Generally, we don’t make much of a thing of the Summer Solstice: we simply mourn that the day after, the days start getting shorter again.
But when I was looking for a post-from-the-past to reblog for June, I came across this one, and was reminded of a Special Summer Solstice. Montségur, for the uninitiated, is a startling tump of a mountain celebrated as one of the last strongholds of the Cathars, a mediaeval Christian sect. It’s a potent landmark in the Ariège.
June 21st, 2011
Summer solstice, Montségur
All this time we’ve been here, we’ve not seen the sunrise over Montségur. Today, midsummer day, I decided to change all that. Me and 99 others……
I arrived at the car park just after 5 o’clock, at the same moment as a hare which had for at least two frantic minutes been trying to out-run me. And I realised I was not alone. It was still dark, and quite a difficult business to trek up a steep, slippery rocky path. Other more provident people had torches, and everybody helped one another.
Towards the top, the night sky was slowly washed from inky blue to delicate blues, pinks and greens by the sun which was still well below the horizon.
I found a couple of friends there, and a vantage point relatively distant from the crowd crammed into the castle ruins. They had come to see something special – the rays of the sun as they poured through the ruined windows. I decided it was too packed with people to feel special in there. I’ll come back another day soon, to see for myself.
What I saw was quite wonderful enough: a rich copper disk slowly mounted above the line of mountains in the distance, tinting the sky ochre, rusty-red, sugar-pink, finally emerging so fiery bright I could no longer look at it. Some locals burst – quite beautifully – into song. Occitan/Ariègeois stalwarts, ‘Quand lo Boièr ven de laurar…’ and, inevitably, ‘Se Canto’.
Gradually the whole sky lightened and brightened, turning the entire landscape crisply clear. I strolled round the summit – it was surprisingly easy to get-away-from-it-all, before skidding and climbing my way down to the car park again….
….and there were my companions who’d provided torchlight. They were hitching, because their car had failed to start. We journeyed back to civilisation together, ready to resume normal service. It was 7.30 a.m.