Solstice, Stonehenge

Friday 22 June (2007)


The summer solstice at Stonehenge is one of those really cool things that we all know about, and actually going there and experiencing it is a surreal, magical experience. I have no druidic beliefs and I don’t see Stonehenge as a place of worship, but man… it’s a hell of a good place for a party.

Getting there was easy enough on the train, and cheap too, so by nine o’clock on Wednesday evening I found myself sitting a few feet away from the stones themselves. Sally and I had brought some beer and I had a bit of rum, but before the first hour was up fate deigned to bestow a gift upon me in the form of a little brown bottle of liquid, and for five pounds I found myself back in Lucy’s company for the first time in – well, too long.

This caused deep reflection throughout the night. The history of summer partying at Stonehenge is torrid – the mixture of hippie ethos drugfest raves and ‘World Heritage Site’ is not the most stable, and in 1985 the whole thing exploded with the infamous Battle of the Beanfield. Since then festivals at the site have been banned, and it was only in 1999 that access to the stones was again allowed for the solstice. This was presumably the result of pressure from actual Druids who see Stonehenge as an important religious site, but the majority of the people who turned up were like me and just looking for some free-spirited fun.

In fact it seemed exactly like I always imagined the Stonehenge Free Festival was like – lots of drug people having a party a la 1960s; free entry, total acceptance of substance use, live music and a very positive atmosphere. I didn’t see the police arrest anyone despite the copious clouds of marijuana smoke (I think just standing in the centre circle was enough to get high) but when the stewards grabbed the ankle of a reveller trying to mount one of the stones and yanked him down to the ground hard, we were surrounded by angry cheers of disapproval from the crowd. It nearly kicked off as they dragged the guy away; a couple of skinheads got very angry about it. I felt like these guys were amongst the original partygoers twenty years ago, still getting the shit kicked out of them by the man – fascist-like Thatcherites who stand for everything that these people hate; consumerism, capitalism, anti-drug, anti-fun.

It seemed like so much defiance. Here we were, two decades later, finally allowed back on Salisbury Plain and having the time of our lives. There was so much in place to try and restrict the fun – no camping equipment allowed, no sleeping bags, no large rucksacks, no amplified music – a real ‘Go on then, have your party, if you can’ sentiment that was totally trounced by the people who were there. All we had was a field, a couple dozen portaloos, and some large stones. But that was all we needed, as the sound of acoustic instruments filled the air and the sheer energy of the participants kept everyone awake.

Of course, this was my first trip to Stonehenge and all these things I was thinking were a combination of my nostalgic nature and the powerful drug, but it was good fun at the time. I was essentially a non-particpant in every capacity except my very presence – but even just standing in the centre circle at two in the morning was a completely primal experience. In the dark to the beat of the drums and the throng of the crowd it was celebration of the most ancient kind; awaiting the rise of the sun. In my kaleidoscope eyes the crowd were performing all the rituals my imagination could come up with for such a prehistoric place – they were making human sacrifices; they were dancing to celebrate a harvest, they were praying for the souls of dead relatives – and with the light bouncing up and off the warping stones, away up into the starry night sky, all I could do was hold onto Sally for dear life as she danced; a childish grin plastered on my face and my mind racing.

It was an incredible experience, but after a while I think the rush became too strong. I asked Sally to take me away from the centre to see what else was happening, and looking down at my hand it was clear I still had a bit of juice left in the trip.

acid hand
(this image is an edited combination of three different images, used without permission)

We walked for hours – a group doing performance poetry here, hip-hop druids rapping there, just tasting everything. These guys had just shown up and with nothing more than what they could carry in their hands they were entertaining hundreds of people. It felt good – it felt liberating and bohemian and genuine, unlike most modern festivals with their sponsors and their sell-out headliners.

I tripped a while sat beside one of the fires situated around the perimeter, listening to Syd Barrett and Iron Butterfly whilst Sally made me laugh at silly things like the number 12, and fire kept in cages. And eventually I came down, just in time to see the sunrise – albeit obscured by clouds – and we decided to go home.

We had to wait a while for a train back, so we wandered into the town centre, to Salisbury Cathedral. The building was magnificent; the after-effects of the acid causing the numerous effigies of Saints and Bishops to look at me with amusing expressions and imperceptable movements. Sat alone inside the courtyard, it occurred to me that really, this building was more of an achievement than Stonehenge is. It was kind of absurd.

Ah, what fun. I will definitely be going back again! And so should you.


4 Responses to “Solstice, Stonehenge”

  1. Griselle Says:

    Enjoyed reading your experience.

    We don’t celebrate anything similar in the States, so, every year I go online looking for pictures and news of the solstice and Glastonbury festival. Stonehenge has always fascinated me. It’s been my computer screensaver on and off, only now I’m in the picture!

    I saw Stonehenge in 05 while on vacation and it was a few days before solstice. Have some nice pictures.

    Wish I could have been there!

  2. james Says:

    Tones*, you are such a fucking hippy. Sometimes it sickens me. Although secretly, I would have quite liked to have been there. 🙂

    *I know you’ve shed this nickname, but it stays in my mind – and I reckon it’s definitely better than “LT” or “elTee”. But that may be just me, as I call my flatmates “Slippers” and “Pockets” when international drinking rules are in effect. I’ll shut up now.

  3. stan Says:

    You should definitely go. It’s not so much of a drugfest as I made it sound, although pretty much everyone had beer at least (and I know you like getting stoned just as much as I do.) It’s a good atmosphere! But it got really cold in the morning after we left the centre-circle – the body heat there kind of masked the real temperature. And I’d be tempted not to go if heavy rain was forecast – but then, it was supposed to rain when we were there. I suppose we just got lucky 😀

    And thrik et al. still call me Tones – but I don’t mind. Slippers and Pockets, though…?

  4. Jose Luis G. Soler Says:

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    Discussions on Entheogens and the Planetary Shift:

    The Wasson Thesis and the Religious View of Nature
    The Psychonautic Adventure – Three Generations of Discovery
    The Organic Light and Telestic Shamanism
    The Planetary Shift – Society or the Species

    Please listen and give us feedback,
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    Jose Luis G. Soler
    Production Assistant

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