For a number of years I’d been wanting to not only explore the Stonehenge complex, but also to witness the summer solstice at the world famous prehistoric monument located 13 km north of the English town of Salisbury. The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and is celebrated by thousands of pagans across the world. I got my chance on June 21st in 2015 to complete two of my wishes!
Stonehenge's circles of standing stones that are set within earthworks are located within many other Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, the most in England, including several hundred burial mounds. Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was constructed from 3000 BC, however they cannot agree on the exact purpose of the structure as the long lost culture who created these monuments left no written language.
Up until 1977 visitors were allowed to wander through and climb on the stones but as a result of serious erosion they were subsequently roped off. Visitors to Stonehenge are no longer allowed to feel the stones, but are able to walk the grounds and view the monument from a short distance away. However, English Heritage does open Stonehenge during the summer and winter solstice for the public to enjoy the rising of the sun at this unique time of year. In 2015 this was a remarkably open and free even with people allowed to drink and party amongst the monoliths as they listened to the sounds of bongos and drums all night long. As a result upwards of 25,000 to 35,000 would regularly attend.
I highly recommend the experience as it’s quite a remarkable evening in a historically important site and if you’re lucky enough to have clear weather on the cool June morning and witness those first rays of light rise above the Heel Stone then all the effort is worthwhile. From 2016 English Heritage (who manage the site), began charging entry for the solstice festival and enforced a blanket ban on alcohol and drugs which no doubt changes the fun and dynamics of the event but I imagine it is still an amazing night out if the weather remains clear!
Getting to Stonehenge can be achieved by simply driving (remember there’s a £15 parking fee at Stonehenge), booking a seat on a train or local bus to Salisbury and basing yourself from there. From the Salisbury Railway Station there is a dedicated bus service running during the solstice festival so access to and from town is easy and ecofriendly! I stayed at the Salisbury YHA while attending the festival, but I have heard that the Cholderton Stonehenge Hostel is also a great place to stay. Remember to book you travel and accommodation as early as possible as many thousands descend on this quite rural area each year so places fill quickly.
While in the area, make sure you stay an extra day to explore the hilltop for town of Old Sarum, which is a short walk from the present day town of Salisbury. Old Sarum is the site of the earlier settlement and has an interesting history spanning from 400BC to the present day. Also be sure to visit the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral, with its 123m high spire (the highest in England) it's hard to miss!