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Celebrating the Solstice at Stonehenge

Celebrating the Solstice at Stonehenge

In the predawn darkness, a procession of druid priests in white robes carry banners by the monoliths of Stonehenge, the ancient British archaeological site. There is an aroma of burning sage; a bagpipe calls in the distance. As dawn approaches, fever-pitched drumming mounts. If you hadn’t already felt the power in the stones at this summer solstice celebration, there is no denying the physical vibration as the sun rises in alignment with the stone circle.

Most of the time, visiting Stonehenge — which is owned by the British crown and managed by English Heritage, a nonprofit that oversees more than 400 of the country’s historic sites — requires purchasing tickets and keeping far away from the stones, which are normally cordoned off by ropes. But since 2000, four times a year, on the solstices and equinoxes, the ropes come down and visitors are invited to wander the stone circle, staying overnight and past sunrise if they wish.

On Thursday, to mark this year’s summer solstice, the monument opened at 7 p.m., as visitors began arriving on shuttle buses from nearby Salisbury, a trip that took most of an hour in traffic. The rules were strict: Blankets for picnics and warmth are allowed, but no camping equipment or chairs. Snacks are OK. Alcohol is prohibited.

The crowd ebbed and flowed, with an evening wave of tourists who came to picnic, then left before nightfall. People staying overnight faced evening temperatures of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit without shelter. Those who stayed drummed, chanted and communed with the stones, which were lit by a nearly full moon and purple floodlights. Flower crowns topped many heads. The intensity built through the night and picked up with faster drumming and chanting when the sky lightened just before 4 a.m.

There were also food trucks offering wood-fired pizzas, loaded fries, curries and doughnuts, and a merch tent for souvenirs.

Arthur Pendragon, 70, a modern-day druid (the ancient druids were Celtic priests), wore white robes with an embroidered red dragon, chunky silver rings and a silver dragon crown. He called the stones “a cathedral.” Charlotte Pulver, 45, an apothecary from Hastings who specializes in natural remedies, has been coming to the site for 12 years. She said it feels “special to gather in community to honor these tides and alignments of the earth.” Some American tourists in the U.K. to see Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour had “decided to swing by.” In all, about 15,000 people visited.


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