It was the morning of the 21st of December, the shortest day of the year. We woke very early, breakfasted, and drove out towards the Stonehenge monument site. The solstice is a special day at Stonehenge, and to this day ceremonies are performed at sunrise to mark the midwinter. Unlike much of the rest of the year, on the solstice, entrance to the monument is free, and you are permitted to walk around and inside the stone circle, rather than just around the edge.
At first, the event seemed well planned. All along the highway were cones out indicating “no parking”. We turned off towards the entrance, but at the roundabout which goes in towards the monument, we were ushered instead up the road further. Here, we joined a very long line of cars, which were slowly making their way into a make-shift car park a few miles from the entrance to the site (which itself is a mile or so from the monument). When we arrived, a bus was just leaving which was ferrying people to the site. We payed our car-parking fee, and joined the queue for the bus. However, a bus was not coming: it was caught in the long line of traffic trying to park. We waited for what seemed an age, but eventually a bus did arrive. By the time it had, the bus queue had formed a long way behind us. We were the last of our group to be let onto that bus, those behind us would have to wait even longer.
The rational thing would have been to have the bus drive all of the way to the monument, but instead it only dropped us at the site entrance, where we would have to transfer to a second bus to get to the monument itself. This too meant a while in the queue: as one bus loaded, a second stood behind it idle when it could have been filling up with passengers as well.
It was at this time, that Dad got a little distracted. He had received a short message from my brother Tim (who was still at home) saying that our bull had fallen off a cliff, rolled across the road, broken a fence and fallen down a second cliff, badly injuring itself. He was desperately trying to get information, as to whether it should be kept alive or put down, but Tim was out attending to the animal and could not reply. After many anxious minutes, the word came through that it would be put down.
Eventually, about a quarter of an hour before the sunrise, we got our first glimpse of the monument itself, its tall stones surrounded by hundreds of people. Some were like us, here to see the spectacle. Others were druids or pagans, in varying degrees of attire. Of those, some wore robes and cloaks, brandished staves, but many had drums or other instruments which they were playing joyously. We arrived just in time to hear the speech of the lead druid, calling for peace in all four corners of the globe.
From there, we wandered around the monument for a good hour or two. In part, we were admiring the structure itself; and postulating how it was constructed those millennia ago. But we were also watching the people. Druids and pagans aren’t groups one normally meets in day-to-day life (at least not openly), let alone in large numbers. But here, there was singing and chanting all around. Of the more organised, a group of them all dressed in red commandeered the centre of the stone circle and started organised singing, and brought a lot of the crowd with them. Others stood in groups beating the drums, in circles singing, or rested their heads against the stones with their eyes closed.
By the time it was all nearly over and we were about to go, we got an extra treat. The clouds broke, and the sun shone through. We raced back to the circle, and saw the sun shine through a slit between stones in the inner circle onto the centre of the monument. This was a special moment; something we had all come to see. Photos completed, we walked back to the entrance of the site (opting not to take the first bus back), but still rode the second bus back to our car. From there, we negotiated the traffic to the nearby city of Salisbury. We parked at the railway station. Here, I bid farewell to my parents. They would go the next few days on their own. I took a train back to Cambridge, via London (and a quick trip on the Underground). At this point, I realised that I had neglected to leave a bike at the train station, so had to make the long walk home.
Whilst I was on the train, my parents toured Salisbury, in particular Salisbury Cathedral and their copy of Magna Carta. Over the next two days, they journeyed to Bath and then the Cotswalds (in particular, the town of Painswick). I stayed home and, among other things, unpacked and serviced my road bike, which my parents had kindly brought for me from home. To do so, I went out and bought a bike work stand, which I carried home precariously balanced on the rear of my bike. That means I now am running two bikes in Cambridge. One is for my day-to-day commuting; it is heavier but has full mudguards, panniers for carrying things and flat pedals so I can wear normal shoes. The other is for longer rides out of town. It is significantly lighter and runs bigger gears, so I can go much faster.