A PAGAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Report from the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, June 2003
Text and all images by Kerri Sharp
The traffic queue wasn't as bad as I had expected as we approached Stonehenge on the evening of 21 June 2003.
Driving down from Salisbury with a huge cache of beers and a bottle of Tequila, music on and the vibes excellent, this was my first Solstice visit to those Saturnine relics that have provoked profound emotions since ancient times, and which saw fisticuffs flailing at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985.
When we finally rolled into the huge field that had been allocated to park vehicles - along with some 10,000 others - the energy was building. Arc lights had been erected and it felt weirdly like an old drive-in-movie lot, or a speedway festival.
All around were customised transit vans and those old workhorse mobile homes that seem to disappear until the festival season, when their nomad crew gets behind the wheel to give them the outings they were designed for.
Waiting for dawn by the stones
The atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation. People were gathering their booze stashes and cramming their woolly hats on for some serious partying through the night.
Getting on for 1.30am the long walk to the Stones began.
First past the search teams looking for glass bottles (thank the powers that be they never found my tequila, phew!, as this was to be my legal stay-up-all-night stimulant), then up to the perimeter of the Stones themselves and the epic night was underway.
The centre of the Stones was already buzzing with a hardcore of drummers and enthusiastic boozers. Plenty of munted chat and an atmosphere of good-natured boisterousness ensued.
Although the party of teens 'just outta Feltham' who came to sit next to us were slightly more street than we had anticipated our stone circle neighbours would be.
Got up to go for a wander when the teens got a little too much like hard work and promptly lost my companion, whom, some 5 hours later I had still not managed to be reunited with.
Curious pixie-eared dreadhead at Stonehenge
This gives some idea of the size of the crowd. Some say 30,000. I think maybe 20,000.
Still, it was very much a festival rather than a gathering.
Armed with a blanket and the bottle of Gold Tequila, I decided to make the best of it, despite losing the other 'arf. The hours from 3 till 8 were passed in a haze of dancing, talking complete bollocks to random fancy-dressed revellers and savouring moments of absolute magic, the kind of which I haven't experienced for years.
Maybe I just haven't been to enough festivals recently, but two moments made an impact on me that opened up long-buried pathways in my brain - both of these epiphanies involving fiddle-players.
The first was a wandering band of gypsy musicians that had me clapping flamenco-style and whirling like a dervish around their violin case, lost in a true uplifting trance.
The musicians were Hungarian, but I was feeling more than half-Mexican by this time and it all got mangled up with some distant Celtic gypsy folk roots.
A fabulous collision of rootsy enchantments it was too! The second, more poetic, moment was the sight of an elfin-like girl of about 10 years old, sitting with her family, who all looked strangely beautiful, playing a violin as the dawn approached and, around the perimeter stones, came the blazing-torch-baring hordes followed by the Druids.
For whatever reason this moved me deeply.
Revellers at the Solstice
I think it was the sensation of realising that not every kid is hell bent on spending his/her life grappling with a PlayStation; and that not every family spends its existence playing games of oneupmanship. It was all, you know, so outdoorsy.
The samba dancers had been going on for some hours but the serious guys had arrived in their robes to do whatever it is they do on the Solstice. Yet I managed to miss it.
I'd had every serious intent of watching the Druid ceremony, but the goodly number of velvet-clad wiccan wimmin of un certain age lamely chanting 'so mote it be' seemed rather limp when there was a vibrant Samba band struttin its stuff over the other side of the stones.
I guess I'm just as Epicurean as the next punter, and the wiccan ladies just didn't have the carnival appeal of the lithe, energised Samba band, so I sashayed over to be with the latter.
Water diviner in action, Stonehenge
Blame it on the drink of el Diablo, but their frenzied dancing seemed to have more pagan appeal there and then than the disappointingly dull ceremonies of the wiccans.
Had the intoxicants been different, I may have well joined Ken Barlow and his chums, but the best part of a bottle of Tequila does things to a girl - like making one want to jig about blowing whistles.
So I spent the next hour doing just that, somewhere along the way dancing Bollywood style with no small amount of snaky hip wiggling and singing in tongues.
For all its ancient British heritage, Stonehenge 2003 was a right old cultural melange. I felt happy being a Pagan for all Seasons.
The mile walk back to the vehicle field was eventful for its numerous humorous post-festivity casualties. The grass verges and fields were littered with fallen bodies: guys flat out on their backs, limbs spread into starfish patterns, gobs wide open, snoring.
Here and there enterprising travellers had set up the most basic refreshment stalls.
One was selling the classic Spanish carajillo - the morning coffee and brandy tipple - the coffee being brewed in a kettle and the brandy the very cheapest, but who cares at 6am? It tasted great after 5 hours of tequila and beer.
The morning at Stonehenge
And I tell you what - I'd rather have had that carajillo in its grubby old tin mug than any number of sanitised, pasteurised lattes at Buttfucks! (Not that I ever have, mind!)
An hour later, and wandering around tired and emotional looking for my car and my boyfriend (I'd so wanted us to see the dawn coming up together), it all got a bit too much and couldn't stop myself from throwing a right strop.
I launched myself in amdram fashion onto the grass and bawled my eyes out with the frustration of not being about to find either. Most uncharacteristic, I must say, and it brought a concerned bunch of travellers to my aid.
Much hugging and calming down and 10 mins later I was on my way, full of goodwill and more tea.
And there in the distance, I could just make out my registration number and my boyfriend, lying in a starfish shape under the morning sun, snoring his little head off!
© Kerri Sharp 2003
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