Solstice, or What-Christians-Macallit?

Summer Solstice is on Friday 21st June and English Heritage provides free Managed Open Access to Stonehenge as usual, under the conditions: no amplified music, no drones, no alcohol, no drugs, no drunken or disorderly behaviour, no camping, no sleeping bags, no large bags, no chairs, fires, Chinese lanterns, fireworks, candles, tea-lights or BBQs, no glass, no sharp or pointed objects, and, of course, no climbing on the stones; something we’ll return to in a bit.

You will be searched, and anything deemed unsuitable will be confiscated, other than that, have fun.

I appreciate this reasoning, our nanny-state concludes you are not to be trusted; you should be immune to this concept by now. Have no concern, they will create common sense for you and write it on a fluorescent signpost.

With workshops and bands, there’s a four-day pay-festival; setting you back £125 to camp per person, £325 for a campervan pitch, or £490 for glamping. Yet through a pastel illustration, its rather deceiving website shows an idyllic festival with the ancient monument just a hedgerow behind. What may be the closest festival to Stonehenge for Solstice, is actually over two and a half miles away in Winterbourne Stoke. That said, I believe they bus it up to the stones in time for sunrise; road closures and traffic jams worked in, I’m hoping.

Cashing in on our desire to recapture ancient ideologies is not exclusive to this festival, English Heritage hides the hiked-up parking charges in small print, on another section of their website, away from the main Conditions of Entry page. Hardly surprising, after last year’s dispute, the opposition headed by the Loyal Arthurian Warband, and as Titular Head and Chosen Chief of what has become known as The Warrior/Political arm of the modern Druid Movement, Uther Pendragon.

Devizine spoke to Arthur last year, when the heat was the parking charges. Seems English Heritage will not compromise, while it costs tourists just a fiver anyother day, on the one day guaranteed to pull a crowd of homegrown visitors, they triple the tax. Deemed a “pay to pray” policy, Arthur persists on this mission. The most bizarre twist in this fiasco is this year’s EH website designers, who’ve decided to use a picture of St George slaying the dragon to advertise. One may appreciate the reasoning for rules, but the reasoning for using Christian symbology to advertise a pagan feast? The only possible explanation I conjure is it’s a veiled satirical stab at Arthur, who declared, he is one dragon they “will not slay.”

The notion they’re suggesting Christianity should convert solstice is so absurd I blocked it from my mind. Yet, I was shocked at what research churned up. Despite the impossibility of Mary, with child, travelling across Israel, and shepherds off -season during winter, Christian websites maintain Jesus was born at Christmas, and that the sun mimics the death and resurrection of him. If the idea the Earth’s solar orbit never occurred until after the birth of Jesus isn’t a hard-enough pill to swallow, they now continue to suggest summer solstice is actually St John the Baptist’s birthday bash.

Justified by the verse of John 3:30, declaring, “he [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease,” this reflects the sun at the summer solstice trailing its forte, while the winter sun gains, it is no new theory, however outlandish.

Is this what’s happening now, I shudder? Are English Heritage supporting the idea that summer solstice be replaced by a Christian celebration, or just condescendingly mocking Arthur? Is the winter solstice (Christmas) and the spring equinox (Easter) not enough for them? The final nail in the coffin for ancient faiths; here, have Beltane too while you’re at it. Perhaps they think, I ponder to myself, that if solstice was Christian no one would attempt to climb the stones, as you’ll never see the congregation of Salisbury Cathedral drunkenly jeering on daredevils halfway up the spire!

It’s what it all boils down to, this ill-conceived stereotype of pagans; those wild and reckless heathens. And, if I’m brutally honest, clambering up an ancient monument that you’re supposed to be worshipping, while bits of crumble beneath your muddy CATs is the only part of the ritual which bothers me. I did ask Arthur how he felt about this in our interview last year, he didn’t get back to me prior to its publication, but did afterwards, and here’s what he had to say:

(There’s) “not nearly as many ‘climbers’ as there were, and this little tale is how and why,” he said. “A few years ago, there was a ‘climber’ and the guy in front of me was yelling ‘get off the bloody stones!’

‘That’s rich coming from you’ I said, ‘you were up there last year!’

To which he spun around and very indignantly said; ‘No I wasn’t, that was the year before.’

In fact, he had been pictured atop of the stones in the Guardian, which is why I made the remark, but think about it; the first year he’s up there, the second he’s not and by the third he’s part of the ‘self-policing’. Like I say, they may come for the wrong reasons, but they return for the right ones.”

So, if the druids strive for an awakening in us, may be the Christians could accept paganism has its place in modern society. The Earth is really what we need to worship after all, in this era of looming ecological doom. Our ancestors could teach us a thing or twenty about conservation.

Radical I know, best we can hope for I guess is a peaceful solstice at our county’s most famous landmark, try our best to ignore just why EH would choose Christian symbolism to represent a pagan feast. The mind boggles; hope they don’t fall off of our flat Earth!

But, as a wiseman once said, for want of a peaceful solstice, try Avebury. The National Trust website has the details for this slighter, more tranquil solstice gathering, and takes a far less religious approach in its design too! The car park will be open from 0900 on Thursday 20 June 2019. Parking here is £7 all day (0930 to 1830 in summer) £4 after 1500. Motorbikes can park for free, but the carpark gets full very quickly. NT advise public transport, which is doable from Devizes, Marlborough and Swindon.

There is no on-road parking in Avebury itself or Beckhampton, West Kennet and Winterbourne Monkton. The villages are patrolled regularly by Traffic Enforcement Officers and if you park illegally you may be fined or even find your vehicle is removed. Silbury Hill car park will also be closed overnight during this period.

The only campsite in Avebury has only space for under 100 tents. It opens at 9am on Thursday 20th and closes and must be cleared by 2pm on Saturday. You can camp for free, but don’t forget to have a valid parking ticket, and no dogs unless they’re assistance dogs. Other official campsites nearby: Postern Hill Caravan & Camping Site, nr Savernake Forest – 0845 130 8224 or 01672 515195 Blackland Lakes, Calne. 01249 810 943 or Bell Caravan Park and Camping, Lydeway nr Devizes, 01380 840 230

Me? Oh, I’ll be working on solstice; I’ll stop to see the sunrise, probably between Lavington and Urchfont somewhere; despite I see it every morning and never grow tired of it. Might even take a tea-light with me, stick that in your pipe and smoke it EH!



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