Avebury Winter Solstice

It's perhaps a bit tenuous to include this post on this blog, as I didn't really do much of a walk, other than back and forth around the stones to keep warm! However it was a bit of an adventure, and somehow that feels in keeping with the other outings detailed here.

I'd really enjoyed attending the summer solstice at Avebury (when I did fit in a proper walk) earlier in the year, and had been mulling over the idea of going back for the winter solstice, and actually catching the sunrise rather than the sunset this time. I assumed at the last minute I'd be put off by the thought of the cold, or the faff of getting there, but to my surprise when it came to it I was actually still very keen.

So I had stayed the night before in a hotel in Swindon (the winter solstice fell on a Sunday this year, and the first train out of Paddington in the morning would have been far too late!), and booked a 6AM taxi to get me out to Avebury. I was in Avebury by 6:30AM, and there was hardly anyone else there!

It was still almost completely dark when I arrived in Avebury, the only illumination being the fairly minimal lighting from the houses in the village, and occasional glimpses of moonlight through the clouds. I instinctively aimed for the same ridge, towards the south of the outer stone circle, where we had watched the sunset at the summer solstice.

I was a little concerned at the lack of people, but assumed they would start to arrive as the sunrise got closer - it wasn't scheduled until 8:11AM. I took advantage of the extra time to go for a stroll in the dark some way along the "Stone Avenue" which leads south east from the outer stone circle. This was particularly atmospheric, and I tried my best given the challenging lighting to get a picture which captured some of the atmosphere. I think the one above has a particularly primal feel to it.

Reassuringly, by about 7:30, people did start to arrive, and most of them gravitated towards the ridge at the south east of the outer circle, which seemed to offer the best view of the sunrise. So I too mostly stood on or near to there for the next hour to watch the dawn unfold.

It had seemed more cloudy when I'd first arrived (although of course hard to tell for sure given how dark it was!) but wonderfully the clouds seemed to mostly dissipate for the duration of the sunrise. It was also a fairly mild morning for the time of year.

 I took quite a lot of very similar photos in the end, I really liked the effect of the silhouettes of all the onlookers, along with the trees and the stones themselves.

It was almost as interesting to observe the other attendees as it was to watch the spectacle of the sunrise itself. Why were they all here? (Why was I here for that matter?) Some people gave the impression from the way they dressed that they had some Neopagan affiliation, others perhaps of a New Age inclination, but many were just fairly ordinary looking people who wouldn't have looked out of place in the aisles of a supermarket.

In hindsight, I wish I had struck up a conversation with some of my fellow solstice observers. Somehow (probably because of the dark and the cold) people didn't seem quite as open to random chats with strangers as they had at the summer solstice, and I didn't want to intrude... but it would have been nice to know what motivated some of the other people to be there.

Although sunrise was billed at 8:11AM, it wasn't really until closer to 8:30AM that I saw the sun in its full glory - possibly down to the position I'd chosen to stand in.

For just a minute or two there was a particularly intense golden light from the sun, and I hope I've captured some of that moment in the picture above. I'm particularly pleased with the way the rays of the sun fan out across the grass.

Many of the attendees then headed for breakfast. The queue of Wiccans and Pagans waiting to buy tea and bacon rolls in a National Trust cafe made for a slightly surreal end to the event.

I didn't linger long at the cafe, but by the time I got back out to the stone circle, just before 9, it seemed a very different landscape. The brilliant golden light of the sunrise had all gone, the skies were grey, cloudy and rather lifeless. People quickly dissipated and went off their separate ways, and the sheep once more regained control of the fields around the village.