 4,500 years ago the Sun would have risen a whole degree further over to the left.

Even though the Heel Stone wasn’t intended as the solstice sunrise marker, the sight is still magnificent – when the weather cooperates.

Along the same alignment, but exactly in the opposite direction, lies the Winter Solstice Sunset point.

… and Summer Solstice Sunset is seen over Fargo Wood to the northwest.

What’s remarkable about these alignments through the circle is that they intersect over the centre of the Altar Stone (shown as Stone 80 in the plan below). The Altar Stone is not perpendicular to the main alignment but is offset so that it lies exactly along the secondary one.

image description

The intersection angle of 80° between summer and winter solstice sunrises at this latitude is echoed in the large gold lozenge discovered in 1808 when the Bronze Age “shamanic” burial from Bush Barrow, just south of Stonehenge, was excavated.

The intersection angle of 80° between summer and winter solstice sunrises at this latitude is echoed in the large gold lozenge discovered in 1808 when the Bronze Age “shamanic” burial from Bush Barrow, just south of Stonehenge, was excavated.bush-barrow-lozenge
Some see this as coincidence. Others believe the lozenge shows that the knowledge of this important astronomical angle was passed down the generations for at least 600 years.

The lozenge and the other astonishing Bush Barrow finds are on display at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

There are Stonehenge lunar alignments too, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

23 10 2016

One of the most frequently asked questions about Stonehenge is “Why is it where it is?” and there are several possible explanations for this. They’re described below but it’s important to understand that combinations of these are also possible – there may not be just one single reason.

The location isn’t at all the obvious choice because it’s not at the top of the slope, which rises further towards the west. However, if you analyse the terrain you realise that it’s ideally positioned to give medium to long distance views to the northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest over a horizon that is relatively flat in profile.

In fact, the horizon is less than 1° in elevation in all directions.

Salisbury Plain

Archaeologists believe that there were only isolated stands of trees in the Salisbury Plain landscape at the time Stonehenge was built, far fewer than are evident today, so the far-reaching views that are hidden today by modern plantations wouldn’t have been obscured.

viewshed-and-horizon

In the Google Earth image the areas coloured red are directly visible from Stonehenge while the purple line shows the extent of the visible horizon (without trees in the way).

So why not build it further up the westerly slope and achieve even further-reaching views? To do so would be to lose some of the flatness of the horizon in key directions. As it is, Stonehenge appears to be in the centre of a bowl of visibility where the directions to the important astronomical events of summer and winter solstice sunrise and sunset are clear and level.

The second theory relates to the Station Stone Rectangle. Originally there were four Station Stones situated just inside the henge bank. Only two remain in place, the positions of the others (whose stoneholes have been detected) are known.

The short sides of this rectangle are parallel to the main alignment at Stonehenge – winter solstice sunset to summer solstice sunrise. In 1966, C.A. “Peter” Newham pointed out in an article in

station-stone-rectangle

Nature that the long sides of the rectangle are aligned on the extreme moonrise and moonset positions, in a cycle that takes 18.6 years to complete.

It’s a feature of the astronomical geometry that only at the latitude of Stonehenge (give or take 30 miles) that these solar and lunar alignments occur at right angles to each other. Further north or south than that limit and the Station Stone Rectangle would become a parallelogram.

The third possibility concerns the Heel Stone and the Avenue. The Heel Stone is an unshaped sarsen boulder weighing in at over 35 tons that is positioned to the northeast of Stonehenge at the top of the ceremonial approach way called the Avenue. It is traditionally associated with marking the position of sunrise on the summer solstice as seen from the centre of the circle.

During excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in the mid-2000s, a series of features were discovered at the top of the Avenue which have been identified as “periglacial stripes”. These cracks and runnels in the underlying chalk where water has repeatedly frozen and thawed happen to run exactly along the main solstice alignment down the slope to the northeast beyond the Heel Stone.

periglacial

The SRP team suggest that these features would have been visible as parallel lines in the grass leading towards the Heel Stone. They go on to suggest that since the Heel Stone is unshaped, it may always have been lying in the landscape very close to where it has been set upright.

They conclude that a series of noticeable stripes in the grass leading up a slope towards a massive rock exactly in the direction of the winter solstice sunset may be the reason why this spot was regarded as a special place, worthy of memorialising.

Fourthly, there’s the theory that the combination of Bluestones from Wales with Sarsens from the more local area represents the symbolic political unification of two different groups of people at this spot on the borderland between their separate spheres of influence.

We do know that the area has been a focus of activity for more than 10,000 years going right back to the end of the last Ice Age in Britain, as shown by the recent discoveries at Blick Mead in Amesbury, and there are the massive Mesolithic post holes in the landscape only a couple of hundred metres northwest of Stonehenge.

Perhaps we’re looking at the continuation of a specialness that was handed down across the generations, with each successive group embellishing the stories and the monumentalisation a little for itself until finally we end up with a Visitor Centre that receives over a million people a year.

Ultimately though, the reasons for the choice of this location will remain one of the more puzzling Stonehenge mysteries.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Salisbury Plain links:
Salisbury Plain Safaris offers a unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Salisbury, Stonehenge and the surrounding villages.
Stonehenge Guided Tours offer unique guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape and Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge ATV. This is what you have been looking for – the ultimate two seater buggy Salisbury Plain experience.
Visit Wiltshire.  Looking for more information on the famous Salisbury plain?…If so, click here to get the latest information direct from the official Wiltshire tourism site!

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Alcohol ban and car parking charges proposed at Stonehenge solstice

6 02 2016

Revellers at Stonehenge could face a ban on alcohol and parking charges at this year’s solstice celebrations.

bbc-solstice

English Heritage wants to “reduce risk to the monument” by banning alcohol during the summer solstice celebrations (GETTY IMAGE)

English Heritage, which manages the ancient site, wants to introduce “significant changes” in response to “repeated and consistent” feedback.

Stonehenge manager Kate Davies, said an alcohol ban would “help everyone to have a better experience of solstice”.

But senior druid, King Arthur Pendragon, said English Heritage was “looking for confrontation”.

In December, large crowds gathered at the ancient monument in Wiltshire to watch the sunrise and mark the winter solstice.

And an estimated 23,000 people descended on the site to celebrate the summer solstice last June.

Despite it being illegal to damage the monument, last year the Heritage Journal wanted revellers banned from getting close to the stones in a bid to prevent the “annual vandalism”.

At the time, English Heritage claimed “deliberate damage” was “not characteristic of solstice celebrations” but now it wants to introduce changes “to reduce risk to the monument”.

“Over the past few years, we have had lots of feedback from those attending the solstice celebrations, from families with young children to those for whom the stones holds a special spiritual significance,” said Ms Davies.

“Having reflected on what they are telling us, we are now proposing two changes which will help us to better look after those attending and the monument itself.”

‘Sanitising the event’

Along with banning alcohol at Summer solstice, the organisation said it will also be “consulting with partners” on parking charges at both the winter and summer celebrations.

But Mr Pendragon said the charge was a “Pay to Pray policy” and he will fight the “total ban on alcohol”.

“It’s a celebration – not to be sanitized. It does not matter how they dress it up, we will not Pay to Pray,” he said.

“This isn’t just about money it’s about sanitizing the event. How long before it’s ticket only and book on-line like their [English Heritage] regular daily access?.”

Full Story on the BBC news website

Read the reaction from local Druid, Arthure Pendragon:

‘Pay for pray’ accusation after plans to charge for solstice parking at Stonehenge and ban alcohol

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for results and daily Stonehenge updates
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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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Stargazing in June: From the Stonehenge summer solstice to a cosmic embrace

1 06 2015
Two of our solar system’s most sensational planets will get together for a tryst

Two of our solar system’s most sensational planets will get together for a tryst

Let’s start by winnowing out the mythical chaff from the factual wheat. The Druids didn’t build Stonehenge; they came on the scene about 2,000 years later, and – according to the Roman writer Pliny – they didn’t worship in stone temples but in ‘‘forests of oak’’.

It was only in the 7th century that the antiquarian John Aubrey associated the Druids with Stonehenge. In 1740, a fellow neo-Druid called William Stukeley measured Stonehenge, and realised that its central line pointed ‘‘full northeast, being the point where the sun rises at the summer solstice’’. At that point, the link between Stonehenge, the Druids and the midsummer sunrise was set in tablets of stone.

But hang on. Instead of standing in the centre of the great stone circle and looking outwards, you could equally well place yourself at the Heel Stone and look through the centre of Stonehenge, towards the south-east. That’s the direction where the Sun sets, at midwinter.

In fact, Stukeley’s original account describes this bearing, with ‘‘the principal diameter or groundline of Stonehenge, leading from the entrance up to the middle of the temple to the high altar’’. So why did he choose the opposite direction as being critical to the Druids?

Stukeley was a Freemason. For Masons, the western part of the sky is the direction of death. The north-east is spiritually all-important because it is the point where the Sun rises on the feast of St John (the traditional Christian date for midsummer, on 24 June).

That’s why Stukeley picked out midsummer as the key season for Stonehenge. There’s no reason, though, to believe that our distant ancestors felt the same way. In fact, there are two great monuments in the British Isles which are unambiguous markers for the solstice, because they contain deep passageways that are lit up by Sun only once a year. In the case of Newgrange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Orkney, that date is the winter solstice..

Now archaeologists have provided the clinching evidence that Stonehenge, too, was erected to mark midwinter’s day. Mike Parker Pearson has excavated Durrington Walls, a huge settlement near Stonehenge. Here he’s found the remains of orgiastic feasts: bones of cows and pigs that had been brought vast distances – some from Cornwall, and others from the far north. Clearly, people came from all over the country to hold ceremonies at Stonehenge.

And the bones reveal the season that they travelled. The growth of the pigs’ teeth, and the amount they had worn, showed that they had been slaughtered for the table at the age of nine months. Given that piglets are naturally born in the spring, Parker Pearson is adamant that people were ‘‘feasting on pork at midwinter  most likely around the midwinter solstice’’.

So, if you want to truly celebrate as our ancestors did, don’t go to Wiltshire this month. Instead, go to Stonehenge on 22 December, to view the sun setting behind the giant portals of stone.

What’s Up

This month, two of our solar system’s most sensational planets are about to get together for a tryst. For the whole of spring, luminous giant Jupiter has been lighting up our evening skies. But dazzling Venus – Earth’s twin in size – has been sneaking up in the opposite part of the sky. Our neighbour world, cloaked in a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide, reflects sunlight amazingly: it is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon.

On 30 June, the two brilliant worlds tangle in a cosmic embrace. Separated by a space less than the diameter of the moon, Jupiter and  Venus will make a stunning sight low in the western sky. Otherwise, the summer constellations are making their appearance. Orange Arcturus, in Boötes, lords it over the night skies. Next to it, the small-but-perfectly-formed Corona Borealis – the Northern Crown – is a beautiful reminder that warmer days are on the way.

What to look out for

1 June: 5.19 pm: full moon

6 June: Venus at greatest eastern elongation

9 June 4.42 pm: moon at last quarter

16 June 3.05 pm: new moon

24 June 12.03 pm: moon at first quarter; Mercury at greatest western elongation

30 June: Venus and Jupiter close conjunction

Read the full story in the Independent. Heather Couper , Nigel Henbest

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