Dawning of reality as travellers miss out on Stonehenge: Peace has returned to the ancient site that became an annual battleground on the summer solstice, writes Alex Renton

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE LONGEST Day dawned clear and bright on a Stonehenge as deserted as it has been in its 5,000-year history.

The only crowd was a full quarter of a mile away at the slip-road: a line of bored policemen guarding the monument against an invasion that never came.

Yesterday, police and English Heritage reckoned they had at last won their long-running battle against freelance celebrators of the summer solstice. 'It would seem the travellers have got the message,' a Wiltshire police spokeswoman said. 'We're very pleased.'

The police operation - which cost pounds 300,000 last year - seemed grossly over-elaborate. The numbers involved have not yet been revealed, but all leave in Wiltshire was cancelled and officers from several surrounding forces put on standby. But the nearest travellers' camp to Stonehenge, four miles away at Shipton Bellinger on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border, held only 60 people.

Although some 6,000 travellers are said to be gathered on sites in the South and South-west, it seems they decided to stay away from Stonehenge this year.

At Shipton Bellinger, travellers camping in a small wood insisted late on Sunday night that their lack of numbers would not prevent an attempt to reach the stones. 'It is crucial that we keep alive our demand for access to the stones,' one said. 'It is a religious site - it should be available to everyone.'

Most of them left the camp during the night to walk to the stones, but were turned back in the four-mile 'exclusion zone' under a Public Order Act order prohibiting processions. A procession is deemed to be two or more people.

Police allowed members of the Glastonbury Order of Druids to perform a ceremony at dawn on a roundabout on the A303, about two miles away. Travellers claimed one success: a man calling himself King Arthur Pendragon and a friend managed to enter English Heritage's car park, about 200 yards from the stones. Only two arrests were made, compared with 30 last year and several hundred in previous years. Police evicted occupiers of the Shipton Bellinger site without incident at mid-day yesterday.

Leading article, page 19

(Photograph omitted)