From Times Online
June 21, 2009
(Barry Batchelor/PA) Revellers for the Summer Solstice gather inside the stone circle at Stonehenge
Druids began their incantations, Wiccan priestesses drew their cowls tight against the damp morning air and four half-naked Papuan dancers waved their hands in the air and went: “Woo, woo, woo”.
Only the guest of honour failed to put in an appearance at Stonehenge.
A record 36,500 people had gathered at the prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain to watch the sun rise. So many turned out to celebrate the solstice that roads had to be shut and the vast field converted into a car park for 6,500 vehicles was full by 3am.
Disappointingly, despite a promising forecast, the sun was unable to break through the thin layer of grey cloud that shrouded the ceremony. But most people did not let that spoil their enjoyment.
The crowds had dispersed by the time it was fully light, revealing the bodies of those who had had too much fun, or had simply had enough, slumbering gently on the grass.
Solstice celebrations have become a summer staple, alongside Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the annual gathering of public school pupils in Rock in Cornwall, at the end of the exams.
Despite the complete lack of entertainment, the less than one in ten chance of seeing the sun and the incessant bongo playing, the solstice has attracted larger numbers every year since the stones were reopened to the public in 2000.
Dave Batchelor, English Heritage’s Stonehenge-based archaeologist, said: “We were expecting a large turnout because of the forecast and the fact it falls on a weekend this year so more people can get here.
“We got the maximum number we had planned for so the infrastructure was able to cope.”
In normal circumstances it is not permitted to approach within spitting distance of the stones, but at solstice, the barriers come down. By 3am, the inner circle was so tightly packed that people could be seen struggling to lift their beer cans to their lips.
Sensibly, the druids held their ceremony beside the heel stone, a leaning monolithic a few dozen yards from the main stone circle. Rollo Maughling, the white-haired, white-robed Archdruid of Stonehenge, started the ceremonies in an elegant straw hat.
No sooner had he formed his followers into a neat circle than King Arthur Pendragon, the white-haired, white-robed leader of the Druid Order of Loyal Arthurian Warbands, arrived and leant his battle honours against a fence ten yards away and began forming his own rival circle.Mr Maughling’s circle distorted and broke as spectators wondered which druid leader would put on the best show.
A truce was swiftly reached when Mr Maughling took on the role of master of ceremonies from within King Arthur’s circle, reuniting the tribes of at least two ancient Britons.
The Papuans, in the country to draw attention to what they claim is persecution by the Indonesian authorities in their own homeland, had been temporarily misplaced.
Meanwhile King Arthur, who has been staging a sit-in at Stonehenge for the past year, explained that he had temporarily suspended his protest when English Heritage found £25 million and promised to re-landscape the historic site.
Within days he was back, this time protesting at the removal of human remains during an archaeological dig last summer. He claims they are the “guardians” of the stones and wants them reinterred in the pit from which they came.
Overhead, Wiltshire Police’s new aerial drone made its debut, sweeping back and forth, lights flashing, as it filmed the crowds from a few hundred feet in the air. Every few minutes some worse-for-wear reveller would mistake it for an alien spacecraft about to abduct an unsuspecting earthling and try to flee.
What would the the builders of Stonehenge have made of the police drone? The science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
A female druid in a huge hooded cape explained that the stones had been moved by the power of thought alone. As they towered above the waiting crowd in the dawn light, that was almost easier to believe than the archaeologists’ theories involving ropes and tree trunks.