Summer solstice: what it is, when it happens and where to see it

The summer solstice is celebrated throughout Britain every year. But what exactly is it? When can we see it? And where are the best places in the countryside to experience this special event?

 
13th June 2017
A low sun over Stonehenge, Wiltshire

What is the summer solstice?

The term summer solstice is derived from Latin and means 'the sun stands still'. The solstice – also referred to as Midsummer – is often thought of as a day-long event, but in fact represents a single moment in time: when the sun is at northernmost point from the earth's equator during a single year. 

When is it?

The exact time of summer solstice this year is Wednesday 21 June at 05:24. In London, the sun will rise at 04:43 and set at 21:21. While Stonehenge in Salisbury will feel the day's first rays at 04:52 and bid them farewell at 21:26.

Where to see it

The summer solstice is celebrated all over the UK and in many different ways. The truth is, if you have the stamina to stay awake and welcome midsummer, you can't go wrong. Here are some ideas to get you started, from a solstice of solitude to Midsummer from a mountain.

1. SALTWICK BAY, NORTH YORKSHIRE - a seabound solstice 

During summer, a small yet particularly photogenic section of the North Yorkshire coast has the distinction of hosting both sunrise and sunset over the sea. Head for Saltwick, where the sandy beach is flanked by the Northern and Southern Shelves, whose textured rock formations and mirror-like pools make for breathtaking reflections. As the sun sets, it picks out the whale-shaped silhouette of Saltwick Nab. On rising, the Black Nab rock stack and the twisted wreck of the Admiral Von Trump take centre stage. Just make sure you check tide times.

2. PLACE FELL, ULLSWATER – a solitary solstice 

Place Fell isn’t notably lofty, but the views from its cairn-riddled plateau contradict its 657 metres. It’s cradled to the north and west by Ullswater. The Helvellyn range to the west is especially brilliant at sunrise, while Hartsop and Kirkstone Pass to the south are at their best as the evening rays steal across them. The 90-minute walk up from Patterdale is relatively easy and you can follow sunrise with a seven-mile circuit back along the lakeshore path, which, according to Wainwright, was “the most beautiful and rewarding walk in Lakeland”.

 
The sun sets over Buttermere, Lake District
The sun sets over Buttermere, one of a wealth of spectacular locations from which to experience Midsummer in the Lake District
3. ARTHUR'S SEAT, EDINBURGH: a cityscape solstice
The exposed, almost polished rock at the summit of Arthur’s Seat is a surprisingly wild spot just a short walk from Edinburgh’s old town. At 251m, this is the highest of Edinburgh’s seven hills and as such offers clear views of the other six, as well as Leith and across the Firth of Forth to Fife. The viewpoint is popular for sunrises and sunsets regardless of the solstice, so expect to share the space with a lively crowd.
 
4. GLASTONBURY TOR, SOMERSET – a spiritual solstice

After Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor is surely the second most obvious place in Britain to celebrate the summer solstice and, arguably, it has the better views. Crowned by the ruins of 15th-century St Michael’s church, the tor rises 158m above the Somerset Levels to give a timeless 360° view of Wells, the Bristol Channel, Wiltshire, the Polden Hills and Exmoor. It’s one of Britain’s most spiritual sites, so you’ll be part of a crowd drumming and chanting as they have done here for millennia.

 
5. STONEHENGE – a classic solstice

For a solstice classic, head to heart of the Wiltshire countryside. Access to Monument Field at Stonehenge opens at 19:00 on 20 June, with sunset at 21:26. It's a short night and the first glimmers of sunlight will appear at 04.52 on 21 June, with the field closing 08:00. The car park closes at noon.

Converge on mass to Stone henge in the Wiltshire countryside
Converge on mass to Stone henge in the Wiltshire countryside
6. BEN NEVIS – a summit solstice

For the mountaineers among us, why not watch the sun rise from the crest of the British Isles? Walk through the night with a guide from Rich Mountain Experiences, leaving the valley floor at 11.30 and arriving at the summit just before sunrise.

Ben Nevis
Watch the sun rise from Ben Nevis
7. AVEBURY HENGE, WILTSHIRE – a druid solstice

Avebury is often thought of as Stonehenges quieter cousin. Not so at Midsummer as druids and other sun worshipers converge on the small village en masse. Visit England’s largest Neolithic henge, making the most of the long evenings with a walk to the Bronze Age burial gounds or just bring a picnic and watch the sun rise. 

John Aubrey noted that Avebury far surpassed Stonehenge “as a Cathedral doth a Parish Church”. Then again, he didn’t have to pay the car-park charges. On 20 June, the car park will be open from 9am and parking costs £7 (£4 after 3pm). It fills up quickly and there is no  street parking for non-residents. Avebury is 30mins bus journey from Swindon BR. Local accommodation is likely to be full if you leave it too late.

Sun rises over Averbury
Sun rises over Averbury, Wiltshire

 

Who are the druids? Find out more here.

Images: Getty

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