Summer Solstice 2008: from the Ridgeway to Avebury

I know this is supposed to be a blog about all things PR and social media but what the hey, surely I can post the occasional personal piece. And the subject matter is kind of social media…

I got back from the summer solstice at Avebury last Saturday. I’ve been going to Avebury for the summer solstice for over ten years now, and I’m still recoving from this year’s solstice while typing this!

This year, thanks to the miracles of modern tech, I was able to capture a fair amount of the goings-on with my trusty Sony Ericsson mobile phone, then stitch it together using Windows Movie Maker. You can see the results below: it’s a tale of two parts, with the first being our 40-mile walk along the Ridgeway over three days, and the second being the shenanigans at Avebury itself, throughout the day and ensuing night, through to the solstice dawn.

Post-edit: YouTube is a bit borked currently. If the link above tells you the video is no longer available – which it most definitely is – then try just going to YouTube instead. If that doesn’t work then try using the funny &fmt=18 extension which sometimes magically makes things work. And if that doesn’t work then complain to YouTube. And I might just find somewhere else to put this in the meantime.

Post-post edit: It’s now on Vimeo too – http://www.vimeo.com/1236557

Post-post-post edit: It’s also now on DailyMotion – http://www.dailymotion.com/BrendanCooper/video/9961901

But why? It all started when I was walking the Ridgeway (the prehistoric path from Ivinghoe Beacon to Avebury) with a friend, who suggested we take a look around the stone circle and village. I had no idea about it but – blow me down with a feather – I actually recognised it from the very scary BBC TV children’s series ‘Children of the Stones’, which was filmed there. I cannot describe what a strange feeling it was, ‘remembering’ somewhere I’d never been, from images I’d seen as a child, especially given that it’s such a strange place anyway. A few months later I went to my first summer solstice and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Eleven years on and, apart from every summer solstice and a few winter ones, I must have visited Avebury on dozens of occasions. I’ve walked all around the area, seen Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill, the West Kennet and East Kennet Longbarrows, the roundbarrows on the Ridgeway, the Sanctuary, the Swallowhead, the Avenue, and the Tolkien Trees (and, of course, the Stones). If you want to know about any of these things, look them up on Google. Together they form the neolithic metropolis of the Avebury area which, since 1986, has been a designated World Heritage site.

Again, why? Because the whole area is just bizarre. There’s nothing like it. The stone circle is so large that the village is inside it. Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe, equalling some of the smaller Giza pyramids in size. West Kennet Longbarrow is the largest of its kind in Western Europe. As the antiquarian Aubrey said, Avebury “doth as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge, as a cathedral doth a parish church.”

No, really why? Well, because there’s a pub there. In fact, the pub is in the village and the village is inside the stone circle, so that makes it the only pub inside a stone circle. It’s much more conducive to a good time than Stonehenge.

And why the solstice? Literally it means ‘sun still’, that is, the sun slowly rises higher in its path across the sky until the longest day of the year (June 21st), at which it seems to stop rising, then declines through the next six months to the shortest day – the winter solstice – on December 21st. The solstice is basically a pagan festival but it has its roots much further back. Both Stonehenge and Avebury might have been aligned around them.

But what really matters is that you can go there and just enjoy a brilliant day out in summer. You can watch the druids worship because you’re not kept out like at Stonehenge, so long as you watch from a respectful distance. As the day progresses you see all manner of things going on, from slightly naff Morris dancing to amazing drumming, fire juggling, firebreathing etc.

You can be as lairy or laid-back as you like. Drink the pub dry or have a picnic at the foot of a stone. Stay awake all night to see the sun rise, or fall asleep in the long grass around the henge. It doesn’t matter. Main thing is, it’s probably the most unique way to spend a summer’s day, for free, and I recommend that anyone and everyone do it at least once.

I also feel quite strongly that everyone can go there for their own reasons, and that this is essentially what people have been doing for thousands of years. I’m sure that people would gather there not just for the religious ceremonies, but to meet, exchange information, be entertained and so on. So by going there I am continuing a tradition that is as relevant today as ever.

I’ll certainly be there again next year. So if you fancy meeting up for a nice frothy pint at a trestle table next June, let me know! Alternatively if you just want to go and see the place, do it. It’s amazing at any time of the year.

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4 thoughts on “Summer Solstice 2008: from the Ridgeway to Avebury

  1. “YouTube is a bit borked currently” No kidding. No I can’t view through any of the ways you suggested and of course, this is not the first time I’ve been having problems recently. Now I know I should switch to Firefox or Mozilla and I’d be able to view it, but why should I????

    Sorry – rant over.

  2. —8< snip 8<—-

    I cannot describe what a strange feeling it was, ‘remembering’ somewhere I’d never been, from images I’d seen as a child, especially given that it’s such a strange place anyway.

    —8< snip 8<—-

    Just back from New York; that’s how I felt the first time I went. And if you ever go to Zermatt in Switzerland it’s totally like the old packaging for the Familia muesli I used to eat as a kid (http://www.internaturalfoods.com/Familia/Familia.html – but I reckon it would’t be the same).

    However, I kinda grew up around the Hampshire/Wiltshire borders, so Avebury’s just normal (if you also grew up eating swiss muesli, and watching Woody Allen films, that is.)

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