While the rest of London packed wellies, suncream and (in the case of one particularly precautious friend) portable personal toilets for that other Somerset festival, we packed up for the annual Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival.
The solstice is the only day that you can walk right up and touch/summit/vibe with stones. And Stonehenge Campsite was the very first reservation we made for this whole trip.
The campsite was super civilized and well-equipped (hello Scandinavian designed bathrooms with hot shower) and snuggled in a lovely corner of Somerset.
First, a visit to Avalon
With a full day to pass before trekking to the stones at dark, we joined our new friends Wendy and Chris for a pilgrimage to the village of Glastonbury, and a hike up its famed Tor to Ruin of St Michael’s Church.
The Tor is Arthur’s Avalon. Below the green hill mythological lore runs deep. This is a land of fairies and eternal youth. Coffin’s bearing Queen Guinevere and her King’s names were discovered on the site in the 12 century. More concrete science can attest to Roman occupation, a 5th century fort, and the execution site of Glastonbury’s last Abbot in 1539.
And now, a festival
Back at camp we settled in to wait for darkness on the second longest day of the year, drinking Chris’ Irish mead and playing too much Uno. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, things soon got weird. With the group garnished with bindis and wearing more glitter than a troop of burlesque dancers, we shuttled off the stones.
Roughly 20,000 people attended Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2013. 19,550 of them were freaks. And not the kind of freaks we expected.
We’d pictured chanting for sunrise in the midst of lots of lovely longhaired, long-robed Druid weirdness. What we got was more like 18-and-up rave escaped from a sweaty, strobe light filled warehouse into a freezing cold, strobe light filled night.
The festival started under a near super moon but clouds soon rolled in. Light from the festival’s food and cider stands bounced off the myst amplifying the tripped out club feel. Add to that a disjointed symphony of drumming, all that Uno, and getting separated from each other in the throng, and the evening became a much more intense experience than we’d bargained for.
In an effort to find one another and understand what the hell was going on, we each made several loops in and around the stones. Touching the stones and climbing on top of those in the inner circle for a better view/a little breathing room, the energy really was undeniable. Whether that energy came from the stones themselves or the people swarming them we’ll never know.
Luckily, we found each other and the group reunited for the main event: sunrise. Unfortunately (cue every English weather joke ever written) the sun never rose. Apparently it hasn’t visibly done so since something like 2004.
Once cellphone clocks confirmed that the sun was indeed up, we traipsed back to camp for a midsummer’s nap. Followed by a restorative Indian feast (Pagan, Hindi, or otherwise, we can all thank god for Indian food after an all nighter). Then we returned to the scene of the crime to survey the damage.
In what can only be described as a minor miracle, Stonehenge was spotless. The stones were still standing, the grass was fresh and springy, and the protective fence that keeps would be vandals at bay looked as if had never left its post.
Suffice it to say, the Stonehenge Summer Solstice wasn’t what it might have been 5000 years ago. But in a country where 60,000 living, breathing Britons self-identify as Pagans, it was a pretty fascinating contemporary British experience.
And who knows, maybe we’ll have more luck seeing the sun rise at a future Stonehenge winter solstice…