Background & History

People come to Stonehenge for a range of reasons, but generally people come to witness the summer solstice sunrise on the longest day of the year and at the winter solstice see the return of the sun after the longest night of the year. At the equinoxes, the equal times of day and night are celebrated. The gathered crowd raise a collective cheer when the (visible) sun rises over the horizon (cheers can be somewhat muted when its cloudy!). These four annual times of MOA are unique occassions, whereby people can experience some generally unimpeded time amongst the stones - free of charge. Modern open access was restored in the year 2000, following the suppression of the free festival in 1985. The festival ran from 1974 to 1984 and by the end had grown into an event of around 40,000, spread over several days. Prior to the festival, solstice gatherings attracted a few hundred when held during the week and occasionally few thousand when held on a weekend. This similar situation continues today with the biggest gatherings coinciding with either a Friday or Saturday night. Apart from a main ceremony (conducted by members of the Loyal Arthurian Warband Druids) and a few other private happenings, what people do is left up to individuals to decide for themselves. No amplified music is allowed during Managed Open Acess, so during the summer solstice the centre of the circle is often filled with drummers and an associated crowd of people out to party. The winter solstice and both the equinoxes however, tend to be more sedate affairs because the weather is often much colder and they are not as well known.

So, who actually attends the modern celebrations? The answer is many different groups of people including members of all the main Pagan groups such as Druids, Wiccans, Witches and those who term themselves Pagan in the widest possible sense. A good number of tourists, locals, hippies, students, bikers, travellers and students attend, along with many curious onlookers and people out to party. A few historians, spiritualists and astronomers come along, as do some adherents to eastern religions suchs as Hare Krishna devotees and practitioners of Buddhist meditation and yoga. Amongst the crowd the odd celebrity has even been spotted every now and again. MOA has become a wide ranging occasion open to anyone who wants to come, gone are the days of exclusion.

Further reading:

BLAIN, Jenny and WALLIS, Robert. J, 2007, ‘Sacred Sites, Contested Rites / Rights’, Centre for Human Rights, Sussex Academic Press
CHIPPINDALE, 2004, Christopher, ‘Stonehenge Complete’, Thames and Hudson
LOWE, Steve & McARTHUR, Alan, 2008, ‘Blighty – The Quest for Britishness’, Sphere
*RAYNER, Jim. 2012, 'Stonehenge a Pilgrim's Guide' Choir Press
WORTHINGTON, Andy, 2004, ‘Stonehenge, Celebration and Subversion’, Alternative Albion

BBC Culture Show 'Battle for Stonehenge' available in four parts

BBC National Trust Stonehenge Round Table documentary

*Contains over 70 drawings, maps, illustrations and photographs 112 pages, 140 x 216 x 6mm, ISBN 978-0956219084
Currently una