Numbers down at Avebury and Stonehenge as rain takes toll on solstice (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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Numbers down at Avebury and Stonehenge as rain takes toll on solstice
One of the smallest turnouts for years celebrated the summer solstice at Avebury this morning.
In the past when the solstice has fallen at weekends and the weather was good the numbers attending Avebury in the hopes of seeing the midsummer sunrise went well into four figures. But today Wiltshire Police spokesman Paul Deal said the attendance at Avebury was estimated at about 500.
Rain started to fall at about 10pm, just as the forecasters had predicted, and a steady flow of revellers left the stone circle as the downpour increased.
Mr Deal said there was one arrest earlier yesterday for a drugs related offence and two further arrests overnight for excess alcohol.
He said: “It was a quiet uneventful night at Avebury, generally good natured with a good atmosphere.”
At Stonehenge, however, an estimated 14,500 people turned out to mark the occasion, despite the wet weather.
The annual pagan celebration of the sun, on the longest day of the year, centred on the famous prehistoric monument where the event was marked with religious ceremonies.
The solstice annually attracts an eclectic mix and among the druids, revellers and sun worshippers were those just curious to experience the spiritual event at the site on Salisbury Plain.
English Heritage opened up the stone circle at Stonehenge yesterday evening ready to welcome those making the annual pilgrimage.
Heavy rain overnight reduced the number of people who camped out or arrived early to witness the dawn compared with previous years, which have seen numbers of around 20,000.
The sunrise at 4.52am was welcomed by rain-sodden crowds with a loud cheer and applause despite the sun being blanketed by dark clouds.
Through the poor weather, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept the mood cheerful while new age pagans danced to their rhythm.
Joining revellers this year was a 22ft (6.70m) figure called Ancestor which was moved to the stones ahead of the solstice celebrations.
The steel statue depicts a man with his "head thrown back and arms open wide".
A spokesman for English Heritage said: "14,500 people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice this year.
"Heavy rain during the night meant this was one of the lowest attendances in recent years.
"However the rain did stop in time for the sunrise ceremonies and although clouds obscured the sun, loud cheers and applause rang out amongst the ancient stones.
"There was torrential rain at some points during the evening, but it stopped and although it was cloudy, it didn't rain for sunrise.
"It has been the wettest and dare I say the muddiest in recent years."
Wiltshire Police said the event passed peacefully with just 20 arrests.
Superintendent Matt Pullen said: "Solstice 2012 has been a positive experience for the majority of visitors.
"Our aim was to make sure that everybody had a safe and enjoyable evening which, along with our partners, we achieved.
"As with every year, sadly there was a small minority who were determined to disregard the law. These people were dealt with robustly and there were 20 arrests throughout the night."
The arrests were for theft, drugs or alcohol-related offences. There were also 101 street cautions for cannabis