Whistling witches and druids with drums greet solstice at Stonehenge

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The Independent Online

The distinctive Stonehenge dawn chorus of gongs, drums and whistles greeted the summer solstice yesterday. At 4.42am, thousands of people had gathered for the traditional welcome to the northern hemisphere's longest day, even if the rising sun was hidden by thick cloud.

The distinctive Stonehenge dawn chorus of gongs, drums and whistles greeted the summer solstice yesterday. At 4.42am, thousands of people had gathered for the traditional welcome to the northern hemisphere's longest day, even if the rising sun was hidden by thick cloud.

"It's such a cool place to be. People have been doing this since year dot, even though we have no written records of why," said John Rothwell, 39, a British "witch". "Everybody needs a reason to gather together, a place of reverence."

Yesterday was only the third time in more than a decade that the ancient site has been open for solstice celebrations following past clashes with police, which led to a four-mile exclusion zone being set up around the stones.

Among the 22,000 revellers, there were only 11 arrests, mainly for drunkenness and drug offences.

People started to gather at the neolithic site on Thursday night and were later allowed to congregate near the stones themselves amid a fog of incense and smoke. Dean Feebry, 27, a chemist from Staines, said: "There's a very bizarre mix of people here – witches and druids with knives drinking out of silver goblets. But it's good, it's quite a spiritual place."

Jen Bodimer, 24, from Canada, said: "It's pretty strange, not what I imagined, but it's pretty amazing."

English Heritage had allowed the celebrations on condition that people did not bring in glass bottles or fireworks and did not climb on the stones, and only a few flouted the rule. English Heritage's director of Stonehenge, Clews Everard, said: "There's been a really wonderful atmosphere and everyone seems to have been having a good time. It's good to see so many people of all different ages, classes, types and creeds enjoying themselves."

However, the rainfall quickly dispersed the crowds and the tents were soon dismantled. Some stragglers making their way to the Glastonbury Festival next week are expected in the coming days.

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