Tens of thousands of revellers gathered at Stonehenge for an all-night party to celebrate the longest day of the year this morning – despite grey clouds that obscured the sunrise.
English Heritage say 18,000 revellers descended on the site that is usually roped off to the public to witness dawn at exactly 4.43am. The event is significant for druids, who were joined by hippies, pagans and tourists as well as hordes of younger visitors in search of a good party.
However the number of people who camped out overnight or arrived early to witness the dawn was down on previous years because of the poor weather and the solstice falling on a weekday.
There was no beautiful sunrise into clear blue skies – heavy overnight rain gave way to overcast but dry skies as the sun rose, greeted by cheering and applause.
The self-styled King Arthur Pendragon, the veteran druid who led the event, said it had passed off smoothly.
‘We didn’t get a great sunrise but it was dry,’ he said. ‘Everyone seems happy with the result.
‘It is great to see the stones being used in this way, as opposed to the usual manner with tourists being herded around.’
Stonehenge, which is between 4,000 and 5,000 years old, has in past years been the site of confrontations between revellers and police.
But Superintendent Gavin Williams, of Wiltshire Police, said the majority of the crowd this year were well-behaved and ‘came to see the sunrise in the spirit of the event’, which was policed in the same way as night spots in the county. However, two men were photographed fighting at the event.
Of the 20 arrests, 11 were for drugs offences and five for public
Mr Williams said: ‘Although it was disappointing that some individuals chose to bring drugs with them, they were dealt with robustly.’
English Heritage, which manages the Stonehenge site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, said the atmosphere had been ‘peaceful and good natured’.
The annual event is a modern take on solstice celebrations which were once a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar. Celebrations focus on the Heelstone, which sits just outside the main circle, and is aligned with the midsummer sunrise.
The solstice is one of the few times access is granted inside the stone circle, which has been roped off since 1978 following years of erosion and vandalism.
Stonehenge’s origins remain a mystery, but one theory is that it is a huge astronomical calendar. Others say an ancient sun-worshipping culture aligned the structure with the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset.
The World Heritage site was used as a cremation cemetery since its inception, archaeologists say, but it is unclear if that was its principal function.
It was build in three phases, with stones brought from up to 150 miles away, between 3000 BC and 1600 BC
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