Being a Wiltshire lass, it’s ideal for me to visit the Summer Solstice sites as they’re in close distance of my hometown. Stonehenge is the main draw for tourists on the longest day of the year as it’s the largest neolithic stone circle in the UK. But, security is high and it’s super crowded.
However, a lesser known and more peaceful stone circle is located 20 minutes from Swindon in the little village of Avebury. The structure is shaped like a clock face and it’s a far more laid back solstice celebration.
Revellers sit outside the Red Lion pub and the crowds of tourists, druids, hippies and youngsters sit among the stones with their drums, drinks, smokes and party the night away waiting for the first light.
Here’s a guide to feeling the Summer Solstice vibes at Avebury stone circle!
What the Solstice is all about
The Summer Solstice is celebrated the day before the longest day every year on the 20th of June. Traditionally people gather at sunset and wait through the night until the sunrise the next morning.
Celebrated as far back as the Ancient Greeks to welcome in extended hours of sunlight, it is usually a time of festivities and frivolity. In Druidry, the festival is called Alban Hefin and means ‘the light of the shore’. According to the Druid faith, the Solar God is crowned by the Goddess as the King of Summer. Modern druids still gather to celebrate every year and should be respected to honour their faith.
There is also Winter Solstice on the 21st December and Autumn/Spring Equinox festivals which take place so if you’re around, pop by but you maybe a little nippy!
Sun worshipper at Stone henge.
Luckily for me, Avebury is located around 20 minutes from Swindon which is short drive from where I live, but you can bet your bottom dollar you are not going to be visiting from there!
From London: By public transport, grab the train from Paddington to Swindon (yay!) and then get the number 49 Stagecoach bus from the central bus station to Avebury. (around 2 hours)
From Bath: Take the train to Swindon (double yay!) and then get the number 49 Stagecoach Bus to Avebury. (around 1 hour 30 mins)
If you’re choosing to take public transport, make sure you check the times of the last buses from Avebury (the timetable is located outside the Red Lion pub or on their website). Most days its around 7.3opm. Last Train to London leaves at 10.30pm.
If you’re driving, Parking Charges are £4.
Every year, a troupe of local performers in vibrant quirky costumes put on a show around the stones just before sunset around 9pm. It’s always a different show each year and includes live and loud music, dancing, fire poi and interpretive dance.
This year the show centred around light over darkness, which was very fitting. After the show, they take the ropes away and everyone gathers around and dances with the live band.
I can’t wait until next years performance, I’m sure it’s going to be even better than this one!
Waiting for the sun
After the performances and frivolity comes to a close, it’s the waiting game. From here, people play drums, dance, perform and wait until the sun comes up the next day.
If you’re lucky you can pitch a tent but spaces are limited. Most people just stay up through the night around the stones. It can get chilly, so it’s best to bring some supplies and a warm jacket. You’ll appreciate the morning rays of sun all the more for the warmth they bring!
Being in the UK it’s a little bit of a lucky dip if you’ll see a sunrise or not. Although the last few years it has been sunny with clear skies, it can also be cloudy with little or no sun poking through the clouds. If the sun does have his hat on, there is a massive applause from everyone around.
Has the solstice lost it’s meaning today?
Although this is a festival and it’s there to have a good time, it’s also good to show some respect for what it represents to different faiths and beliefs. In Druidry this is an important mark in the calendar. Same as Litha for Wiccan’s, it’s a time of honouring the sun and making the most of it’s power.
But, for some, it seems to me that celebrating the sun is the last thing on their minds. Most people just come for a party. To hang out with friends, drink, smoke etc.
Maybe I’m not one to speculate and tarring people with the same brush isn’t a good practice. Maybe they do respect what it represents and have a party anyway. However, the line is fuzzy and I do sometimes question intentions.
Which brings me to my debate. Has the summer solstice lost its meaning today? Do people actually in all good faith come to celebrate the longest day anymore? Although it is good people come to celebrate, has this festival just turned into an excuse for a load of people getting drunk, selling drugs and getting high? I ask myself this question every year that I go. Maybe I’m just getting older and coming to that realisation. Hey, I might be part of the problem too! Who knows.
But the reason why I personally love this festival and I keep coming back every year is that people can come as they are. They don’t have to pretend, or put on a show. It’s an open place, with a good vibe and feeling. Everyone can relax and have a good time. We come together, for whatever reason, to celebrate and for that, we should be grateful.
Having been to both Stonehenge and Avebury, I much prefer Avebury for it’s laid back atmosphere. For one it’s a lot less crowded and as it’s a smaller place it’s easy to have a wander around and meet other friendly people waiting for the sun!
If you’d like to read up a bit more on Avebury itself, see my guide ‘Feel the Magic of Avebury Stone Circle‘. Or if you’re heading to Wiltshire see the 5 places that will blow your mind!
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Do you think the summer solstice has lost it’s meaning or do we go with the times? Comment below!