Survival Guide to the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Yes I am aware that Stonehenge is not in Cornwall. However firstly I had such a wonderful experience that I wanted to share it and secondly I could find out very little information about the proceedings before I went so I thought that anyone thinking of going another year might like to read my top tips!

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So this is it – the season has rolled round again and we are now heading towards Autumn and ultimately Winter. Not the best thought when we are all just getting used to the sun on our shoulders and the sand between our Cornish toes.

This solstice the beautiful weather meant that the longer days leading up to the 21st seemed even longer than usual. On the spur of the moment we decided to go and watch the sunrise over the stones of England’s most iconic ancient site.

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We drove up from Cornwall the day before and joined an estimated 13,000 people for this special event. English Heritage’s information about the arrangements had not been too clear but we knew we could park there over night. I had rung and spoken to one of their advisors who was very helpful but couldn’t really answer all my questions as he had never been to the event himself.

It was a really wonderful experience and I am so glad that I took the time and trouble to do it.

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The real highlight for me and something that I will always hold dear was being able to walk amongst and touch the stones, it was magical, especially leaning against them in the first light of the longest day and feeling the warmth coming from them from yesterdays sun. But this post is about the practicalities, as I said I found it really hard to get information, so here it is:

  • This is a free event. From 7pm solstice eve to 8am Solstice day there is no entrance charge to Stonehenge but if you bring a car/van you pay £15 to park overnight. (£5 for a motorbike.)
  • There are strict rules on entrance to the stones. No tents, no sleeping bags, no campfires, no drugs, no alcohol, no large bags and they do search you on the way into to the site. You can take blankets/yoga mat to sit on.
  • If you have a camper bring it, if you are in a car be prepared you have 3 choices: a) you can stay up all night, b) you can sleep on a blanket near to the stones or c) you can sleep in your car, (there is no camping/sleeping on the ground in the carpark).
  • The car park is very large but once its full its full.

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  • Do bring plenty of water, food and warm clothes (just in case). There is one drinking water stand pipe for everyone and it is a long way from the car park.
  • There are buses through the night Amesbury.
  • Don’t forget a torch, ear plugs (if you are planning on sleeping!), in car-chargers for phones etc or spare batteries and toilet paper, there are plenty of porta loos but with 13,000 people . . .
  • The stones are about 3/4 mile walk from the car park but there is disabled parking near the visitor centre and a small bus runs from there.
  • This was a really chilled event, everyone just happy to be there so alcohol wasn’t something I missed, however although there was a very strict policy for around the stones I did see people drinking in the car park so if you need a night cap have it there.

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  • There is limited food and hot drinks (some vegan & veggie) available from a handful of vans that stay open all night.
  • This felt a very safe event, there were police doing spot checks on cars arriving, bag checks and metal detectors and also a lot of security looking out for everyone and protecting the stones from over enthusiastic revellers.
  • Don’t be put of thinking you have to be a hippy or a druid. This event attracts a really diverse crowd, young and old, pagan and professional and I also saw lots of children. This is about celebrating life!
  • If you go with someone make a plan for when you loose each other – makes sure children have a mobile number written down or have an agreed meeting place.

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  • Above all don’t forget to set your alarm: we left our car at 3.50am and with the big crowd all trying to get through the security if took around 45mins to get into the stones.
  • Enjoy it! It really is a blessing to experience these magnificent stones at such a wonderful moment!

Take a Trip to Looe Island

It seems to me that there is nothing quite as romantic as living on your own private island. Looe Island lies just one mile off the Cornish coast but feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the busy summer seaside towns nearby.  It is home to a breath-taking range of wildlife and 2 very lucky people!

The Moonraker boat takes us the short journey from Buller Quay in East Looe to the makeshift landing point on the white shingle beach of the island. As our small party of 8 people jumps ashore we are greeted by Claire Lewis and her partner Jon Ross.  The pair have been wardens on the island for 9 years, “When the job came up in 2008 we were the lucky ones who got it” Claire laughs as she gives us a quick guide to the “dos and don’t” of the island.

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These days access to Looe Island (also known as St George’s Island) is carefully managed for the benefit and protection of the wildlife there but it does have a long history of human habitation dating back to the Iron Age too. Looe Island was also once a site of Christian pilgrimage and then a haven for smugglers. In the 19th century the Finn family lived there and according to local legend survived on a diet of rabbits and rats.

Then in 1965 the island was bought by Babs and Evelyn Atkins.  These two remarkable sisters lived alone on the island into their 80s and wrote 2 books about it – We Bought an Island and Tales from a Cornish Island. After their deaths they donated it to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to be cared for as a nature reserve.

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Looe Island is roughly 22 acres and only about a mile around but the diversity of the habitats – from grassland to sandy beaches, woodlands to coastal cliffs – makes it a unique haven for a wide range of wildlife.  Around 20 species of butterfly have been spotted, as well as bats, numerous woodland birds and, according to Claire, a plague of slugs and snails of near biblical proportions. The island database also records more than 100 individually named grey seals, some which return to the island year after year to breed. But it was the huge numbers of sea birds that really delighted me!

I have never seen so many Cormorants and Shags in one places! They were everywhere on the rocks and cliff-sides, preening themselves and drying their wings in the sunshine. The island also has the largest colony of Great Black-backed Gulls in Cornwall.

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From the shelter of the Bird Hide on the seaward side of the island we watched a bird that I am not sure I have ever seen before. The wildly acrobatic Fulmars, who wheeling about the sky and out across the sea before landing on their precipitous nesting sites high in the cliff face.

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But the absolute highlight for me was the Oystercatchers. These stocky little characters are black and white with red legs and bills and bright red eyes.  They nest on the ground, which makes them very vulnerable to predation, but on the island where (perhaps thanks to the Finn family but more likely CWT) there appears to be no mammals apart from the Herbridean sheep and the seals, they are thriving. Seeing a nest with two very well camouflaged chicks really was wonderful.

I already know that visiting Looe Island is going to be one of the highlights of my summer. It was very affordable (£7 return on the boat, £4 landing fee) and because of the limited access and restrictions on visitor numbers it feels very special to be there.

Claire and Jon saw us all safely back on the boat, there were no more visitors coming that day and as we sailed away, with them waving from the shore, I felt a pang of jealousy.

Landing on the island is very much dependent on the tides being just right – you can see a rough timetable here but this is often subject to change.

For more tales of the coast try: The Raising of Logan Rock or Crantock’s hidden rock carvings & a name for a mystery lady or Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah