Travelling in Pursuit of Freedom: Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival 2009

By honourableone · Jul 27, 2009 · ·
  1. honourableone
    These are the writings of SWIM, who went travelling with his friend Michael. They bought a cheap turquoise hatchback, said there goodbyes, and hit the road.

    We set off towards Stonehenge, Mike’s homemade CD of classic rock playing loudly because he deemed it good road trip music. Problem after problem was encountered before we had even got out of our home town; we flooded the car by going through a car wash with the sunroof partially open, the boot became jammed shut, the cigarette lighter didn’t work so the satnav we were using ran out of battery, we realised that we didn’t know how to open the bonnet, and when we got close to Stonehenge there were no campsites with vacancies. But none of this really bothered us, because we could feel a level of freedom that surpassed anything we had felt before, and that would always be there in the background so long as our engine continued to propel us onwards.

    We we’re getting desperate for somewhere to pitch our tent, but we had a carefree attitude and started setting up camp on a grass verge by the main road going past Stonehenge. While we tried to assemble the tent a lot of passing cars directed there horns at us; some people waved and cheered while others gave us condescending looks. We set up our camping stove inside the car, cooked cheap tins of spaghetti and meatballs, and then went to bed.

    The Festival

    We were under the false impression that cars had to leave the Stonehenge car park at 8AM following the festival (when in fact the limit was 8PM, which makes a lot more sense), so we decided to leave the car in the nearest village and walk back to it. Glass wasn’t allowed into the festival, so we filled a two litre plastic bottle with beer and put some whiskey in a smaller plastic bottle. Supposedly the festival had a sniffer dog, so in place of marijuana I hid six joints of Magic Silver incense along with my Zippo in a belt pouch around my waist. Part way through the walk to Stonehenge we relaxed with a few other people in vans by the side of the road. I smoked one of the joints, watched a guy in a suit and top hat holding a half empty plastic barrel of cider stagger and dance, and bought an ice cream from an enterprising ice cream van who drove around in search of festival goers. Closer to the festivals starting time we set off again, at first attempting to hitch hike a life from any of the massive queue of cars, but we soon began walking faster than the cars could move (it felt good to overtake on foot the few people who had mocked us). When we reached the car park there was a vast array of carefully organised. vehicles of all descriptions, including quite a few hippie vans and old military vehicles.

    At the police controlled entrance to the festival I was selected to be searched by a handheld metal detector, a possibility that I had foolishly overlooked. The detector picked up my Zippo, and as a result the policeman holding the detector discovered my pouch – “What else is in there?”
    “Just some cigarettes”
    “They look a bit long for cigarettes”
    “I like them long”
    “OK, well I’ll let you off this time” he said finally, giving me a knowing look as he did so. This confirmed previous thought that police in Wiltshire were much more polite and friendly than those I had encountered any where else. So I walked in.

    The festival was such a free place. Everyone danced without caring about anything, and I frequently heard shouts casually asking if people had certain drugs. The police did nothing and the security guards slowly lost control as more and more people arrived and they were overwhelmed by an ever increasing number of hippies, crazies and partiers. Almost everyone was friendly, and the few chavs trying to start fights were completely ignored and soon got alienated as everyone else carried on with their revelry. A few crazy men who looked like they had been coming here for years climbed on to the higher stones to dance and do handstands, but many of these were taken away by the security guards. There were fewer druids than I had expected, and I couldn’t see any kind of ritual apart from early on when two of them paced around the circle at opposite sides for about half an hour.


    I inevitably got both drunk and stoned, and alternated between partying inside the stones and relaxing outside of them where a maze of people stretched out in all directions lying on the floor. Everyone stood on everyone else, but no one cared and deeply sympathetic apologies were given every time. The mess of people lying down was broken only by crowds of people gathering in circles around tribal dancers, musicians or poets, or where people left respectable gaps for one of the many poi performers.

    At one point I saw a man climb onto a tall thin stone to try and dance, which caused a druid to try and poke him off with his staff. A jolly guy holding a carling wandered over and addressed the druid – “Oi you! Stop being a bully! Someone should take that stick off you! You could have hurt him there”. The druid was slightly taken aback at having a drunk lecture him, but Mike found him funny enough to ask if he could take the guy’s picture.


    When all of the joints were wearing off and we had sobered up a bit Mike bought a joint weed off a stranger who had offered him a cigarette and I acquired a little MDMA. I lay down on the grass and looked at the sky blissfully, people regularly walking over me. There was such happiness there, such free drug use and freedom in general; a vast gathering of people all speaking with different accents or languages (some having travelled here from Europe or America). I listened to bizarre conversations going on all around me and I felt like I was part of something. I loved everyone there and a sense of peace washed over me.

    Just before sunrise everyone crammed there way into the stones, and an old couple struggled to leave them, the man saying to his wife “this wasn’t what I had expected at all”. The bongo drums that had been going all night reached a crescendo much more often, whistles and horns were blown and many more people started dancing. Half smoked joints were passed to strangers and open dislike was shown to camera crews. There were so many people inside the circle and standing on all of the rocks that movement was almost impossible and I became separated from Mike. I was almost completely sober at this point and was trapped between large rocks, some Spanish speakers and a group of Stonehenge veterans. I got to know them a bit due to the friendliness that everyone displayed including me – I picked up a dropped cigarette, lent out my lighter and gave water to a guy on MDMA that started freaking out saying that he was getting dehydrated. So many people were smoking weed in such close proximity that I got a mild passive high.


    Meanwhile, Mike had managed to get in the more heavily partying area around the band, and thus had more adventures than I. He had taken modafinil to help him stay awake and thus was able to use his heightened reflexes to save a girl in the band from falling off the person who was giving her a piggyback, and he threw himself into dancing like a lunatic to make up for wearing plainer clothes than most other people there (in retrospect there was an orange tartan blanket in the car that I wish I had worn as a cape – some people had gone as far to come in full costume, for example I witnessed a conversation between Scooby Doo and a witch). Impressed with him, he was handed a bottle of booze in the hope it would make him even crazier – “What is it?”
    “We found it on the floor. We think it’s vodka and rohypnol.”
    “What’s that?”
    “It’s what they’re supposed to be date raping us with these days”.

    Sunrise took a long time. There were many occasions when I thought it was starting because the bongo drums became more rapid, and people cheered and danced more frantically and started pointing. But the sunrise took a few hours to happen and the clouds spoiled it, making it difficult to even know whether or not the sun was up. But that didn’t matter because the atmosphere was amazing and the party was intense.

    I found Mike and we left the circle, and we were given a free rice and curry breakfast by some Hare Krishna devotees, though I wasn’t capable of eating much. We made the long walk back to the car, attempting to hitch hike. But people were doing the same both in front and behind of us and no one succeeded (unfortunately cars had little opportunity to stop). We staggered back along the steep, grassy verge at the side of the road that was riddled with holes and bumps, both a little dehydrated (and I had a comedown by this time), but we eventually made it to the car and slept in out seats.

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  1. rokman nash
    An interesting story H, very vivid. What bands were playing?
  2. honourableone
    Hey Rok, sorry I'm only replying now :s, I didn't know you had commented. It was an unusual kind of festival in that there weren't any bands, apart from a small tribal band in the middle of the stones for background music that was there all night and a few performers with bongos/guitars/ukeleles. SWIM enjoyed the fact that people were there to focus on enjoying themselves and interacting with each other rather than focusing on a stage.

    Thanks for reading what I had to say :).
  3. sweettea
    Great experience and thanks for the tell of it. I so enjoyed the Stonehenge free festival (it had heaps of music though) a considerable time back. Thanks again for the trip down memory lane. Cheers.
  4. Spucky
    Been there a long Time ago, maybe 1984/85(???)
    do not know anymore but it was one of the best Partys in my Life.
    In that Day`s they have Bands and Hot Pot`s with free Tea!

    Good to see that People can go there now,
    after the Festival i`ve been it was shut down
    and every Year a big Violent Fight with the Police!
  5. bananaskin
    A most interesting read.
    Sounds like a wonderful, happy, unified time.

  6. salviablue
    Glad swiy had a good time, bet I knew one of the henge "orbiters" (one didn't happen to have an eye patch did he?).
    Thanks for posting swiy's little outing.
  7. guldenat
    Swim has wanted to check out the Stonehenge summer solstice for awhile; this account is encouraging.
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