There are a few different ways to think of the two solstices that occur every year (20-21 June and 21-22 December) – the word itself comes from the Latin meaning ‘sun standing still’ because they are the days on which the sun’s path across the sky stops climbing in the summer, and stops falling in the winter.
Because of this, they are also the longest and shortest days of the year – on the summer solstice, the sun rises the earliest, sets the latest, and reaches the highest point in the sky, while the reverse is true for the winter solstice.
They have long been considered special days, with ancient cultures celebrating the solstices as a sign of the changing seasons, and many people continue to think of them as something special in the present day too.
So if you want to witness these events, where should you be? North Wales has plenty of spectacular outlooks – here are three of the best, depending on the time of day.
Sunrise – Bryn Celli Ddu burial chamber, Isle of Anglesey
Bryn Celli Ddu is a Neolithic chambered tomb, and a perfect spiritual location to celebrate the dawn of the solstice.
It is home to one of Anglesey’s best-known prehistoric monuments, a burial chamber known in English as the Mound in the Dark Grove, and it is unique in being the only tomb to be aligned directly with the rising sun on the summer solstice on the island.
To be present at the tomb at the dawning of the summer solstice is a very special moment indeed and people flock to Anglesey from far and wide to observe the druidic service that accompanies the rising of the sun. You won’t be privileged enough to experience the solstice from inside the tomb however, this is considered sacred ground. As the first rays of dawn penetrate the open doorway, lighting the inner burial chamber, it is filled with a sense of life, even in a place of the dead.
Sunset – Holyhead Mountain
If you crave an atmospheric location from which to view the solstice sunset then look no further than the aptly named Myndd Twr (Mountain of the Tower), two miles outside Holyhead on the West coast of Anglesey. A place steeped in legend, Holyhead Mountain as it’s also known, has been settled continuously since the Iron Age. Unlike Bryn Celli Ddu (also on Anglesey) the mountain has no druidic associations making it an idyllic location from which to view sunset on the 21st without worrying about the crowds.
On a clear day, as the sun sinks in the West, hikers to the summit may be rewarded with views of the Wicklow Mountains far across the Irish Sea.
On your return journey pause for a moment at the ancient stone circle or the remains of the Roman fort, standing silent and ethereal in the evening twilight. Both offer tangible reminders of the enduring links to our ancient past – a perfect end to the longest day.
Sunrise & Sunset – The Great Orme
For a truly spectacular solstice, The Great Orme offers an unrivalled viewing platform, even if you never leave the car park at the Summit!
If you are visiting for sunrise you will make your ascent either by car or on foot. However, if you plan to watch the sunset perhaps you’d prefer to travel on one of Llandudno’s two famous modes of transport, the cable car or the tram? The cable car makes its ascent from the alpine surroundings of Happy Valley whilst the tram meanders through the oldest part of Llandudno, up from Church Walks and over the aptly named ‘Killins’ Hill (and it is steep enough to finish you off!).
The Great Orme has a rich heritage and, for the best solstice experience, we suggest you simply walk up one of the many ancient paths criss-crossing the mountain, soaking up thousands of years history as you go.
Arriving at the Summit, a heady 679ft above sea level, you’ll be rewarded with a single vantage point across the steel-grey Irish Sea. Views of Anglesey, Llandudno, the north-east coast and parts of Snowdonia fill the vista. This is a truly epic Welsh location from which to enjoy the spectacle of a special and sacred Celtic festival – one of the few places in Wales where you can watch the sun rise and set from the exact same position.