There were more than 20,000 pilgrims packed around ancient Stonehenge for the 2004 summer solstice. Among them were witches, druids, new age healers… and Hamilton journalist Russell Joyce. He reports from the scene.
“Two young fairies run round the outside, round the outside,” sing two young women, with wreaths in their hair and beer cans in their hands. They disappear into the darkness, trying to make it around Stonehenge in the few minutes remaining before solstice sunrise.
Nearby a low rumble starts up from a pair of didgeridoos, while a makeshift band gets the crowd joining in with “what we need is a great big melting pot”.
The air is thick with the aroma of marijuana, but the police and security guards keep a low-key presence. Many of those in the crowd are stoned, drunk, wrapped in blankets in the chill predawn, but everyone is mellow.
As I stand taking in the scene, an inebriated reveller falls heavily against my teenage son, bounces off me and staggers upright again. “Thanks for helping me stay up,” he grins, before staggering off into the night.
The stone circle, normally roped off by the English Heritage organisation which maintains the world heritage site, has today been specially opened to the public for the 2004 summer solstice. But the crowd inside the standing stones is packed so tight there is no way we are going to get right inside, so we wander around the perimeter, taking in the scene.
There, in front of the stones, is a middle-aged woman in a white robe, leaves in her hair, staff in her hand, waiting for the sun’s first rays to touch her. Another magic-lover takes a more modern approach — winding blinking Christmas lights around the end of a staff and holding it aloft.
They are unlikely to be interested in hearing that Druidism has very tenuous links with the site, which archaeologists estimate was built about 5000 years ago. It was probably abandoned centuries before the first Druids held their rituals — and even then they preferred to practise their religion in natural springs or groves, rather than in man-made structures.
No, historical debates are far from the minds of today’s revellers, who have gathered to greet the midsummer sunrise. Everywhere there are dreadlocks, ponchos and crystals. Druids and witches (it is hard to tell the difference) mingle with the hippies, while amateur photographers jostle with the Press for the best positions before the sun comes up.
Some see the sunrise much earlier, by scrambling up on to stones in the inner circle. But they are prepared to share their advantage, taking snapshots on cameras handed up from the crowd below. Eventually, the sun creeps high enough out of the mist for everyone to see and there is a moment’s appreciative silence before the drums start up again.
Between the drum-beats, I can hear a mildly irritating rattling noise on my left. Ah, it’s a didgeridoo man, now murmuring what sounds like a Native American chant while shaking a maraca. Talk about mixing your spiritual symbolism. This guy has it all covered.