I wrote earlier about ways to visit Stonehenge (and a good place to eat afterward, as well). One of those ways is the ultimate, once-per-year opportunity to go during the summer solstice. That opportunity happens next week.
Stonehenge is being opened again to the public during the solstice (they make a decision about this each year). New information about Summer Solstice 2006 plans are posted here on the English Heritage web site. You can start parking at 8pm next Tuesday, June 20.
No, you won’t be parking in the usual little lot across from the stones. English Heritage doesn’t spell it out (you have to dig into the terms of entry below), but you’ll be parking in fields about a half mile from the stones. You’ll then walk in. And you’ll know where to go, because a billion police (OK, maybe just hundreds) will be directing you.
At 10pm, people are allowed to enter the stones. I’ve never been there when this happens, so I have no idea if there’s a rush or anything like that. I can tell you there will be thousands of people, and the atmosphere is very party like.
Read the terms of entry! They are here, in a PDF file. They are a lot more than terms. They’re useful preparation notes, as well. Some important things to consider:
- You can’t stand on, climb on or lean on the stones. Technically. See my video below, and plenty of people do. Any of them potentially could be taken away by police, so keep that in mind. Generally, this is ignored.
- Small bags and small blankets are OK. Sleeping bags and big bags are not. Think carefully about what you bring, because you’ll either have a long walk back to your car or you’ll have to trust in leaving your stuff outside the fences.
- No glass bottles — so put that alcohol into something plastic. Alcohol IS allowed in small amounts (and pretty much everyone’s drinking). Drugs are not, but plenty of people do smoke pot discretely that I saw last time. Every year, there are a few token arrests for possession. So it could be you, if you’re tempted (and there are random searches). Chances are, it won’t be.
Keep in mind that despite it being summer, it will be cold, often windy and quite likely to rain on the Salisbury Plain. Wear layers, wear something waterproof and skip the jeans. They get cold and damp. Also bring a small flashlight — that’s the “battery operated torch” the terms are talking about, for you non-British English English speakers. Torch = flashlight, not a burning stick. It’s dark, and you’ll find that useful when walking.
Trying to get there? It’s an easy 1 1/2 hour train trip from London by train to Salisbury, with regular trains every hour or so. A special bus service is running from the train station to Stonehenge to get you there, which is pretty cool. The terms have more details on this.
The terms note there’s water, but given the number of people, I’d bring your own. You might also bring some food to snack on. There will be a few catering vans. The vegetarian/vegan ones are swamped. Meat eaters will find shorter lines.
For those that gotta go, there’s porta-potties/porta-loos. You know what those are like, so try to go before you come.
OK, that’s the official rundown from the terms. Here are some more tips. First, I’ve got a map you should look at. One of the best things about Windows Live Local is how anyone can make a mashup or annotated map with no programming. So I went nuts.
Select number 1 and zoom to it. That’s Stonehenge. You can then zoom out a bit and see some of the other things I’ve noted, such as where the toilets are and where parking is.
Find number 7. This is Larkhill, a little estate / tract of homes for military based here. If it is like last time I went, you’ll be able to drive into Larkhill and park anywhere around this point with no problem. You can then walk along the dirt road (number to Stonehenge.
Why? For one thing, there won’t be hundreds of cars all trying to leave from that point. There will be tens, if that. Now having said this, if everyone follows my tips, that might change. But chances are, I’m not going to have that big of an impact! Also, I should say I’ve never parked in the regular area myself. For all I know, getting out is easy and orderly.
How about arrival times? Last time, we got there around an hour before sunrise, 3:30am or so. We had no problem getting right up to the outer stones, then moving into the first of the inner circle eventually as the crowd moved.
Somewhere deep within the circle will be some Druids celebrating. If you want to see that, be prepared to wiggle your way in, if you aren’t early. Last time I went, I was content to sit back and just enjoy the crowd.
Exactly which order of Druids, I don’t know. Here’s one that’s local to the area. The most specific info I can find about Druids and the 2006 solstice is here. There’s a long recent history of Druids fighting for access to the stones. Here’s an account, Wikipedia has info, here’s the BBC on English Heritage banning access again out of paranoia and here’s CNN on the reopening of public access to thousands in 2000. There’s a sad account here of only two Druids being in robes in 2004. That same person also provides a Druid history.
As for the solstice itself, here’s a guide from NASA.
Finally, a side note. As English Heritage will tell you, (and also see here) Stonehenge was given to the nation by its last private owner, Sir Cecil Chubb, in 1918. He was born in nearby Shrewton, in the house where we used to live for eight years.
POSTSCRIPT: See Tips For Summer Solstice @ Stonehenge 2008 for updated info.