Druids take the spring initiative: Horn-player sends message to all corners as he performs an ancient rite beside the Tower of London

THE MIDDLE-AGED man in a white robe turned his back to the midday sun, pointed a three-foot horn like a blunderbuss towards the press photographers scuttling along a flat roof, puffed out his cheeks and blew, an ancient and primitive sound.

He turned through 180 degrees and the reason for his otherwise incongruous pair of shades became obvious as he squinted at the sun and fired a blast over the Tower of London.

Then he turned another 90 degrees clockwise, and repeated the exercise towards St Paul's Cathedral, and with a deep breath and reddening face completed the process in the direction of Docklands.

The druids, 40-strong and enrobed, were welcoming the spring equinox a day earlier than the secular world, but correctly as the sun entered Aries, according to their own calculations. They always welcome the spring equinox at this spot next to the Tower, in east London, where a plaque informs the world that Donald Soper spoke weekly for more than 65 years.

The chief druid, David Loxley, 47, counselled the chattering druids to put external thoughts aside, to make sure that they were relaxed, and to imagine a brilliant circle of light spiralling anti- clockwise around them.

They closed their eyes, and processed across the road, many with their eyes closed, the traffic halted by two policemen, and gathered in a cirle for a ceremony read from well-thumbed pamphlets, and lasting nearly an hour.

The peace they sought was not much in evidence. Peter Moore, London's town crier for the past 20 years and paid to promote the Tower of London Pageant, stood at the entrance tolling his handbell loudly, handing out leaflets that were offering 50p off. 'If my bell's good enough for Lord Soper, it's good enough for the druids,' he said uncompromisingly, posing in his red robes for yet another tourist.

Teenage foreign visitors gathered chattering around the druid ceremony, pleased to have something to photograph. 'Oh look, they're going to sacrifice a baby,' a girl said to her friend, pointing to a druid holding an infant.

Maidens with flowers in their hair brought in a horn of plenty, filled with cider. Pumpkin seeds were also brought in and scattered on the ground. A sword was partly unsheathed, and the trumpet was sounded.

There was a sermon which could have been delivered from almost any Anglican pulpit, enjoining the druids to have a vision of goodness rather than pursue material goods for their own sake.

We may know that trees will grow leaves in the spring, but the first time there was a spring, it required faith to believe in the leaves. 'Without this vision, which is a non-evidential vision, nothing will have leaves on,' the druids were told.

Afterwards, Mr Loxley said the tolling bell had been unfortunate, but the druids had to accept this was a public place, with a cross- section of society present. Sadly, he added: 'There didn't use to be a McDonald's here.'

(Photograph omitted)