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Midsummerâ€™s Day - the longest day of the year - falls on 21 June. Associated particularly with ancient Celtic, druid, and pagan festivals, it is the point in the year when the sun reaches its zenith and brings us the most daylight hours. Here we explore the myths and rituals that surround this symbolic day in the seasonal calendar.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire is the most famous UK landmark associated with the summer solstice. Built 5,000 years ago, it is aligned with the midsummer sunrise. Whilst the true purpose of Stonehenge is debated, it does take us back to a time when people were governed by the seasons and in touch with the natural rhythm of life.
If you want to witness the summer solstice at Stonehenge,Â Blackwood ForestÂ is just 40 minutes away. Although, with approximately 20,000 visitors and a very British chance of rain, it might not be quite the mystical experience you would be hoping for. A more fair-weather approach might be to use those extra daylight hours to soak up the atmosphere of the forest from your outdoor hot tubâ€¦
Sunset views of Stonehenge
Solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (stay)! In mythology, the sun is a masculine power and many communities celebrated with competitions of strength and daring. Choosing "best lad" in the town is still a custom in many Scottish border towns at the solstice celebrations.
Midsummerâ€™s eve was believed to be a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest â€“ a time of powerful forces and magical happenings, when fairies were thought to be about and at their most powerful. This otherworldly sense underpins Shakespeareâ€™s A Midsummer Nightâ€™s Dream, where the fairies use their magic and cause mayhem in the forest. The magic gets mixed and at one point, Titania, queen of the fairies, falls in love with Bottom, who is unwittingly sporting an assâ€™s head.
So, if you are staying atÂ Forest of DeanÂ and you wake during the night and look out of your window, be careful; that fairy potion might have you falling in love with a wild boar!
â€œIf we shadows have offended, think but this; and all is mended: that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear...â€
The magic of nature
The lighting of fires has always been a prominent part of the midsummer ritual. In a somewhat glass-half-empty manner, rather than celebrating the longest day, our ancestors were heralding the shortening of the days from this point onward, and the fires were to keep the approaching dark at bay.
The fires have largely disappeared but there are still some events around the country which have revived this ancient tradition. Head for theÂ Golowan FestivalÂ at Penzance â€“ an hour and a half fromÂ Deerpark. Or failing that, you can always have a little symbolic fire in your wood-burning stove!
Relax by a cosy log burner in our Golden Oak cabin
Whatever the origins of the folklore surrounding the summer solstice, they are rooted in a time when our ancestors were in harmony with their surroundings and at one with the rhythms of the earth. Today, this feeling is harder than ever to capture, which is why, at Forest Holidays we offer a natural escape. As the summer solstice approaches comeÂ to the forestÂ and watch the midsummer sun rise over a magical landscape, reconnecting you to a simpler, more natural way of life.
Family den building in the forest
1. Stonehenge summer solsticeÂ is one of experiences that we should all try at least once in our lives. Just 40 minutes from Blackwood Forest.
2. Avebury stone circle; bigger and older than Stonehenge but less crowded. The nearest Forest Holidays location is Blackwood Forest again.
3. Golowan FestivalÂ in Penzance, probably the biggest midsummer Festival in the UK and about 1Â½ hours from Deerpark.
4. Crannog Midsummer Music Festival; Watch the sun dip as you enjoyÂ Scottish music around the fire by an Iron-Age loch-dwelling at Loch Tay. An hour and a half fromÂ Strathyre.
5. In the forest, in one of ourÂ cabins, where the magic is guaranteed and every day is long and happy.