DRUIDS CELEBRATED the summer Solstice at Stonehenge early today after police ended a four-mile exclusion zone around the sacred stones. For the first time in a decade, worshippers were allowed to assemble at dawn behind a perimeter fence a few yards from the ancient site.
Around 150 druids, pagans and archaeologists ventured inside the stone circle for the annual ceremony - having booked the few available tickets in advance from English Heritage.
The exclusion zone was brought in a decade ago following violent clashes between police and New Age travellers including the so-called Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. The ban was used to stop numbers of vehicles and travellers converging near the monument site. Its success could be measured in the rapidly dwindling numbers over the past few years - and the lack of trouble.
But a recent ruling in the House of Lords held that the public had a right of passageway along the highway, provided there was no nuisance or obstruction.
In the light of that, Wiltshire police did not make their annual approach to Salisbury district council to impose an exclusion order over the Solstice period.
A spokesman for English Heritage, the site's landowners, said: "We are trying to do our best to extend access to Stonehenge. We have 800 people coming for special access visits over the next few days.
"The police obviously have an operation to maintain public safety and protect the stones. We fully expect it will be peaceful and enjoyable for everybody who comes along."
Lorraine Leaney, for Wiltshire police, said: "There will be a lot of people to see the sunrise and we are hoping they will come here and celebrate peacefully."
Ms Val Bannister, vice-president of the Pagan Federation, thanked English Heritage for improving access. She said now hundreds of people will be allowed to celebrate in their own way, but agreed English Heritage had to limit the numbers invited inside the stone circle.
"Allocation by agreement was necessary, not only to prevent damage from too many people but because people choose to celebrate in different and incompatible ways.
"There is no need to worry about damage to the stones - all concerned take their well-being very seriously," she said.
Historians think Stonehenge was built in several stages from 2800 to 1800 BC, designed to allow for the observation of astronomical phenomena - such as solstices and eclipses.
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