Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Solstice celebrated at Stonehenge

Dawn breaks at the World Heritage Site at Stonehenge as revellers gathered to watch the sunrise during the summer solstice

More than 20,000 people have celebrated the summer solstice at Stonehenge ahead of a "historic moment" in the £27 million transformation of the site.

The huge gathering of people marked the event in a "positive, friendly atmosphere" as they waited for the sun to come up, but cloudy skies prevented them from basking in a beautiful sunrise.

This year there have been a lower number of arrests compared with previous years, with 22 taken into custody mainly in relation to drugs offences, police said.

Superintendent Matt Pullen, from Wiltshire Police, said: "Solstice 2013 has been a great success with approximately 21,000 people celebrating in the positive, friendly atmosphere as they waited for sunrise. The weather held but unfortunately the cloud cover was too dense to see the sun come up."

He added: "The majority of people respected the conditions of entry and the amnesty bins provided were used. Approximately 70 cannabis street warnings were issued. As with previous years, the passive drugs dogs proved very effective."

A section of the road running alongside the neolithic monument will be permanently closed on Monday June 24 as part of a long-awaited refurbishment of the World Heritage Site. The closure and grassing over of the A344 will reconnect Stonehenge with the landscape, allowing visitors to walk between the stone circle and the prehistoric avenue from which people would have once approached the monument.

It is part of works which include the creation of a new visitor centre around 1.5 miles away from the monument, with a cafe, shop and museum showing artefacts and exploring theories about Stonehenge, as well as three replica neolithic houses.

Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge director at English Heritage, said the closure of the road was "a real milestone in terms of the history of the site". She said that although Stonehenge never failed to impress visitors, the setting of the stones had marred people's appreciation and enjoyment of the site.

Ms Knowles said: "When you are in Stonehenge in the future, when grass is established, you will be able to make the link between the monument and the rest of the heritage landscape to the north, accessing the avenue, the route by which the monument was approached when it was used as a place of great ceremony."

The site gets more than one million visitors a year. Barb and Rick Oddy, from Vancouver, Canada, visiting on a coach tour just before the solstice, agreed that closing the road to link up the landscape was a good thing. Ms Oddy said of the monument: "It's amazing. I can't decide which theory I believe and I think it's amazing how they (the stones) got here from Wales."

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