Thousands celebrate solstice at Stonehenge
Staff and agencies
Tuesday June 21, 2005
An estimated 21,000 people today gathered at Stonehenge to watch the sun rise above the ancient monument on the longest day of the year.
At 4.58am, the earliest time at which the sun makes the passage above that part of Salisbury Plain, cheers rang out as it rose over the monument's "heel" stone.
A few high wisps of cloud, together with low-lying mist, added to the atmosphere of dawn on the longest day of the year.
The all-night festivities at the ancient stone circle, in Wiltshire, passed relatively peacefully. Wiltshire police said six arrests had been made at sunrise, four of them for drink-related offences, although the figure was expected to rise as revellers headed home.
"Between 20,000 and 21,000 turned out for the Solstice festival," a police spokesman said.
The English Heritage chief executive, Dr Simon Thurley, said: "There has been no trouble. People seem to have enjoyed themselves."
Before dawn, King Arthur Pendragon, 51, the head battle chieftain of the British Council of Druids, led a troop of warriors - all anthropology students from the University of East London - in a dance honouring mother nature, whose effigy was held aloft and illuminated by fiery torches.
King Arthur said the summer solstice signified the mythical oak king, who rules the first half of the year, being beaten in battle by the holly king, the ruler of the second half of the year.
"The solstice is about the death and regeneration of nature," the king, dressed in a white gown and wearing his sword, said. "Celebrating the summer solstice is part of our religion. We celebrate the shortest day, the longest day and the two equal days."
The bearded chieftain - who stood as an independent candidate for Winchester in the recent general election - fought for Stonehenge to be reopened to the public following the infamous Battle of Beanfield in 1985.
Revellers clashed with police, resulting in the monument becoming an exclusion zone. King Arthur was repeatedly arrested for ignoring the ban.
English Heritage has opened the site to the public free of charge for the summer solstice since 2000. "It's great the way people can come here now. I'm all for it," King Arthur said.
From 11pm last night until sunrise today, drummers transformed Stonehenge's inner circle into an open-air nightclub.
After greeting at the rising sun, the mix of bleary-eyed people began making their way home from the site, which has drawn visitors for 5,000 years. Revellers were expected to have left by 1pm.