This morning I had the privilege of experiencing the winter solstice at Stonehenge for the first time.

Previously, I have pondered why people celebrate a couple of sunrises a year when we get to see 365 of them (if we are up early enough). So I set my alarm for the early hours to find out.

I headed out at dawn, taking the shuttle bus from Salisbury. We arrived at the visitor’s centre just as the darkness began to disintegrate, and I followed the crowd down a road that initially looked like it was leading to nowhere.

But after a brisk stroll, we reached the monument. The sky was set alight by a glorious sunrise, and the light appeared through the cracks of the stone circle, marking the beginning of lighter, longer days.

Spirits were at a high as visitors surrounded the stones. Many were dancing, singing and playing musical instruments.

But lots of people also paused for reflection - a large portion of whom had travelled alone. While many refused to miss the perfect photo opportunity, there was little sign of anyone looking down at their phone for very long.

Transfixed to the monument, or engrossed in celebration, the rest of the world slowed down for a couple of hours as people took the time to come together and be present.

Everyone was getting into the solstice spirit, and I even spotted some people who were hugging the stones. Part of the excitement this morning came with the rare opportunity to get up close to the monument, as for the majority of the year you are unable to touch the stones.

It’s only on the days of the winter and summer solstice when a special provision is made, and people can get a real feel for them.

I began to see what all the fuss was about with this one particular sunrise. 

I met one lady who was delighted to see such a clear day, having visited in previous years where the weather had been disappointing. And lots of people noted how much more they appreciated just being outdoors since the start of the pandemic.

The winter solstice felt especially significant this morning as people were able to come together to mark the occasion.

Even after a few months without Covid restrictions, it still feels monumental when crowds can gather safely. With an impending lockdown likely on the cards, I can definitely see how taking a moment to appreciate nature and step back from the Christmas chaos can soothe the soul.