Soggy solstice at Stonehenge

Last updated 16:25 22/06/2012

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Rain-sodden crowds have welcomed a spectacularly wet summer solstice at Stonehenge in true British fashion - with stoicism and wit.

So bad was the downpour that even one of Britain's latter-day druids - fixtures of the annual celebration - was forced to seek refuge with journalists in a tent set up near the entrance.

"It's a wash," said King Arthur Pendragon, his fine white beard turned into a soggy silver sponge. "Literally."

English Heritage put the crowd at the summer festival at 14,500, well below figures which typically hover around 20,000.

But through the wind and rain, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept up their thumping rhythm, new age pagans kept up their chaotic dance, and visitors kept up their sense of humour.

Summer solstice - the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - has long drawn people to Stonehenge, a mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains a matter of conjecture.

The ancient stone circle on the Salisbury Plain was built in three phases between 3000 BC and 1600 BC. It is one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions with over 850,000 visitors a year.

Each of the revellers on Thursday marked the occasion in their own way, with some pressing their heads against the stones in silent meditation and others shouting out pop tunes while swigging cheap booze from plastic bottles.

The climax of the ceremony, which took place at the pockmarked Heel Stone at the edge of Stonehenge, involved chants of "All hail the sun!" even though the sun was nowhere to be seen amid the thin grey-white fog that settled around the Stonehenge's muddy fields on Thursday morning.

But when Pendragon, resplendent albeit damp in his red-and-white robes, asked whether the crowd had had a happy solstice, the answer was a resounding: "Yes!"

Visitors were philosophical about the foul weather.

"I was disappointed that you couldn't see the sunrise," said Connie Malone, an Australian tourist in her late 50s. "But it was still special."

She said that rainy English summers were hardly a surprise.

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- AP

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