Go home to Mum for Christmas? No way]: Camilla Berens travels to deepest Wiltshire to spend the longest night with the Space Goats and other assorted pagans. There isn't a turkey in sight

Look out for King Arthur, said Fraggle. 'He's sure to be somewhere far out and cosmic on solstice night.' According to Fraggle, a member of the Dongas tribe, King Arthur is alive and well and living in Portsmouth. 'He really thinks he's him. He wears all the clothes, everything,' said Fraggle. On the Longest Night, as pagans call the winter solstice, King Arthur could pop up anywhere.

Fraggle was sad. She had to MoT her bus in London and wouldn't be able to join her fellow tribespeople on their sortie into the Wiltshire countryside to celebrate the winter solstice on 21 December. 'I'll probably have to do it in a house]' she said mournfully.

Since the Dongas lost their battle to save Twyford Down in Hampshire from John MacGregor's bulldozers, the tribe has split into smaller groups. Some have gone 'back to the land' and are living in a small encampment in Brittany. Others are on the 'front line' of the campaign to halt work on the M11 extension works in Wanstead, east London. Others still are living on land in North Wales, lent to them by local Druids.

So on Tuesday, the night of the solstice, there was not a Donga in sight at the Red Lion pub in Avebury village, with its ring of ghostly grey stones. But there were plenty of Donga look-alikes in unisex dreadlocks, nose-rings, tie-dyed clothes and granny cardigans. 'We heard there's a ritual on Silbury Hill,' explained one.

The landlord, Trevor Walter, was surprisingly unfazed by the colourful influx. He has only been in residence since April, but he has already seen two Druid weddings, the May Day festival of Beltane and a lively group celebrating the summer solstice. 'They're a nice, peaceful bunch of people on the whole. There are some locals who have no time for them, but I say, as long as they behave themselves, let them be.'

Many of the traditions celebrated by these modern pagans have in fact been absorbed into Christianity. The winter solstice marks the return of the life force and the rebirth of the sun and one of its symbols is fire. Pagans claim that's why we light the Christmas pudding. Another name for the solstice is yule. The word yule is derived from the Old English name for a pagan feast lasting 12 days.

As the evening wore on, there was little sign of activity around the stone circle. 'Nothing like the summer one,' explained Mr Walter. 'There were 200 people dancing on Silbury Hill, quite a few of them naked. And we had 60 police on stand-by in the car park.' A local chuckled, and added: 'I bet they all had binoculars.'

Helen, a 19-year-old with de rigueur nose-ring, had met up with a group of friends from Lancaster University. 'Christmas really means nothing to me. It just feels like an obligation to your parents. The solstice is more like a natural time to celebrate the earth and the sun. And my mum's not very happy about my nose-ring either. She went up the wall and hasn't come down again.'

Tim, a graphic design graduate, believes many young people are attracted to pagan beliefs as part of the new 'tribal' subculture. 'If you see someone with dreds, you know they're probably sound people who are into the same things as you. It's about saving the planet, freedom and civil rights.'

In the car park on the far side of the ring, the rhythmic sounds of drumming filter out from a large black bus. Inside, the Space Goats, a group of self-styled 'modern-day bards' and 'eco-nomads', and a dozen or so friends are getting ready for the evening meal.

The bus is warm and cosy, all pine panels and pot plants. A pile of boots lies at the top of the stairs. A dozen or so people sit around in huddles under blankets and duvets. Lizzie, an earth mother type with long skirt and scarves wound around her neck, bustles about in front of the gas stove, brewing tea, and chopping vegetables for a veggie stew. The talk is of carrot cake and goddesses, and the scent of garlic and cannabis fills the interior.

The group, ranging in age from early twenties to late thirties, had travelled down from London to spend the day wandering around Silbury Hill, West Kennett Long Barrow and Avebury Circle itself - 'singing, chanting and feeling the power of the place'. After dark, they regrouped at the bus for a pow-wow.

Mel, another earth mother, picked up her guitar, began to sing a soulful ballad of how female wisdom and respect for the land has been destroyed by greed and patriarchy. Clive, one of the Space Goats, who, like Mel, thinks of himself as a pagan, joined in on his didgeridoo, and Matt, another Space Goat, tapped his spoon in time on the side of his mug.

Clive, Matt, Chris and Simon claim to be 'honorary Dongas'. 'We sing and talk to people about how our land is being destroyed and how we have to do something quickly before it's too late,' says Clive.

The dozen or so people sitting around Clive agree that the solstice is far more important to them than Christmas. 'I think people are opening themselves up,' interjects Mel. 'A lot of the problems we've got now are because of men and patriarchy. The female side, the goddess, mother earth, nurturing, caring, giving, is coming back to redress the balance.'

Most of the group turn out to be anti-roads campaigners. Some have been squatting in Wanstead, while others are campaigning against the imminent criminalisation of squatters. Clive believes the Government's reaction to the new wave of youth protests is to crack down on alternative groups, 'like squatters, travellers, anyone who is showing that there's another way'. As dawn breaks, will the group tire of mud and biting winds and set off home to mum and dad, a hot Christmas lunch and a nice soft bed? 'No way]' they chorus. But many of the younger contingent admit that it will be their first Christmas away from home.

'I've learnt a lot about myself this year,' says Caroline, 22. 'To me, Christmas Day is a time to be doing something useful and helping people in the community. It's difficult going home, because there are all sorts of hassles. For a start, I'm vegan and Christmas lunch is a big problem.

But Caroline says that she has reached a compromise: 'I've said I'll go back home to Perthshire for Hogmanay.' Doesn't she feel guilty about not doing the 'dutiful daughter' bit? 'No. I've been psyching them up for it for the last eight months.'

The group had planned a special ritual at dawn the following morning: 'a bit of chanting, invocation, things like that'. But as the rainy skies changed from slate to pale grey, there was no sign of life from the bus.

Meanwhile, in the circle itself, another group, the Rag Morris Men, who had been unable to celebrate the solstice at Stonehenge, joined hands and danced in a ring around a stone to welcome the new day. There was only a small anti-climax. King Arthur didn't show.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week