13,000 gather to watch summer solstice dawn at Stonehenge

People watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the Summer Solstice
People watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the Summer Solstice

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.

People watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the Summer Solstice.

People watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the Summer Solstice.

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."