13,000 gather to watch summer solstice dawn at Stonehenge

Thousands of sun-worshippers witnessed a spectacular dawn as they gathered at Stonehenge for the summer solstice.

Approximately 13,000 people descended on the neolithic monument in Wiltshire to watch the sun rise at 4.52am - up from 12,000 last year.

SEE ALSO: Stonehenge tunnel gets the go-ahead

SEE ALSO: How midsummer is celebrated around the world

Jennifer Davies, English Heritage's general manager of Stonehenge, said they were "delighted" that so many of all ages came to celebrate the longest day of the year.

"We'd like to thank everybody who helped to make it another memorable and good- natured occasion and we look forward to seeing them again next year," she said.

"We are pleased with how the celebrations have gone.

"This year we had extra security arrangements in place and we'd like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding with these.

"Summer solstice at Stonehenge is a major operation and we couldn't do it without our partners, especially Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council."

Heritage England said those visiting the ancient site were not allowed access if they had brought pets, sleeping bags and duvets, barbecues or camping equipment.

The flying of drones and remote-controlled aircraft was also banned around the monument.

Stonehenge is believed to have been used as an important religious site by early Britons 4,000 years ago. Pagan celebrations at the site began in the 20th century.

More than a million people flock to Stonehenge every year, with thousands attending ceremonies to mark the solstices in summer and winter.

Wiltshire Police said the event passed peacefully, but that there were seven "mostly drug related" arrests.

The force said six of those arrested remain in custody, with one man released and no further action to be taken.

Superintendent Dave Minty said: "As with previous years, a large part of our work was in maintaining the road network, minimising any impact on local communities and, of course, in supporting operations both at Stonehenge and at Avebury.

"This year, following recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, we had an armed presence at Stonehenge along with high-visibility patrols.

"Whilst there was not and still is no specific risk to Wiltshire or the region, we will always do what we can to ensure public safety and try to provide a reassuring presence for people who attend the event.

"This was a successful policing operation with only seven arrests and we are glad that attendees were able to enjoy the celebrations in a friendly and positive manner as they waited for the sunrise."

King Arthur Pendragon, who leads The Loyal Arthurian Warband group, boycotted the event over the "pay to pray" parking charges at the monument.

Earlier this year Mr Pendragon lost a legal challenge to the £15 car parking charge, claiming the fee breached his human rights.

"We did not 'pay to pray' and a number of us stayed outside to represent those precluded due to financial constraints, and formed a circle of solidarity with hands across the fence with the druids and celebrants inside."

Mr Pendragon said the numbers attending the solstice this year were almost half of those in 2015 - blaming an alcohol ban and the car parking charges for the fall in numbers.

"It is quite clear that pilgrims are being financially precluded from attending their temple due to the 'pay to pray' policy. The fight continues."

Midsummer madness around the world
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Midsummer madness around the world

A strong theme of nakedness runs through the midsummer celebrations of many countries, perhaps not surprisingly given the link with fertility. Anyway, nowhere (not even Sweden) do they take this as far as in the western Latvian town of Kuldiga, where 50 or so participants let it all hang out to run the annual 'race of the naked' over the town bridge at 3am. Runners are rewarded by a beer and their nakedness is given full police protection, should any prudes try and ruin the fun. Visit www.latvia.travel/en .

Midsummer is thought to be the most powerful time of year (plants and herbs picked on midsummer night are said to have magical healing powers), so where better to celebrate it than one of the world's most sacred sites? English Heritage now provides 'Managed Open Access' to Stonehenge on Tuesday 21 June, so pack your thermos, sleeping bag and crystals and watch as the Heel Stone, just outside the main circle, aligns with the rising sun at 4.45am. For more information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk.

The Swedes go mad for midsummer, but it's traditionally been a private, family celebration, largely inaccessible to visitors. This year, head to West Sweden and join in the singing and maypole dancing at the magnificent Gunnebo House and Gardens on the 24th June. (See sweden.se for more info). If you're not in the mating market, beware, as, according to an old Swedish proverb: 'Midsummer night is not long, but it sets many cradles rocking'.

Leaping over huge bonfires may be a health and safety nightmare, but it's a big part of Estonian midsummer celebrations, essential for warding off evil spirits, encouraging a good harvest, guaranteeing prosperity and avoiding bad luck. The bigger the fire, the further the spirits stay from it, ensuring a good harvest. Fire jumpers are rewarded with cottage cheese pie, fire baked potatoes, barbecued meat, pickled, cured, fumed and baked fish, washed down with Midsummer beer and schnapps. For holidays to Estonia, visit www.balticholidays.com.

Bryn Celli Ddu may be less well known (and harder to pronounce) than Stonehenge, but this prehistoric burial chamber is further proof of the wonders of ancient astronomy. Its stone passage is aligned to the solstice, so that for 20 minutes each year the dawn rays enter the chamber and light up a quartz-rich stone at the back of the tomb. Stay 10 miles from Bryn Celli Ddu at Llanfaes in The Old Smithy, a restored blacksmiths cottage. Book through www.qualitycottages.co.uk .

Head down to Penzance for nine days of Cornish culture laced with Pagan mayhem. The Golowan Festival (with Mazey Day its climax) runs from 18-26 June and includes serpent dances, the legendary Penglaz hobby horse, summer bonfires and the demonic democracy of the Mock Mayor. To enjoy the fun, stay close by at Cherry Orchard – a four-bedroom property with stunning sea views in the fishing village of Mousehole. Book through Classic Cottages, www.classic.co.uk .

See the sunrise over Scotland from the 1000m peak of Schiehallion mountain (the name means 'The Fairy Hill' in Gaelic, appropriately), while raising money for a good cause. A sponsored walk to the summit on 25/26 June, organised by Mountain Aid – the charity for hill walkers – kicks off with hot soup served before the start and ends with a celebratory wee dram, bucks fizz or soft drink served with canapés at the summit. To continue the Midsummer Night's Dream theme, there's a prize for the best dressed male and female 'fairy'. Visit www.mountainaid.org.uk for details.

Since Brazil's in the Southern Hemisphere, this is actually their mid winter, but the Portuguese colonists obviously weren't worried about details like that when they introduced their Festival of Saint John, or São João, to Brazil. Festivities carry on nationwide, particularly in the Northeast, where two towns, Caruaru and Campina Grande, compete for the title of 'Biggest São João Festival in the World'. Visit www.braziltour.com.


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