Thousands mark summer solstice

 

Thousands of people have marked the summer solstice despite the celebration being one of the wettest in years.

Poor weather could not dampen the spirits of 14,500 people who welcomed the sun at Stonehenge at dawn this morning.

The annual pagan celebration of the sun, on the longest day of the year, centred on the famous prehistoric monument where the event was marked with religious ceremonies.

The solstice annually attracts an eclectic mix and among the druids, revellers and sun worshippers were those just curious to experience the spiritual event at the site on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

English Heritage opened up the stone circle at Stonehenge yesterday evening ready to welcome those making the annual pilgrimage.

Heavy rain overnight reduced the number of people who camped out or arrived early to witness the dawn compared with previous years, which have seen numbers of around 20,000.

The sunrise at 4.52am was welcomed by rain-sodden crowds with a loud cheer and applause despite the sun being blanketed by dark clouds.

Through the poor weather, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept the mood cheerful while new age pagans danced to their rhythm.

Joining revellers this year was a 22ft (6.70m) figure called Ancestor which was moved to the stones ahead of the solstice celebrations.

The steel statue depicts a man with his "head thrown back and arms open wide".

A spokesman for English Heritage said: "14,500 people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice this year.

"Heavy rain during the night meant this was one of the lowest attendances in recent years.

"However the rain did stop in time for the sunrise ceremonies and although clouds obscured the sun, loud cheers and applause rang out amongst the ancient stones.

"There was torrential rain at some points during the evening, but it stopped and although it was cloudy, it didn't rain for sunrise.

"It has been the wettest and dare I say the muddiest in recent years."

Wiltshire Police said the event passed peacefully with just 20 arrests.

Superintendent Matt Pullen said: "Solstice 2012 has been a positive experience for the majority of visitors.

"Our aim was to make sure that everybody had a safe and enjoyable evening which, along with our partners, we achieved.

"As with every year, sadly there was a small minority who were determined to disregard the law. These people were dealt with robustly and there were 20 arrests throughout the night."

The arrests were for theft, drugs or alcohol-related offences. There were also 101 street cautions for cannabis.

Stonehenge, which is between 4,000 and 5,000 years old, has been the site of confrontations between worshippers, other revellers and police officers in some past years.

PA

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