A midsummer day’s scene: Revellers rise at dawn to celebrate the solstice with drumming and dancing
The solstice is a rare chance for members of the public to walk among the ancient Wiltshire stone circle
June 21 is the longest day of the calendar year, with daylight hours getting shorter from now on
By sunset last night, 2,000 people had gathered to keep vigil. By 5am, 21,000 people were greeting the sunrise.Police praise ‘positive, friendly atmosphere’ and made only 22 arrests, mainly for drug offences
By Helen Lawson dailymail.co.uk
PUBLISHED: 09:27 GMT, 21 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:53 GMT, 21 June 2013
More than 20,000 people descended on Stonehenge to greet the sunrise on the longest day of the year.
Cloudy skies prevented the gathering of pagans, druids and partygoers, from basking in the sun as they marked the summer solstice.
By sunset last night, 2,000 people had arrived at the stone circle to begin an overnight vigil. Their numbers swelled before the sun reappeared just before 5am.
The celebrations came ahead of a ‘historic moment’ in the ancient Wiltshire site’s £27million transformation, where a nearby road will be closed and grassed over to restore one of the key approaches to the stones.
Police made 22 arrests during the night, mainly for drug offences, and praised the ‘positive, friendly atmosphere’ of the celebrations.
Thousands of people spent the night at Stonehenge, watching the sun set then waiting for it to rise on the longest day of the year
About 21,000 people, including pagans, druids and partygoers, were at the ancient monument by dawn to greet the longest day of the year
Boaz Sobrado and his girlfriend Lolita Honich, from Hungary, kissed during a sunset ceremony at Stonehenge
Ian Temple, aka Wild Fox, of the Druids of Dorset Grove, wore traditional dress and facepaint for the solstice celebrations
Superintendent Matt Pullen from Wiltshire Police said: ‘The majority of people respected the conditions of entry and the amnesty bins provided were used.
‘Approximately 70 cannabis street warnings were issued. As with previous years, the passive drugs dogs proved very effective.
‘The success of the event depends largely on the good nature of those attending and we are pleased that people could enjoy solstice in the spirit of the event.’
The summer and winter solstices are one of the few chances to walk among the stones and dance within the stone circle, which is usually cordoned off to visitors to protect the site from further erosion.
Those gathered performed chants and music during the celebrations, with some also taking part in hand fasting ceremonies where they promise to love each other for a year and a day, or for how long love will last.
The solstice, which means the sun is standing still, was also marked by about 500 people at Avebury, Wiltshire, who kept watch for the sunrise at stone circles there.
From Monday, the final steps in Stonehenge’s transformation will begin. Part of the road running alongside will be permanently closed as part of a long-awaited refurbishment of the World Heritage Site.
The closure and grassing over of the A344 will make Stonehenge fully part of the landscape again, allowing visitors to relieve the walk between the stone circle and the prehistoric avenue that used to be the approach to the monument.
It is part of work which includes the creation of a new visitor center around 1.5 miles away from the monument, with a cafe, shop and museum showing artefacts and exploring theories about Stonehenge, as well as three replica neolithic houses.
About 2,000 druids, pagans and partygoers had arrived at Stonehenge by sunset last night to await the dawn, with thousands joining their ranks during the night
A girl jumped off a rock at Stonehenge during a sunset ceremony before thousands more people arrived at the ancient monument
The solstice, which means a stopping or standing still of the sun, has been celebrated for thousands of years
‘Mad Al’ danced around shirtless during the humid evening, perhaps unaware of the fan behind him
Jan Staka, also known as the GoPro Guru, from the Czech Republic, wore a helmet of fake cameras and a makeshift robe for the night
Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge director at English Heritage, said the closure of the road was ‘a real milestone in terms of the history of the site’.
She said that the current setting of the stones meant visitors could not fully enjoy and appreciate the site.
English Heritage had wanted to close the road since it was nominated as a World Heritage site and inscribed in 1986, she said.
‘It really is a historic moment,’ she added.
In the first stage, work will begin to remove tarmac on the road and grass it over.
Once a new visitor center opens in December, a longer section of the A344 between Stonehenge and the new facilities will be shut to traffic and become the route for visitors walking or traveling by shuttle to the stones.
The cramped existing car parking and visitor facilities, first built in 1968, will be removed and the area returned to grass.
As the sun rose behind the clouds just before 5am today, druids conducted a ceremony at Stonehenge
The grey cloudy morning did not affect the mood at Stonehenge, where visitors played music and performed rituals
A woman plays the flute inside the megalithic stone circle during the early hours of this morning in Wiltshire
Crowds were still celebrating the solstice at dawn despite keeping vigil overnight at Stonehenge
Ms Knowles said: ‘When you are in Stonehenge in the future, when grass is established, you will be able to make the link between the monument and the rest of the heritage landscape to the north, accessing the avenue, the route by which the monument was approached when it was used as a place of great ceremony.’
Closing the road was ‘absolutely fundamental to all the improvements we’re making to the setting of the monument and all the improvements we are making to the visitor experience’, she said.
More than a million people visit Stonehenge every year.
Barb and Rick Oddy, from Vancouver, Canada, visiting on a coach tour just before the solstice, agreed that closing the road to link up the landscape was a good thing.
Ms Oddy said of the monument: ‘It’s amazing. I can’t decide which theory I believe and I think it’s amazing how they (the stones) got here from Wales.’
Pagans and druids were joined by partygoers wanting to experience the atmosphere of the solstice celebrations
Dancing and drumming was among the overnight activities as people stayed awake to greet the morning
A couple of partygoers danced together in a rare chance to be among the Stonehenge stones
But concerns have been raised that the changes to the site will have a bad effect on coach tours, which stop at Stonehenge as one of a series of destinations.
There are fears that some tour operators may bypass the site because of the extra time involved in transferring groups from a more distant visitor center by shuttle to the monument.
The busy A303, which runs on the other side of Stonehenge, will remain as plans to put the road into a tunnel proved too expensive.
The refurbishment was due to be finished in time for the London Olympics, but was delayed as a result of Government cuts which left English Heritage seeking to fill a £10million funding gap. It was met by an increased grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources.
Chloe Pottinger performs with a hoop at the sunset celebrations at the Avebury Stone Circle last night
About 500 people attended a gathering at Avebury, 22 miles away from Stonehenge
Sunset celebrations began a night of partying and rituals to mark the solstice at the Avebury Stone Circle