Midsummer has come and gone here in the UK, and with it the Summer Solstice celebrations that leave us all with that warm fuzzy feeling reminiscent of summers past. This year, at Stonehenge, a crowd of 3,500 gathered to watch the sunrise in a tradition that is said to be thousands of years old. For generations, the solstice has held a special meaning for people in the UK, helping to connect us with nature, with our past and with each other.
Visitors around the world may not be well acquainted with this little-known festival, so we’ve put this guide together to tell you everything you need to know.
What is the summer solstice?
Otherwise known as Midsummer, the solstice is the name given to the longest day of the year – when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. The solstice occurs when the Earth rotates about its axis and the north pole reaches its maximum tilt towards the sun.
Why is it important?
Through the history of the UK, the solstice has been a day of great importance. From the 13th century, Midsummer has been celebrated as a festival on Midsummer’s eve with fires, feasting and dancing. Revellers would build giant stacks of bone
and set them ablaze – a tradition from which we derive the word ‘bonfire’ – previously ‘bonnefyre’.
In England, Midsummer’s day is also celebrated as the feast of St John the Baptist. This Christian festival is focussed on food, and in parts of Yorkshire family’s would put out tables of food to welcome anyone that walked past.
The Midsummer’s Eve festival was immortalised in Shakespeare’s great comedy a Midsummer Night’s Dream (one of my personal favourites!) and has remained as a day of significance in the British cultural consciousness ever since.
Celebrations in 2018
Today, the most popular destination for Midsummer’s Eve is Stonehenge. This year over 9,500 people visited the site to celebrate the solstice with dancing, flower arranging, drinking and eating. Stonehenge is a site of particular interest for revellers due to its special history as a place of nature worship and celestial mysticism. It’s also one of the very few occasions that visitors are allowed to walk up to and touch the stones themselves, making it a very special day of the year to be at Stonehenge.
Other parts of the country also celebrated the solstice with events and festivals. The London Eye opened before dawn for the very first time so that visitors could celebrate the sunrise with the best view in the city. Festivals also gathered at Avebury Neolithic Stone Circle – the largest in the UK – to celebrate Midsummer. Smaller festivals around the country helped brits to come together, celebrate their history and get back in touch with nature.
If you’d love to visit Stonehenge on Midsummer next year, make sure you take a look at our range of fantastic Stonehenge tours. Visit the site in just a morning or combine it with a visit to other fantastic locations around the country, like Bath and Windsor Castle. To get a sneak peak of what’s on offer check out the video below.