Eve of the Summer Solstice
Posted on 2021/07/03 11:09:25 (July 2021).
[Sunday 20th June 2021]
It hadn't been clear whether my planned trip to Avebury for the summer solstice this year was going to be able to go ahead, and right up to the day there was messaging from the authorities which appeared to be trying to discourage people from going, although not at any point outright forbidding it. If I've learnt anything from the last year and a bit it's that when presented with this kind of situation you've really just got to grasp the nettle and get on with it, or else you'll end up never doing anything ever.
I'd decided to drive to Avebury, and was going to give Andrew a lift, and after some discussion about where I was going to pick him up we oddly settled on Belgravia. Perhaps not a very mystical / atavistic spot to set off from on a quest of this nature, but it was easy for him to get to by train, it would be easy from there to get to the M4 in the car, and had the added benefits we could have a nice lunch before we set off, and I could bring the girls along who then later on went to visit a friend nearby. All the Olivo restaurants were fully booked so we instead went to Noura, which was a bit of a disappointment for Erika who had her heart set on the Culurgiones (Sardinian pasta) at one of the Olivo restaurant, but I had been really missing Lebanese food, and everything today was just as good as I remembered it. We ordered a huge number of mezze, which seemed like far too much food to begin with, but we did our best to get through pretty much all of it, and it was probably a good thing that we had a big lunch as Andrew and I ultimately didn't have any dinner.
After lunch I dropped Chie and Erika off at their friends place nearby, and then we drove from there to Avebury. There was a diversion or two to deal with, so it was just after 5pm when I dropped Andrew off at his lodging in Compton Basset, with a plan for us to meet in Avebury.
I checked in at my lodgings for the night, a bit closer to Avebury in East Kennet, and then had a very pleasant walk, despite the rather disappointing grey weather, from there to Avebury. A route I was already partially familiar with having covered this on my walk from Pewsey to Avebury last September. This took me along the stone avenue to the south of Avebury, which always feels like a great way to arrive at the stone circle.
So I was at Avebury by 6:30, in plenty of time for the sunset, not due until 9:30. It was really quiet when I first arrived, and you'd hardly have known anything was happening were it not for all the traffic cones, and the police and security guards dotted around. On my walk to Avebury I'd heard music coming from up on the Ridgeway, where a large number of vans were parked, and I suspect the real party would be there, a little away from "civilisation", where to some extent the authorities would just leave them to it.
People did start to arrive in dribs and drabs though, and there was at least one group of people dancing and doing acrobatics, twirling sticks etc down in the field below us.
Andrew had brought along a couple of new camp chairs he'd brought, which were the target of some gentle ribbing from some passing solstice attendees, who opined that it didn't seem to be in the spirit of the event, and we ought to be communing with nature and so forth. I did sort of see their point, and although I initially found the chair to be comfortable, at one point I leaned ever so slightly over to one side and ended up tipping the chair over and spilling half a glass of red wine (yes it had to be the red at that point) on my white shirt. It looked a little bit like I'd just taken part in a ritual sacrifice actually. Anyway that made up my mind about the camp chairs and next time I'll definitely just sit on the ground.
There were also a couple of comments about my tweed suit which surprised me, again one or two people seemed to think it wasn't in the spirit of the event, but I had just assumed the attendees collectively would be anarchic and unjudgemental, accepting of anything and everything. I had got into the habit of wearing that particular tweed suit for much of my walk along the Ridgeway and so somehow it seemed appropriate to be back in it again now here at Avebury. Plus the fact it was ended up quite chilly this evening, so despite it nominally being the summer solstice I was pleased to have it. I suppose for some people a suit is just symbolic of mainstream corporate life and authority, regardless of the cloth it is made from, and again I do kind of see their point. Perhaps for next time I might investigate some slightly more new age friendly attire.
Not all of the passers by had issues with our camp chairs and/or my unusual choice of clothing, and several people stopped to chat during the course of the evening, which was really nice. We had a long chat with a couple of guys called Paddy and Jim, who were very affable, and later on I shared some of the Sauternes (good old Lafaurie Peyraguey) I'd brought along with an older chap, on the basis it was a bit like mead, and therefore tenuously appropriate. Which I suppose it was actually.
I also really liked the "happy solstice!" greetings from passers by.
The actual moment of the sunset was rather a non-event, some time around 9:30 I believe, but the sky remained persistently grey throughout, and we didn't really even get a glimpse of the sun. There was a bit of half hearted cheering at some point around 9:30 - I assume people were just going by their watches / phones... but perhaps it didn't really matter in the end. It was really nice just being there, whether there was a visual spectacle to behold or not.
I had half imagined people might just start to disperse as it got dark, but probably the opposite was true, and there was a bit more of the spinning things around (including now flaming torches being twirled around on sticks / ropes) and drumming etc. So that kept the atmosphere going, which was good.
It was getting a bit cold though, and eventually we decided we should perhaps head to the pub for last orders to warm up a bit.
Some time after that Andrew headed off back to his lodgings (for a scary ride in the dark) but I lingered on a bit longer, just sat in the field enjoying the atmosphere and watching the fire twirling etc.
Then eventually, a little before midnight, I started to make my way back to my accommodation. The walk back down the stone avenue was rather magical in the dark, and I no longer felt cold once I got moving a bit.
Rather than just heading straight back to East Kennet I diverted to the Ridgeway, interested to see what the encampment of vans was like. This was hugely atmospheric and kind of other worldly. There was no big central gathering I could see, just lots of little groups in various places, then darkness between them. This felt a bit like a dream in hindsight: it was at a time I might normally have been asleep, it was so dark and I had only occasional short bursts of faint images lit by torches or firelight... But more so that it just didn't really feel like something I could easily fit into the normal boring view of modern life. It was like having a brief glimpse of some other hidden society.
I wish now I hadn't booked accommodation, and hadn't planned to drive back to London the next day - but had instead been a bit braver and just planned to sleep in a field somewhere. I'm sure nobody would have noticed, and even if I had a bad night's sleep it wouldn't matter so much. It really felt like I wasn't getting into the spirit of it (once again) by going and sleeping indoors in a proper bed in a proper house, and that also meant I ultimately didn't get up at 4am to watch the sunrise (not that there would have been much to see given the weather), whereas if I had just been sleeping in a bivvy bag in a field getting up at 4 would have seemed much less of a wrench.
Anyway, as it was after my late night stumble in the dark I eventually made it back around 1am. Fortunately my room had its own private entrance, so I don't think I disturbed the owners or any of the other residents.
See also John Goes for a Walk, even though I didn't really do much walking.
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