Restoring the Sun Gap
Restoring the Sun Gap
The midsummer sun rises in a north-easterly direction over the top of a row of trees on the horizon. Historically the horizon was clear of obstructions, but several decades ago the Ministry of Defence (MOD) planted some trees which have now grown to block out the original rising line of the sun. As a result when stood on the central axis of Stonehenge the sun is seen to rise to the left, rather than to the right of the Heel Stone. This issue of the 'Sun Gap' was brought to light again in 2014 when the army were planning to built some extra homes as part of an army re-basing programme for returning troops from Germany. Thankfully this has now passed, but the trees still remain. This is an issue of authenticity as the sun is not seen to rise as originally intended. Please see the illustrated image by Simon Banton to help illustrate the point.
The Stonehenge 'Sun-Gap' currently obscurred by trees
Marked images (above and below) courtesy of Simon Banton
Thankfully the line of trees are not that deep and includes some non-native coniferous planting which could be removed first. Whilst controversial in some respects, the removal of the trees would allow people to identify a clear 'Sun Gap' on the horizon and restore the authenticity of the summer solstice sunrise
Close-up of the first line of trees just south of Fargo Road as viewed in the distance from Stonehenge
Other side of this the Fargo Road trees looking back towards Stonehenge
I am not the only one who would like to see the Sun Gap restored:
'Traditionally, the Heel Stone marks the place on the horizon where the summer solstice sunrise appears when viewed from the centre of the stone circle. Every year thousands of people gather to watch this event. 4,500 years ago the sunrise would have appeared about 1° to the left. The change in the angle of the Earth's axial tilt since 2,500BC (from ~24° to ~23.5°) has shifted sunrise to the right by approx. two diameters of the Sun. However, the modern situation is made worse by the trees in the far distance on military land at Larkhill, which displace the sunrise even further to the right'
'Due to plantations of trees growing on Larkhill the summer solstice sunrise as seen from Stonehenge no longer appears to the left of the tip of the Heelstone but to its right. I think something should be done to restore the correct view....'
In March 2014 there was uproar when it was revealed that the Ministry of Defence proposed building hundreds of new houses at Larkhill in Wiltshire. It was not the houses themselves, much needed for military families, but the fact that the development would obstruct the sight of the rising sun from Stonehenge on Midsummer Day. Larkhill to Stonehenge is less than a mile so any structures on the line of sight will interfere directly with witnessing dawn break at the summer solstice.
Release of the proposals led to action and more than three hundred individuals submitted objections to the Salisbury Plain Masterplan. They formed an eclectic alliance of conservationists, historians, Druids, tour operators, English Heritage, pagans and locals aghast that a World Heritage Site could be wantonly spoiled. Over half of the objections were concerned specifically with the rising of the sun at the solstice and an online petition drew more than 20,000 signatures from those similarly concerned.
Well, six months later, it seems the concerns had an effect. The planners listened and the Revised Plan, published in June, states that all building will now take place north of the earlier proposed areas and will not interfere with the sight lines to Stonehenge
'In prehistory, one or more observers would probably have stood at an appropriate point and viewed the sun or moon appearing or disappearing behind a distant horizon at specific times of the year. Thus, clear and unobstructed sightlines and horizons are important to aid our understanding of how these monuments functioned...'