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The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"It was difficult to tell who was praying and who was partying"
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Wednesday, 21 June, 2000, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Stonehenge solstice celebrated
Druids campaigned hard to get access to Stonehenge
Members of the general public have celebrated sunrise at Stonehenge for the first time in 15 years.

An estimated 5,000 people gathered at the sacred site in Wiltshire for the midsummer's day sunrise which took place at 0444 BST.

Police say there were only five arrests in what was largely described as a trouble-free event.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage which owns the site said the event was a success.

"We are very happy that a lot of people came along and it was a happy and peaceful atmosphere.

"The fact that it's gone so well means that we will be looking at more arrangements in the future," she said.

Druid ceremony

Revellers packed the centre of the stone circle and were entertained by students from the University of East London with their colourful costumes and samba drums.

Druids in their traditional attire performed a ritual ceremony a short distance away.

The only disappointment at the celebrations was the weather - not a ray of sunshine in sight.

The site has been protected by a four-mile exclusion order during the summer solstice since the 1980s, following a series of public order problems.

This year, both members of the public as well as religious groups were given access to the ancient monument.

English Heritage kept the area under close scrutiny and warned the public that security forces would move in at the sign of trouble.

Bans were placed on amplified music, animals, and the lighting of fires. Parking was provided away from the stones.

Normally, visitors are kept at some distance from the Salisbury Plain megaliths to prevent damage to the stones, which some experts believe were erected 5,000 years ago.

The decision to allow public access comes a year after an organised visit, which included religious groups, was disrupted by gatecrashers pushing down fences and climbing on the stones.

Skeleton found

The druids believe the summer solstice carries deep mystical and religious significance. The stones are in alignment with the first rays of light on midsummer's day.

Julie Britton of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids said: "We've worked a long time to have Stonehenge open for everybody, not just for Druids.

"I'm hoping to have a magical time."

Wiltshire police put extra offiers on duty for the event which was expected to attract thousands of visitors.

English Heritage also had its own security at the site.

The skeleton of a man executed up to 2,100 years ago at Stonehenge and shown in public for the first time last week has added new mystery to the stone formation, which receives about one million visitors a year.

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09 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Stonehenge execution revealed
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