WHILE thousands descend on Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, for a pagan pilgrimage, where are the best spots to enjoy the longest day of the year in Scotland.
THE summer solstice happens when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, with the Earth’s axis tilting most towards it.
Astrologists count the summer solstice as the beginning of summer. The occasion is also linked with many religious and cultural festivals, but the most well known one is the Pagan Midsummer. Pagans used the summer solstice as a market for planting and harvesting crops, celebrating the God and Goddess coming together.
So where in Scotland can people celebrate the solstice.
1 - The Shetland Islands
Being the most northerly location in the UK, this is the place where the sun barely sets. In fact, at some spots it is possible to see the sun rise before it goes below the horizon.
At Ollaberry, in Northmavine on the west coast, there is a massive gathering of bikers who travel to the islands and celebrate the Simmer Dim - the Shetland term for summer twilight.
If you don’t get the chance to join them, there are various other locations to watch the sunset/sunrise, including Unst, the northernmost island on Shetland.
There you will also find Valhalla Brewery which produces a delicious golden Simmer Dim ale. Or you could visit the Saxa Vord Distillery, also on Unst and try some Shetland Reel Simmer Dim Limited Edition Gin, which is flavoured with orange peel, orris root, liquorice root, caraway and juniper.
Historically, why not visit the ruins of Jarlshof, Old Scatness wheelhouse and the impressive Broch of Mousa?
2 - Orkney
Orkney’s historic and spiritual heritage dates back over 5,000 years and on these islands you’ll find some of the best–preserved Neolithic monuments in Europe.
Midsummer and the summer solstice on 21 June is one of the best times to experience the mystical qualities in the heart of Neolithic Orkney.
There is also the Standing Stones of Calanais, Dun Carloway Broch and the replica Iron Age house at Bosta beach on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. There are a number of events taking place throughout the islands during the week to celebrate.
3 - Head to the hills
When most walkers and climbers are returning from the hills, many are heading up to enjoy the Solstice.
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “Long midsummer evenings, moonlight and a forecast of clear skies, are the perfect combination for enjoying sunsets over summits, high-level star gazing and nocturnal nature.
“With the right planning, preparation, skills and respect for the risks, midsummer hillwalking around dusk can be an awesome experience.”
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland claims that Lochnagar is a favourite for people in the north-east, while Ben McDui attract crowds north of Inverness.
A spokesman said: “Ben Nevis probably sees a lot of folk too, although I imagine lots of people will just go up their local hill, even if it’s not a Munro. Falkland Hill in Fife would be a good spot – accessible, not too much of a climb, but a lot higher than the surrounding countryside and with clear views all around.
“When anyone is choosing a hill it’s well worth considering how hard it is, as they’ll very likely be doing at least part of the ascent in the dark and will be tired after being up all day, so anything technical or too far/high might not be a good idea.”
4 - Tee of in the twilight
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “Fancy teeing off at 10pm or even midnight? The Highlands and the northern and western islands can have up to 19 hours of daylight at this time of year. So why not play a round of golf with a difference and tee off in the still of twilight?
“Whilst clubhouses and facilities might be closed for the day, courses aren’t and if there’s no-one to take your green fees, honesty boxes are a charming and easy way to pay for your round.
“Head for one of the four courses on Shetland, perhaps the Dale at Shetland Golf Club? Or try one of the five courses on Orkney – the views to the Isle of Hoy from Stromness golf course, for instance, are hard to beat.
“Durness in the North Highlands offers golf from dawn to dusk, as does Brora Links in Sutherland and the course at Traigh near Arisaig, set amidst stunning coastal scenery, is a gem not to be missed.”
5 - Crannog Roundhouse, sitting over Loch Tay
VisitScotland said: “Celebrate Midsummer listening to traditional Scottish music while sitting around a log fire in the atmosphere of the Crannog Roundhouse. “Blend the most unique and intimate music venue with the mythical Summer Solstice and you have an event not to be missed. Fill your senses with the music, the crackling fire, the gentle sound of the water and the atmosphere and ambience of the Crannog.
Midsummer has been celebrated in many forms since Neolithic times. Traditionally, bonfires were lit and celebrations commenced at dusk and continued for 24 hours.
“It was beleived that the bonfires would provide protection against evil spirits who roamed freely at this time.
“The Summer Solstice is still celebrated in many ways throughout the world but not everyone has a Crannog to celebrate it in.”