The Winter Solstice of 2023 is nearly upon us!
Just after 8am on Friday December 22, the sun will rise, marking the 24-hour period when the Northern hemisphere experiences the shortest day - and a night-time lasting 16 hours.
This special time of year is traditionally celebrated as a season of transformation, new beginnings and a movement away from darkness into light, which explains the number of religious festivals in December.
In Pagan Scandinavia, they enjoyed the Feast of Juul, where a Yule log was traditionally burned to symbolise the heat and life-nurturing properties of the sun.
Meanwhile, the Roman Festival of Saturnalia was celebrated around this time, with feasts and fun and homes decorated with boughs from evergreen trees, to ward off evil spirits who were believed to lurk in the dark.
Here in the UK, Stonehenge grabs all the attention, for the way the sun appears to rise between its stones. But if you don’t fancy the trip, how about celebrating Winter Solstice in another of the UK’s most magical destinations – the beautiful New Forest?
Here are a few suggestions of where to witness this enchanting astronomical moment and, who knows, you may even be lucky enough to glimpse some of this year’s Ursid meteor shower, too!
- Castle Hill. Near Godshill, this former Iron Age hill fort retains its earthwork ring and bailey, and there is a car-park nearby.
- The Huff Duff. Originally home to a war-time High Frequency Direction Finding station HF/DF – hence its name – this hill, in the forest’s Northern Commons, offers spectacular views and a great chance of seeing that solstice sun
- Calshot Spit. Facing directly east, towards the Isle of Wight, you’ll be able to witness the winter sun rise majestically over the Solent.
- Piper’s Wait. Located near Nomansland and Bramshaw in the forest’s north, at 140 metres, this is officially the New Forest’s highest hill and therefore the perfect place to watch the winter sun peeking over the horizon. It’s also easy to find, with its own car-park, with views stretching to Watership Down in the north east, as well as Danebury Hillfort near Andover, and the Isle of Wight
- Telegraph Hill. Also near Bramshaw, this hill is a great bet for solstice-spotters because of the fantastic view from the top.
- Lepe Beach. There are some spectacular sunrises to be had at this beautiful part of the New Forest which are intensified by the reflection from the sea. The Country Park opens at 7am.
- Bolton’s Bench. If you don’t fancy a huge trek up a hillside, this little hump of a hill, just outside Lyndhurst as you come in from Cadnam, is a great place to watch the winter dawn.
- Hatchet Pond. A ten-minute drive from Brockenhurst, the New Forest’s largest body of water makes a fine place to see in the winter solstice, which should be reflected in the lake’s glassy surface.
Our breakfasts are legendary and one carrying the New Forest marque means the food will have been produced or supplied by trusted locals. Take your pick from Steff’s Kitchen at Beaulieu, the Farmyard Café at Hockey’s Farm near Ringwood, or the Old Station Tea Rooms at Burley, and don’t forget that many of our excellent pubs do breakfast walk-ins, so check out the ones you’d like to visit here: https://www.thenewforest.co.uk/blog/post/top-places-for-breakfast-and-brunch-in-the-new-forest/
- Safety – Walking in the dark, especially up hills, can be dangerous. You’ll need to be a competent walker, wear clothing and footwear suitable for the weather and terrain and take a good-quality torch to see in the dark and a phone in case of emergencies. Let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back. More advice here: https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/staying-safe-in-the-dark/
- Photo credit to Nick Lucas