Avebury Summer Solstice 19-22 June 2015
Over the last ten years or so the amount of people staying up on the Ridgeway near Avebury around the time of the summer Solstice has increased. The Ridgeway is an ancient path dating back to prehistoric times known as Britian's oldest road. It has been used for centuries by traders, farmers and travellers although these days it mainly sees walkers. It starts at a place aptly named The Sanctuary as The Ridgeway has certainly provided Sanctuary for many van dwellers over the last few years who want to celebrate the summer Solstice at an ancient, magical site with like minded folk away from the glare of the police and press.
This year saw the 30th anniversary of what has been named The Battle of the Beanfield where hundreds of travellers heading for Stonehenge to celebrate the Solstice at the annual free festival got beaten up, vehicles smashed up and children taken into care. You can read a more detailed account of what happened on the Travellers History page of this website. In 2000 Stonehenge was finally opened up free to the public on the summer Solstice again but with strict conditions of entry and no amplified music or traders allowed. Some people although happy for Stonehenge to be open once again were disillusioned with many things happening at the stones, the massive police presence including in later years the use of drones, the herding people in and out like sheep, the limited time you could park in the makeshift carpark, the no amplified music policy, the no dogs policy, the masses of people that turned up not really knowing why they were there, the huge amount of press and tourists, the no traders policy except for the greasy burger van allowed and just the sheer amount of people, 37,000 in 2014!
Many travellers, their friends and other people put off by the issues at Stonehenge chose to celebrate the summer Solstice at Avebury, Europes biggest stone circle. There was a small field behind the car park where people could put up tents and it was a much more chilled out low key affair. I can't remember exactly what year it was, I think somewhere between 2005 to 2007, a height restriction was put up at the Avebury car park and vans could no longer park in there. This led to people parking in the few laybys nearby and when they were full parking on the Ridgeway. In 2007 there was probably only 20-30 vans on the Ridgeway when I stayed there, by 2008 the laybys in Avebury were closed off forcing everyone up to the Ridgeway where there was double the amount of vans as well as more cars and people. The news spread and every year saw a few more vehicles and people. In 2010 the police stopped any more vans getting onto the Ridgeway which left people stranded in laybys on the A4, the busy road that passes the Ridgeway. After a stand off for a couple of hours the police relented and let people on. SInce then there has been a fairly low key police presence on the Ridgeway with National Trust also staying out of peoples way generally.
This year there was actually less people than last year, there was also less people at Stonehenge. The weather reports hadn't been that favourable and so it probably put a few fair weather campers off. Nothing would have put us off going and so we along with a few hundred others parked up on the Ridgeway for the Solstice weekend. There was a couple of small sound systems going one near the road and another further up the track, we were between the two and didn't hear either unless we walked nearer which was great as at the winter Solstice we had been parked right next to someone blaring shit music loudly from their truck all through the night! There was a few little stalls, I set my Samsimillia Creativity stall up for a while on the Saturday but unfortunatly the wind was not being kind and it just wasn't worth setting up again on the Sunday. We walked into Avebury in the early hours of Sunday morning to witness the sun rise on the longest day of the year. Cloud prevented us seeing much but it was nice to be there all the same.
This seems for now anyway a safe, secure parking place for vans and cars and for people to camp, have little stalls, play a bit of music and have a few fires. I hope relations with the police and National Trust continue to be easy going and low key and the Stonehenge People's Free Festival can continue in exile on the Ridgeway near Avebury.
Below is a few photos from the weekend: