Winter Solstice

The winter solstice marks the turning point of the year with Stonehenge receiving around eight hours of daylight. A more peaceful atmosphere often prevails at this dawn gathering, firstly because it is not so well known and secondly, because the weather is often much colder!  This ocassion provides a better opportunity to see people interacting with the stones at close quarters. More Druids are present and people can be seen doing more of their own thing. I have witnessed a crystal singing bowl ceremony, tuning forks held aloft, people meditating and practising yoga for example. The previous sunset however, could well have been the key moment in the ancient calendar, with pilgrims processing from the original settlement to the stones via the River Avon and the Avenue. Seeing the sunset could have signified any departing souls passing over into the afterlife before the rebirth of the sun the next day.

Times of Access

  • 21 December
  • 13:00 Last regular admission
  • 16:00 Sunset
  • 17:00 Stonehenge closes
  • 22 December
  • 05:30 Car park opens
    (30mins walk to the stones)
  • 06:00 Visitor Centre cafe opens
  • 06:30 First bus from Salisbury
  • 07:45 Start of access
  • 08:09 Sunrise
  • 10:00 End of access
  • 11:30 Stonehenge reopens
  • 13:00 to 16:00 National Trust
    Sonehenge Landscape walk
    culminating at sunset (TBC)

* Shortest day approx 8 hours of daylight
* Times subject to official confirmation

winter sol 2005

The Winter Solstice gathering generally takes place on either 21st or 22nd of December, depending on when the astronomical timing falls. Unlike the summer solstice celebrations which are held on an established date of 20th/21st June all the other times of MOA go with the flow and fall on the right date in question. In the past, the one exception to this rule is when the timing fell after sundown. In 2009 for example, the exact timing of the winter solstice was at 17:47 hours on the 21st, (just over an hour and three quarters after sunset) access was therefore on the 22nd to coincide with the 'new born' sun, even though the actual solstice was on the 21st! This often led to two days of access with an official day and a shorter 'unoffical' period running from 07:30 to 08:30 for those turning up on the 'other day'. However, in 2013 the Round Table decided that access would generally coincide with the same day of the astronomical timing. However, if astromonical timing (as in 2014 when the timing was at 23.03) is close to midnight then access is still likley to be on the next day.
 
Table of past Winter Solstice MOA dawn gatherings
Year Attendance Astro. date Date of MOA access Weather  report Notes
 2017    21st (16:28)  Next day Friday 22nd Dec.    Access on Friday 22nd Dec.
 2016  5,000  21st (10:44)  Wed 21st Dec.  Cloudy  New access times and parking charges apply
 2015  5,000  22nd (04:48)  Tuesday 22nd Dec.  Cloudy  Larger than expected crowd due to mild weather
 2014  1,500  21st (23:03)  Following morning Mon 22nd  Cloudy  New moon on 22nd. Some people still turn-up on 21st
 2013  3,500  21st (17:11)  Saturday 21st December  Rainy  New Visitor Centre opened on the 18th
 2012  5,000  21st (11:11)  Friday 21st December  Cloudy  Mayan calendar coincides with the solstice
 2011  1,000  22nd (05:30)  Thursday 22nd December  Just visible  Introduction of lantern parade to Amesbury
 2010  2,000  21st (23:38)  Following morning Wed 22nd  Grey cloud  Full moon (with an early hours eclipse)
 2009  1,000  21st (17:47)  Following morning Tues 22nd  Cloudy  Several clear sunsets before the solstice
 2008  1,900  21st (12:04)  Sunday 21st December  Misty at first, visible later  
 2007  1,700  22nd (06:08)  Saturday 22nd December  Sunrise just visible  
 2006  1,500  22nd (00:22)  Friday 22nd December  Cloudy  
 2005  1,500  21st (18:35)  Wednesday 21st December  Cloudy  
 2004  600  21st (12:42)  Tuesday 21st December  Cloudy  
 2003  400 to 500  22nd (07:04)  Monday 22nd December    
 2002  300 to 400  22nd (01:14)  Sunday 22nd December    
 2001  100 to 200  21st (19:21)  Following morning Sat 22nd    
 2000  Around 100  21st (13:37)  Thursday 21st December    

Notes:
1. Since the year 2000 there have been ten MOA winter solstice dawn gatherings held on the 22nd Dec and seven held on the 21st
2. Parking for the Winter Solstice is now situated up at the Visitor Centre and incurs a £5 charge for cars. There is no longer any parking on Byway 12 (Drove Road)
3. Times of access changed from 07:30-09:00 to 07:45-10:00 in 2016 following a review of access arrangements
 
National Trust - Stonehenge Landscape Winter Solstice Walk
National Trust (NT) now organise a 3.5 mile (5.6km) Stonehenge Landscape walk culminating with the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge. Further information
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/af027750-3015-49d5-b5c2-a7c12326ebe0/pages/details
 
The Amesbury Lantern Parade
In 2011 Amesbury Town Council organised a Stonehenge winter solstice Lantern Parade for the first time. Starting from a point near the Heel Stone, the route followed part of the original processional Avenue, local byways and roads before returning to Amesbury. A £5.00 charge included the fare for the bus journey up to the stones and provision of a lantern. There was no parking available at Stonehenge for the procession.
The 2011 parade was held on the night before MOA (Wednesday 21st) and in 2012 it took place later on the same day as MOA (Friday 21st). Timings for 2012 saw buses leave Amesbury at 15:00 and 15:30 with a scheduled start from Stonehenge coinciding with the sunset at 16:00. The walk took around 90mins. However, issues to do with the opening of the new visitor centre a few days earlier and Friday night traffic resulted in the main 2013 parade being cancelled. Since that time the parade has continued as a more localised event based in the environs of Amesbury town. http://www.amesburyhistorycentre.co.uk/amesbury-lantern-parade-2016/