It was on the list of things to do before dying, the “bucket list” as the inhabitants across the Channel say. And I happened to be right there studying when I decided to tick the summer solstice at Stonehenge off the list. Between an already barred “visit Mont Saint-Michel” and a to-do “see the Egyptian pyramids” there was you: the sunrise in the most magical and mysterious Druidic Neolithic site that exists…
I try to involve some of my friends and university colleagues, but nobody seems interested. Then, Maritina, Greek but of Venetian origin, enthusiastically decides to join in and so, while we’re at it, why not extend the trip by a few days and take a tour? One idea led to another and ten minutes later we had invested 50 euros in an Interrail ticket. The excuse? Well, when does it happen that we are under 25 years of age to be able to take advantage of the reduced fares and to be in England? That’s it.
Without too much hesitation, and absolutely without knowing where we were going or what we were doing, we fill a backpack with five underwear, three socks, a tank top, a sweatshirt and head south.
First stage: Southampton
We leave early in the morning from Sheffield – where I study Intercultural Communication and History Maritina – and arrive in Southampton after lunch. We opt for this location because, judging from the map, it is clearly and unavoidably on the sea. And I assure you, if there is Mediterranean blood running through your veins, after a year of fine English rain, you will miss the sea. Quite a lot. But perhaps our expectations were too high… we imagined English Ibiza, and instead it turned out to be a Piombino with a pound.
The red brick walls bear witness to the industrial past, and from afar you can see the shipyards. Wandering around the centre you cannot ignore the historical walls that once surrounded the city, of which Bargate is the main gate.
I have a rather anonymous memory of the rest of the city: clearly, the much coveted beach was not there, in its place lay a harbour. To tell the truth, we even asked the locals where the nearest beach was, amazed that there were no directions. Their reactions were as hilarious as they were predictable: lots of fat laughs and smiles of pity. At least we cheered up someone’s day.
At dawn on the first day of summer, Stonehenge it is!
It seemed that those stones were there waiting for tourists, curious people, druids, extravagant characters and hippies of every age, gender and ethnicity for the dawn of the longest day of the year.
We take the train back and after a short while we arrive at Salisbury station, from where the shuttles that connect the town with the archaeological site depart. We leave the brick cottages and enter the English countryside with its soft hills and mild colours.
The bus stops and we continue on foot: a stream of people dressed rather eccentrically walking and trudging in one direction, up the hill.
We climb over the hill and the megalithic circle opens in all its splendour. It seems almost as if those stones were there waiting for us, ready to embrace the visitors: tourists, onlookers, druids, extravagant characters and hippies of all ages, genders and ethnicities, who, despite the apparent differences, are united in celebrating the shortest night of the year and greeting the beginning of summer, as well as the dawn of the longest day of the year.
Waiting for the summer Solstice in Stonehenge
Maritina and I, ecstatic and euphoric, are looking for a free grass carpet where we can sit. Everyone around us celebrates with boxes of beer, bottles of alcohol; we join them and make friends while the Celtic drums greet the stars.
Walking around the crowd we witness a pagan baptism: two boys are kneeling in front of a man with a long, thick beard, his slender body covered by a long beige coat and his dark, determined eyes popping out from under the hood. With slow, solemn gestures, murmuring a litany, he touches the foreheads of the young men and welcomes them.
The drums roll louder and louder in a rising climax of screams, chants, noises announcing the sunrise. An adrenaline-filled countdown to the summer solstice at Stonehenge, which lasts minutes as long as hours, all depends on the sun, the birthday boy who is waiting.
And then there it is, the first ray beats on the central stone and passes through the doors and illuminates our faces. The crowd explodes with happiness, the sound of dozens of horns overwhelms the screams and arrives to touch the sun, which already breaks in and melts the frost colouring the orange stones.
As a witness to this magic, I mentally remove dawn at Stonhenge from the list of things to do. And I am aware that this magical and spiritual feeling of fraternal union, combined with this release of positive energy, are perceptions that I will carry within me forever.