Druids and pagans head to Stonehenge for winter solstice rituals


Druids and pagans are expected to be among thousands of people at Stonehenge to witness the sunrise this morning on the shortest day of the year.

Last year, hundreds dressed in medieval clothing were at the spot to celebrate the solstice, which marks the latest dawn and the point when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky.

The sun will rise over Stonehenge at 8.04am and a spokesman from English Heritage, which looks after the prehistoric monument, said they expect a similar number of people to travel to the Wiltshire site as last year, when around 5,000 people made their way to the south of England for the event.

The winter solstice is the annual event which marks the point where the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. As a result of the north of Earth leaning away from the Sun, Tuesday will see the fewest hours of sunlight in one day.

The exact moment of this year's solstice will take place at 4.49am GMT.

A spokesman for Historic England said people travel to Stonehenge on the winter solstice because of the monument's alignment with the sun on the winter solstice, and added that it is believed the solstice was of huge importance to Stonehenge's prehistoric users.

The sun sets between the trilithon at the site, which is where two vertical pillars stand next to each other, supporting a horizontal stone on top.

"One of the most important and well-known features of Stonehenge is its alignment on the midwinter sunset-midsummer sunrise solstitial axis," the spokesman said.

"The midwinter sun sets between the two upright stones of the great trilithon. We do not know which solstice was more important to the users of Stonehenge, but several pieces of evidence suggest that midwinter was very important.

"Analysis of pig bones at nearby Durrington Walls suggests that feasting was happening here particularly at midwinter."

Last year's event saw many dressed in medieval clothing and enjoying picnics, while one man was pictured having his head shaved.