Monday June 21, 2004

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1243952,00.html

Meanwhile, the sound of jungle drums and jazz saxophone reverberated around the site today as an estimated 21,000 people marked the summer solstice, braving chilly temperatures to catch a glimpse of the sun rising between the ancient stones.

With druids and the occasional punk mingling happily with tourists and students, the atmosphere was a far cry from the clashes between police and revellers that often marred the event in the 1980s and 90s. By dawn Wiltshire Police had made only a “handful” of arrests, all for public order offences.

And with the first solstice since the reclassification of cannabis, a police spokesman said officers were maintaining a policy in accordance with the law but concentrating resources on those suspected of possession with intent to supply.

Inside the ring itself, thousands of people packed tightly around groups of drummers and other musicians while some took the opportunity to sprawl on the ancient stones, which are normally beyond public reach.

The focus of the activity before dawn was on an impromptu dance next to the famous Heal Stone, the marker for sunrise on summer solstice.

The druid leader, King Arthur Pendragon, presided over the festivities, standing amid a ring of flaming torches.

King Arthur, who adopted the name in 1986 to denote his position as Battle Chieftain of the Council of British Druids, said the festivities marked the arrival of dawn.

He said: “The fire symbolically welcomes the sun for the longest day of the year, part of the seasonal wheel which we, as druids and pagans, celebrate. It’s not a day in church for us: it’s a celebration. We don’t sit in pews.

“At the end of the day this living temple that we call Stonehenge belongs to all of us. We all have a right to come here and celebrate the solstice,” he said.

For others it was simply a spectacle. Cara Whitehorn, 32, from Wiltshire said: “This is my first time. It’s my birthday, and I’ve always wanted to come here on my birthday.”

There were fears that the solstice would be marred by bad weather but the sun finally broke through the clouds at 6.15am to a chorus of applause from the crowds.

Peter Carson, English Heritage’s head of Stonehenge, said the event was a success. He said: “It’s wonderful. We are delighted at the fact that people have been able to come here and enjoy the solstice in a safe and peaceful manner.”

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