[Monday 20th June 2022]
Going to Avebury for the summer solstice (and indeed the winter solstice) seems to have become a firm annual fixture for me now, and despite the sub-optimal timing of it this year (Monday night to Tuesday morning) and a threat of a rail strike, I was still determined to be there for it.
Although I nominally went with Andrew (like last year, and 2019), we decided in the end given our differing work commitments it would be easier to each make our own way there and back. I arrived around 4:30, a good couple of hours before Andrew, and in hindsight should probably have tried to build in more of a walk, but as it was I ended up just wandering around the vicinity of Avebury. It was quite a warm day, and I was keen to spend as much time as possible in the shade.
Andrew arrived some time around 7, and we took up our usual position somewhere on the embankment to the south of the village, near where the West Kennet Avenue arrives at. This gives a good vantage point for watching the setting sun, as well as a commanding view of whatever the other attendees are doing in amongst the stones in the field below.
We pretty much just sat there for the next four hours or so, drinking wine, engaging in the usual banter, and watching the scene before us. The sun set arround 9:30 and it was a pretty decent one I suppose - take a look at the photos and you can judge for yourself. Certainly a lot better than last year, when there was nothing to see but grey skies.
I'm not sure we did quite as well with the random chats with strangers this year though. There was a group sitting in front of us - and one guy from that group occasionally made some polite conversation with us, but to be honest something about him rubbed me up the wrong way a bit, and I'd rather he hadn't bothered.
Andrew headed back to his lodgings (a couple of miles outside Avebury) some time around 11, can't really remember exactly when, and at that point I went and sat amongst the stones with the majority of the other people, watching the fire jugglers etc. The group who had been sitting in front of us on the embankment had randomly left a large bunch of bananas behind, so I distributed these among random strangers. This seemed to provoke some confused responses - "Are you a politician?" one young woman asked. No, I just didn't want to carry that surprisingly heavy bunch of bananas around.
Eventually I decided it was time to go and find a quiet spot to lie down for a few hours, planning as I was to be up again for sunrise. I had brought along a bivvy bag and a (very thin) sleeping bag, so as long as I wasn't getting under anyone's feet I could go pretty much anywhere. Once I'd found a quiet spot out of the way a bit, I attempted to do a bit of night photography, and some night lapse videos on my GoPro, but neither were particularly successful.
I think I did actually get at least a tiny bit of sleep, perhaps at most 2 hours, and just after 4am I woke up to find it was suddenly practically daylight. So I got all my things together and headed back to the stone circles to watch the sunrise.
It was quite a nice sunrise, but slightly marred by the fact that while it was happening I got trapped in a conversation I didn't really want to have with a somewhat grizzly old guy, one of those people where you feel they're constantly teetering on the brink of losing their temper. So I then had to spend far longer than I wanted to disabusing him of all the preconceived notions he had about me just because I happened to be wearing a tweed suit. Perhaps I will invest in some more incognito attire if I go again next year. I would much rather have spent that hour watching the sunrise in quiet introspection.
I have rather mixed feelings about this year's summer solstice overall then. Last year I definitely had the sense of having chickened out by booking a bed and breakfast rather than just staying up all night (or trying to wild camp somewhere in the vicinity). Sleeping in a comfortable bed, and having the prospect of having to drive back to London last year, had meant I just couldn't be bothered to get up for the sunrise last year. So I definitely did a better job of that this year - I was there for both sunset and sunrise, and successfully slept in some random patch of grass. Well if you can call that "slept", it was more of a late night power nap really.
Also this year the weather was undoubtedly far better than last year. Warm, summery, and clear skies - I really couldn't have asked for more.
All of that said, I still have this sense it sort of lacked something this year. It's hard to put my finger on what. I think it was probably that sense of atavism. The late night walk I had done last year, along West Kennet Avenue, and then through the shanty town of vans (vanty town?) on the Ridgeway had felt really magical and other worldly. This year I didn't stray far from Avebury itself, so I suppose I never got that far from the crowds (and there were a lot more people this year). I did walk part of the way down the West Kennet Avenue late at night, but perhaps I was too tired (and/or I'd had too much wine) by that point to fully appreciate it.
Anyway, I hope you'll agree some of the photos of the sunset and the sunrise are quite nice, and perhaps this is one of those trips I'll eventually look back on in a more positive light.