Thousands flock to Stonehenge for 'mildest' winter solstice

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Thousands of people gathered at Stonehenge for a winter solstice which took place on the equal mildest December 22 since records began.

The Met Office said there was a reading of 16.1C at Writtle, Essex, which matched the record set at Hoylake, Merseyside, in 1910.

Temperatures hovered around 13C during the day time at Stonehenge.

A crowd of almost 5,000 people assembled at the prehistoric Wiltshire landmark for the "very special" time of the latest dawn and the point when the sun is at its lowest in the sky, according to senior Druid, King Arthur Pendragon.

He said: "I think we got about 5,000 people in the summer and we were nearly that and it is winter. It has been a very mild December but throughout the night it was rainy and windy which, in turn, might have put some people off.

"I think a lot of people are looking to nature because of global warming and the environment. They are turning to Earth-bound religions.The winter is a time of renewal and hope.

"I have been going (to Stonehenge) for 30-odd years. It is always very special."

This year's solstice was at 4.49am, and the sun rose over Stonehenge at 8.04am.

The winter solstice is the annual event that marks the point when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun.

As a result of the northern hemisphere leaning away from the sun, Tuesday will see the fewest hours of sunlight in a day.

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

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

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

"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."