December 2014

From Pagan festivals to fire ceremonies and medieval football matches, all of these winter celebrations are keeping our ancient traditions alive – and are much more stimulating than the Christmas sales …


Stonehenge winter solstice, Wiltshire: December 21st 2020

Solstice celebrations – marking the shortest day and longest night of the year – happen right across the UK. But one of the focal points for the festivities will always be the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Each year, thousands descend on this field in Wiltshire to see the sun rise above the stones. Expect to see the druid and pagan communities out in full force, dressed in magnificent costumes and singing incantations within the circle. This year, the solstice takes place on 21st December, and you’ll be able to arrive at the monument as soon as the light begins to break.

Burning the Clocks, Brighton

Burning the Clocks procession to celebrate the winter solstice makes its way through Brighton.

21 December
A contemporary winter solstice celebration (and the most modern event on this list), the Burning the Clocks festival was conceived in Brighton in 1994 as a community event to be enjoyed, regardless of faith, and it takes place on the beach. Around 20,000 spectators turn up to witness the procession of light, which consists of a parade of luminous willow lanterns that are passed into a blazing bonfire. The event concludes with a huge fire show and firework display that lights up the seafront.
Parade starts 6.30pm,

Kirkwall Ba game, Orkney


25 December and 1 January
The Ba is an annual custom in which hundreds of men and boys take to the streets to embark on a medieval football match. It has been described as more like a “civil war” than a game. Windows are boarded up in preparation for the self-refereed melee in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys. The two teams – the Uppies and the Doonies – battle for control of the leather “ba’”, attempting to wrestle it towards the areas of the town designated as the goals. Ribs have been broken in the scrum, but the event has a festival spirit that unites the entire town.
Starts at the Mercat Cross on Kirk Green, free,

Grantchester barrel rolling, Cambridgeshire

Boxing Day Grantchester Barrel Rolling

26 December
One of many bizarre British Boxing day traditions, the Grantchester barrel rolling race is, well, pretty much as you’d imagine. Four local teams roll large wooden barrels up and down the street in a relay race, which is followed by the “County Championship” race between teams from Grantchester and nearby villages of Barton, Coton and Newnham. Founded in the 1960s, the race fell out of favour until it was revived in 2003 and, in keeping with most trivial pursuits, concludes with a booze-up at the local Rupert Brooke pub.
Coton Road, Grantchester, free,

Keynsham Mummers play, Somerset

26 December
A bit like pantomimes, mummers plays are comic folk performances that have been performed around Europe since the Middle Ages. The tradition is kept alive by the likes of the Bristol Morris Men, who have performed the play every Boxing Day in the town of Keynsham since the idea was revived in the late 1970s (though records suggest the play originated in the town in the early 19th century). Expect melodrama, sword fighting and colourful costumes.
11am at St John’s Church, 11.30am at Keynsham Library, midday at the New Inn,

Fishermen vs Fireman football match, North Yorkshire

Scarborough football

26 December
Nothing brings out the competitive spirit like a game against the local rivals. In Scarborough, the Boxing Day football match is a chance for local fishermen and firemen to thrash it out – in fancy dress – on the beach. One of the town’s oldest surviving customs, there’s evidence of the match taking place on the South Bay beach back in 1893. It started as a way of raising money for the families of four fishermen lost at sea, and now supports elderly or unwell people in the community.
South Bay Beach, 10am, free,

Stonehaven Fireballs, Aberdeenshire

The Fireball Ceremony at Hogmanay, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

Photograph: David Robertson / Alamy/Alamy

31 December

As this Stonehaven Fireball Association states proudly on its website, come rain, snow or storm “we have never cancelled”. This hardy 150-year-old fire ceremony is held on Hogmanay in Stonehaven, and is watched by thousands. When the Town House bell strikes midnight, the ceremony begins, with firedancers, known as “swingers”, making their way down the street, led by drummers and the Stonehaven Pipe Band and finishing with a firework display on the harbour.

Allendale Tar Barl festival, Northumberland

Allendale Tar Barrel festival on December 31

Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

31 December
Setting whisky barrels full of tar alight is certainly one way to warm up on a winter’s evening. In existence since the dark ages, the Allendale Tar Barl festival is another fiery event, consisting of a Pagan ceremony led by “guisers” – an hereditary team of 45 barrel carriers in traditional costumes. Whisky barrels filled with flaming tar are paraded across the town, before being thrown on to a huge bonfire.

The Haxey Hood, Lincolnshire

Smoking the Fool … a fire is lit under the Fool who makes a welcome speech before officially starting the Haxey Hood.

Smoking the Fool … a fire is lit under the Fool who makes a welcome speech before officially starting the Haxey Hood. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/the Guardian

6 January
And on the 12th day of Christmas … a man with a feathery hat tried to smuggle a leather tube into his local pub. The event, in the parish of Haxey, north Lincolnshire, is not unlike the mass rugby/football games that take place in various parts of the country where there are far more participants than rules – a large, chaotic match in which locals try to manoeuvre the leather “hood” to one of four pubs. The game, which can go on well into the evening, ends once the hood arrives at a pub, where it remains until the following year.

Whittlesea Straw Bear festival, Cambridgeshire

The Whittlesea Straw Bear festival

9-11 January
If anything is going to help lift the spirits above the dreary grind of January, it’s a man dressed head to toe in straw, dancing to folk music. This Cambridgeshire festival includes barn dances and concerts, as well as a procession through the streets on Saturday with teams of Morris dancers and, of course, the belle of the ball: the straw bear. Come Sunday, however, the bear costume will go up in smoke during the “bear burning” ceremony, a symbolic act to leave the way open for the new harvest … and a new bear.
Concert and barn dance £10, daytime events free,

Article source (The Guardian) by Will Coldwell

Solstice Events U.K are offering their usual Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour / transport from London

Stonehenge Guided Tours

A new breed of fixers for the itchy-footed are offering made-to-measure trips tailored to a client’s pocket, pace and passions, writes Tim Pile

On his way home from a recent Nato summit in Wales, Barack Obama made an unannounced stop at Stonehenge. The prehistoric monument closed early so that the president of the United States could soak up the atmosphere without being gawked at by day-trippers. He was given a personal tour by an English Heritage curator before continuing his helicopter journey to London. Describing the ancient stone circle as “cool”, Obama told reporters that he had “knocked it off his bucket list“.

The president’s sightseeing sortie might seem beyond the reach of ordinary mortals but his stopover was merely a high-profile example of a global tourist trend.

A growing number of tour operators specialise in putting together one-of-a-kind adventures. Like buying a tailor-made suit, discerning clients – many of whom have been there, done that, and bought the vineyard – are willing to pay for a “made-to-measure” experience. Add a whiff of one-upmanship and it’s easy to understand why this sector of the tourism industry is becoming increasingly popular.

The high-end holiday market encompasses a pigeonhole-defying range of possibilities. A customised itinerary can mean gaining entry where doors are usually closed while neatly sidestepping the tourist herds. The best companies can fix up tee times on a Ryder Cup golf course or charter you a steam train in India. They’ll arrange for a historian to accompany you around first world war battlefields or set up a meeting with the president of the Maldives to hear how climate change is affecting the low-lying archipelago.

Firms that put together special-interest programmes usually give clients the opportunity to unpick and reassemble itineraries to suit individual tastes. Perhaps you’re fed up with arriving at all the best sights at midday, leaving you with overexposed, washed-out photos. Someone a phone call away will be happy to tweak the tour so that you arrive in Vienna for sunrise and Budapest for sunset.

Read the full travel story here:

Stonehenge Guided Tours arrange bespoke private guided tours of Stonehenge, including special access private viewings.

Regardless of background, age, nationality or any other individual feature, it’s up to every one of us to do our part in limiting mankind’s carbon footprint and subsequent impact on the environment. This means really thinking about how we use energy and which companies we give our business to; typically, these slight changes of lifestyle begin at home – but they should also be considered when you’re planning your holiday.

A visit to Stonehenge fits in well in conjunction with an eco-holiday. After all, although the details of how and why Stonehenge was built remain largely a mystery, the site seems to somehow be in tune with the earth, as if the monument speaks to an age when mankind lived in harmony with the natural world rather than actively harming it to irretrievable levels. This is why the recent Stonehenge includes using the site as a place for Pagan worshippers to celebrate the natural world. Since the 1870’s, the site has been visited by Neo-Druids who revere the earth as the giver of life. If you visit Stonehenge during the summer solstice you’ll see followers of all faiths who worship nature; Stonehenge, it seems, is one of the best places in Europe to really feel the power of the natural world.

With that in mind, we thought we’d put together some information that will enable you to make your trip to Stonehenge as ecologically conscience as possible.

Getting Here 

A welcome fact about eco-holidays is that they’re rarely as expensive as you might think; they just need to be researched a little more thoroughly than a traditional vacation. To begin with, it’s worth noting that travelling by cruise is actually more damaging to the environment than flying (though cruise ships are trying to improve). Flying is also damaging, but improvements to aircrafts and less travel time means the impact is reduced, at least.

If you’re travelling to the UK specifically to see Stonehenge, then the most logical way to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly into one of the airports and prevent any need to a long drive to the site. Southampton Airport is only 26 miles, whilst the larger Bristol Airport is 53 miles away. The closest airport in London is Heathrow, which is 73 miles away.

If possible, reduce your carbon footprint by traveling to Stonehenge on our tours that depart from London. This way, there’s no need to rent multiple vehicles, which could be both expensive and unnecessarily damaging to the environment, especially if there is more than 5 of you on the tour.

Where to Stay

The hotel industry has made a big effort in recent years to implement strategies that would reduce environmental damage. The result is a whole host of modern hotels that feature innovative designs that don’t compromise on comfort but do protect the environment. When booking your accommodation, have a look at hotel’s environmental policy; if they don’t have one, consider giving your busy to one that does – hotels that lag behind will soon catch up if their lack of policy negatively affects business.

There are a number of hotels near Stonehenge that are considered “green”. The Holiday Inn Salisbury, for instance, holds a Silver Award from Green Tourism, while the Fairlawn Hotel is just 10 minutes from Stonehenge and has worked out to make sure their as eco-friendly as they can be, by implementing policies such as using local suppliers, recycling and reducing paper, and using compost in the garden.

Alternatively, those visitors who love the outdoors might find that camping is the best accommodation for them. Staying at Stonehenge Campsite means you’re just 5 miles from Stonehenge and as in tune with the natural environment as you can be prior to visiting the monument.

Respect the Environment

Not all tour operators treat Stonehenge with considered respect. With Stonehenge tours, you can rest assured that you’re travelling with a company that respects the values of Stonehenge and the environment at large.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a role to play. The best way to protect the environment – whilst in it – is to be vigilant about your interaction with it. This means taking your litter with you, being mindful of the delicacy of the infrastructure, and making sure that Stonehenge remains a sacred place. Generally, the best policy to adopt is: ‘take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’.

Be at Home

The most basic method of being ecologically minded when visiting Stonehenge – and elsewhere, for that matter – is to follow the same fundamental rules that you’d follow at home. This means switching off lights and other electrical items in your hotel room when not in use, timing your showers to limit water use, and using the air-conditioning/heating responsibly.

Stonehenge Guided Tours