Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and England has some unique celebrations that were certainly around in Regency times and may have dated back centuries, and some of them are just plain weird. The most famous modern solstice celebration is that at Stonehenge, where over twenty thousand people gathered this morning at sunrise.

In Cornwall, there are midsummer bonfire festivals.

Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex has the peculiar power to raise the devil if you can persuade someone to run around it seven times anti-clockwise and you can see fairies if you recite A Midsummer Night’s Dream there on midsummer night’s eve (hmm. We should have commissioned Cara and Todd for this one). It has quite a reputation for paranormal events and experiences.

Derbyshire has its own peculiar brand of midsummer celebrations with well-dressing, something that is probably associated with the ancient worship of sacred springs. Villagers create pictures, often very elaborate and detailed, made of flowers and leaves stuck into clay in a wooden frame which are then displayed at the local well. Although the tradition is associated with the solstice, the season lasts from May until September. In one of those particularly odd English marriages of the official and pagan, here the Mayor and Bishop of Derby bless the Derby offering of 1997.

The solstice is also considered to be a powerful time for love divinations and the best time to gather herbs for magical properties (if you want to dream of your future lover, by the way, sleep with some yarrow beneath your pillow).

Do you know of any interesting solstice customs? Have you read or written about one?

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