You can travel the world but some of the most awesome adventures really are right on your doorstep.
I joined the Pagans, Wiccans and Druids, for the magic of Winter Solstice, and it was the perfect end to 2018 and a way to totally re-energise for 2019.
Heading to Stonehenge in Salisbury for the solstice celebrations, made me feel spiritual, present and connected.
In many ways this experience helped me in ways I can’t ever thank it for. Yes, it sounds totally hippy but, it really healed some wounds and besides that, it was a truly incredible experience.
If you’re looking for epic experiences in the UK, this has to be on your list.
Take a look at my trip in 2018…
Before we get onto my trip here’s a little bit about history and origins of solstice in case you’re not familiar with why it is celebrated.
When is Winter Solstice?
Summer and Winter solstices vary depending on which hemisphere you’re in.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter Solstice is in December and usually on 21 or 22, the shortest day of the year.
What is Winter Solstice?
Take a seat guys, gals and non-binary pals, I’m going to do my best to explain what solstice is and why it’s significant to human history. Don’t worry I’ll make it brief but, the origins are pretty cool!
Before history was recorded the Winter Solstice has been a marker in the year, for so many cultures, of the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun.
It’s the seasonal turning point of the year – gradually the nights will shorten again and the days will become longer.
This seasonal turning point along with the stars and early astronomy was used as a guide for crop sowing and animal mating which guided human behaviour and development.
Of course there’s a summer solstice too, which does the opposite with the nights becoming longer and days shorter.
Over time it became the focus of festivals and rituals, as humans evolved and recognised its reoccurrence and significance. This marker became an important way to monitor the changing of the seasons and went on to shape the calendar as we know it.
Stonehenge is a neolithic stone monument in Salisbury, England. It has particular significance as it shows us that early humans made a connection between the solstice and aligns on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunset, other sites like Newgrange, a prehistoric monument in County Meath in Ireland aligns with the winter solstice sunrise.
Certain stones at Stonehenge are orientated outwards from the middle and align towards where the sunsets in December.
Modern day celebrations see people flock to the stones to be present for the solstice sunrise.
Solstice at Stonehenge
Once we said we were going lots of our friends said they were doing the same, so it ended up being a small group of us heading to the stones.
Having never been to the solstice celebrations we had no idea what to expect and it was bigger and better than I ever thought it would be.
The solstice is the only time access to the public is granted to the stones and you can physically touch them too. It’s such a rare opportunity to experience something so unique, usually there’s a fence and you’re kept a good distance from the stones for their protection.
An Early Start
If you want to head to the solstice celebrations you’ve got to be up well before the crack of dawn!
My Mum and some friends of ours all met up early, and she’d prepared sandwiches and flasks of tea and coffee to keep us warm.
Despite only getting a couple of hours sleep and driving up to Salisbury we were by no means the first there.
One of the biggest surprises was the sheer amount of people that were up in the middle of the night, and the fact we queued at silly o’clock in the morning.
Being so early also meant it was freezing, I had so many layers on, but I would wear even more next time!
Walk to the Stones
When the gates were opened we walked with everyone for over a mile up over the hill to the stones.
The crisp air and the walk was the perfect time to catch up about what had happened during the year and everyone’s hopes and expectations for the year ahead.
It also got lighter by the minute and I was worry we’d miss the sunrise.
Thankfully that’s when we came over the hill and saw the stones for the first time.
Once at the stones we saw the gravity and magnitude of the celebration. Hundreds of people were gathered at the stones, so we slowly made our way into the crowd.
Wandering the Stonehenge were druids, families, musicians and people dressed in costumes. There were groups leading talks and song encouraging you to join in and sing along.
There were people wearing fake horses heads, a lady with a rams skull strapped to her head, people in full on costumes, some in druids robes and others trying to do photoshoots, which is virtually impossible with so many people around.
There’s also a lot of anger toward people who disrespect the stones, standing on them and sitting on them is frowned upon and people are very vocal towards those flouting the rules.
You’ll see the people dressed in red below – they were one groups singing and leading chants and song.
Some people even had art pieces prepared and this person below would be still for ages sat on the ground and then jump up and start dancing, it surprised a lot of people!
Soon it was time to watch the sunrise and an eerie silence fell across the crowd.
I honestly don’t know how to describe it, it was so magical and the energy was contagious. There was so much energy exuding from the people and, ok you may laugh, but I definitely felt there was energy from the stones. It felt so special.
People were even encouraged to hug the stones, so naturally I obliged and once I got over feeling silly, it felt really good.
I felt connected to the environment and present in the moment, savouring time with my family and friends.
Ryan and Matthew has even thought to bring crystals with them, which you’re meant to charge with energy at Stonehenge during the solstice.
Ryan was kind enough to share his crystals, so we all stood together, charging the crystals and thinking good thoughts and dreams for 2019.
The sunrise was absolutely breathtaking, rich golden yellows, pinks and purples filled the sky.
I felt grounded. I felt positivity. I felt happy. I felt energised.
There was a real healing vibe to the circle of stones and I could definitely understand why the druids and other people hold it in such high regard.
The atmosphere was filled with a sense of community, excitement and hope.
Our walk back to the car was a chatty one and everyone felt reinvigorated like that year’s chapter had closed and a new start was just around the corner.
Why I went to Solstice
Feel free to skip this bit, it’s all about feelings and if you’re going through anything at the moment it might be a bit of a trigger, equally it might be helpful – I’ll leave that for you to decide.
But if you’re interested in why I went and the transformative effect it had on me please read on!
How I ended up going to the Winter Solstice is a bit strange really. It has been on my list and my Mum’s bucket list for years but always one of those things we both said we’d do next year and never actually got round to it.
In 2018 I needed re-setting. After great personal drama and distress it’s very hard to find a path back to feeling yourself.
I was lost. The very bedrock of my life had been shaken up and I didn’t know how to put myself right.
I won’t go into the ins and outs but, certain events had really lead me to question the constructs of my life and the behaviours of other people. I think that’s quite dangerous as when you question the very principles around life, a lot of it starts to unravel, and the injustice and inequality can become quite overwhelming.
This is when the people in your life become more than important than ever. They have the ability to suggest things you’d never consider and help you put the tiny pieces of your heart and soul back together.
My Mum, the wise being she is said ‘Darling, come to winter solstice with me, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and I think it will be good for you.’
Having a science background my inner thoughts wrestle between the spiritual and the factual. But, I love new and unique experiences and I’d wanted to go to winter solstice for years.
Turns out, as always, she was blooming right. Typical. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I came away from the morning tired out but with a new sense of perspective and really ready to welcome 2019.
I love it when you think experiences are going to be one thing but they turn out to be so much more.
I’m so grateful my Mum suggested it and it’s been something I’ve thought about often throughout 2019.
This experience really set me up for the year. And, if I get the opportunity to go again, I absolutely will.
If you’ve got any questions about solstice please pop them in the comments, I’d be happy to explain anything I’ve not covered.