It was a bit chilly, with a strong wind whipping the druids’ robes, and the clouds meant the sunrise was a gentle blur rather than a spectacular blaze.
But the thousands who turned out on Salisbury Plain to mark the solstice at Stonehenge I savored the moment when the sun rose again after the longest night.
“I always try to come if I can have some free time,” said Jane Clark, a Bristol nursing home worker. “For me, it is a beautiful and sweet celebration, a moment of reflection, of reflection on the year which is ending and on the one which is to come. It’s also wonderful to think that we’ve turned a corner and are heading into spring and summer.
The winter solstice at Stonehenge was once a much more modest affair, especially compared to the hedonistic excesses of its summer equivalent. This was, of course, extremely important to the Druids and other pagan peoples for whom Stonehenge is a temple, but it was not such a draw for “civilian” visitors.
In recent years it has become much more popular and within 20 minutes of sunrise on Friday the car parks at Stonehenge were full. Nearly 7,000 people were also watching via a live stream, from across the UK but also Australia, the US and South East Asia. A few complained about the music English Heritage added to the stream, but the chat box was dominated by messages of goodwill and peace.
Dr Jennifer Wexler, senior property historian at English Heritage, said: “I think the winter solstice has become more popular. The winter solstice marks the turning point of the year, the return of light and the end of the long, dark nights.
“It speaks to the beginning or perhaps the hope of something new, marking both an annual cycle and a change – all things that draw people to the site at this time of year. I also think the spirituality of the event and the site is more powerful in winter, there is something truly magical about walking through the cold, misty fields in the dark and seeing lights across the landscape as the people gather to celebrate the return of light. For me it evokes the feeling of what it might have been like 4,000 years ago.
Usually the stones are roped off, but at the solstices and equinoxes English Heritage allows managed access. On Friday, there was dancing, bagpipe playing, drum beating and stone hugging, while Arthur Pendragon, said to be the current incarnation of the former and future king, knighted his followers supporters.
Countless photos were taken and posted on social media, but many others left their phones in their pockets and enjoyed the special moment.
The solstice comes at a time when Stonehenge is making headlines over the government’s controversial plan to build a road tunnel near the Great Circle. Earlier this month, opponents of the project left Wiltshire to go to the High Court to try to get the project abandoned.
But politics was kept out of these solstice celebrations. John Adams, president of the Stonehenge Alliance, which is fighting the tunnel, said the group had decided not to campaign there this year, but instead to simply enjoy the feeling of moving from darkness to light.
He said: “The monument to the solstice becomes a focal point, reflecting for some a felt connection with ancient beliefs about the cyclical nature of the world and for others a natural human response of embracing light and warmth. »
One of the most beautiful elements of the winter solstice at Stonehenge is the feeling of togetherness. All kinds of people from all walks of life are showing up and getting into it.
Lois Lloyd, an archdruid, said she was glad so many people headed to the stones at this time of year. “It is so heartening to see that a growing number of people without spiritual or sacred intention are undertaking what is often a very difficult, long and cold journey,” she said. “I have met so many people who find solace, energy and comfort in such a primordial place.”