Record crowd greet solstice at Stonehenge

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:58

Record numbers of people descended on Stonehenge this morning to mark the summer solstice.

Despite the sun not making an appearance in an overcast sky, around 36,500 people enjoyed a carnival atmosphere at the ancient stone circle on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

An eccentric mix of Morris dancers, pagans dressed in their traditional robes and musicians playing guitars and drums gathered alongside visitors from across the world.

The good weather and the fact that the solstice fell over a weekend drew in the crowds from around 7pm last night.

As the sun rose at 4.58am a cheer went up from those gathered at the stone circle.

Bleary-eyed revellers wrapped in blankets, ponchos, cloaks and bin liners gathered at Heel Stone, the pillar at the edge of the prehistoric monument, to welcome the sunrise.

English Heritage and Wiltshire police had anticipated the biggest turnout yet and had drafted in extra officers to patrol the site and to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and drugs.

Restrictions were placed on the amount of alcohol people could bring in, with security checks at the main entrance.

But the event was a peaceful one with just 25 arrests overnight for minor public disorder and drug-related offences, a Wiltshire police spokesman said.

Sam Edwards, from Wiltshire police, said: "We are very pleased everything went to plan. The atmosphere has been very good, especially around the stones.

"Most people have been very co-operative with us and very understanding of the reasons for our presence.

"We would not tolerate drugs at all and our approach was to police the event as we would police Salisbury city centre on a Saturday night."

The main route into Stonehenge, the A303, was closed due to volumes of traffic this morning and the car park was full with 6500 cars by 3am.

This year 200 peace stewards and security officers were brought in alongside police.

English Heritage drafted in 100 portable toilets for the event.

Peter Carson, head of Stonehenge, said 31,000 people attended last year's event.

"We were expecting it to be busy this year, but we had ensured that it has been a peaceful and enjoyable solstice," he said.

"The conditions of entry ensured it was a safe event. In the past it is those people who have consumed excess alcohol which caused disorder.

"There has been a great atmosphere and where else would you want to be on midsummer's day?"

Adele Stanton, 27, and partner Simon Banks Van Zyl, 38, brought their children Llywelyn, three, and Gruffydd, 18 months, from Portsmouth.

Miss Stanton said: "I am from South Africa and this is my first visit to Stonehenge so I am quite emotional.

"It's been great, we wanted to bring the children to be a part of it because they are a family event."

Mr Banks Van Zyl said: "I first came in 1991 when it was illegal to be here so I climbed through the fencing, it was a but like the great escape but it was exciting.

"So I never had to queue in traffic before, but the amount of people here makes special, it is a celebration of life, history and going back to our roots."

Musician Nick Wells, 50, from Surrey, was also came to Stonehenge for solstice illegally in the 1980s.

"I've been playing the Gadulka, a 13-string Bulgarian fiddle in the circle, its been magical," he said.

"Everyone has been very peaceful and I am surprised I have not seen any trouble at all.

"It is nice that people can get so close to the stones but to me it is almost sacrilegious to touch them."

An all-night party on a smaller scale took place a few miles from Stonehenge at the Avebury stone circle.

Druid Jim Saunders, 33, from Reading, is a member of the Aes Dana Grove order.

He said: "The significance of Stonehenge on the solstice to me is to do my best to educate as many people as possible in our culture.

"We carried out the Awen ritual in the circle by chanting to raise the energy and ask for peace and healing.

"There were 16 druids here today but only three of us made it into the circle.

"It is nice to see a lot of people here because there is no better place to learn about our culture and history.

"But it is upsetting to see so much litter, and some people can be disrespectful."

He added: "Hopefully from the people we have spoken to today we can plant a seed of knowledge that will grow."

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