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24 June 2006
Stonehenge solstice draws 19,000

Thousands of dancing and drumming spectators cheered the summer solstice at Stonehenge as an orange sliver of sun rose over the Heel Stone on Wednesday morning. Cloudy skies, dense fog and spurts of rain did not seem to dampen the energy of smiling revelers who bobbed and swayed to cheerful beats with arms outstretched and shouts. About 19,000 New Agers, present-day druids and partygoers gathered inside and around the ancient circle of towering stones to greet the longest day in the northern hemisphere as the sun struggled to peek out against a smoky gray sky at 4:58 a.m.
     The crowd was generally peaceful overnight and in the early morning hours. Wiltshire police arrested two people for drunken and disorderly behavior and two for public order offenses, spokesman Dave Taylor said. In 1985, revelers clashed violently with police at the solstice ceremony, resulting in a ban on the celebration. Following years saw clashes between riot police and revelers determined to welcome the solstice among the stones. English Heritage, the monument's caretaker, began allowing full access to the site again in 2000.
     Crowds of partygoers stumbled toward their cars an hour after sunrise, some clutching nearly empty bottles of mixed drinks or beer cans. One described the crowd as 5 percent pagan and 95 percent partygoer. "Some people here are really spoiling it," said Chris Sargent, 37, of Bournemouth. "Once upon a time it was really spiritual." Groups of tourists, some from France, Italy and Spain, joined British revelers.
Sources: Associated Press, CNN (21 June 2006)

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