Thousands flock to Stonehenge to celebrate summer solstice

Thousands of people have greeted the sun with cheers as it rose over Stonehenge for the summer solstice, just days after the ancient monument was sprayed with orange paint.

Those who observed the spectacle at the neolithic structure in Wiltshire encountered a chilly morning accompanied by misty fields as the sun glinted over the horizon at 4.52am on Friday.

The display follows the heritage site having been targeted by Just Stop Oil protesters earlier this week.

Wiltshire Police said a man in his 70s and a woman in her 20s had been bailed after being arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, damaging an ancient monument and deterring a person from engaging in a lawful activity.

Summer Solstice 2024
Crowds at Stonehenge in Wiltshire during sunrise (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Many of the attendees at the event expressed frustration and disapproval at the protest.

Sally Ann Spence, an archaeology enthusiast who dressed as a shaman dug up from the Mesolithic period which pre-dates Stonehenge, said the solstice is “incredibly important”.

“I understand their cause, I respect their cause. I just wish they hadn’t done that on Stonehenge,” she said.

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“I think to put anything on the stones is slightly misguided, there are very rare lichens on the stones, it’s a world heritage site.”

She continued: “Being here for the solstice and representing a shaman – admittedly, from a different period of time – is a brilliant experience.

“It’s exciting. It’s very busy at the moment and I’m loving it because I’m using as a chance to talk to people about actual archaeology.”

People gather around the Heel Stone ahead of sunrise as they take part in the summer solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire
People gather around the Heel Stone ahead of sunrise as they take part in the summer solstice at Stonehenge (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Laura Debane, who was attending the solstice at Stonehenge for the fifth time, said Just Stop Oil spraying the monument was “awful”.

“If you want to make a protest go somewhere it’s going to mean something, not in a historical place like this because there’s no oil here, it’s sacred ground.”

Ms Debane said she was glad the protest did not ruin the event and people were still able to come out and enjoy it.

Stonehenge is a monument built on the alignment of the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset.

On the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone -the ancient entrance to the Stone Circle – and rays of sunlight are channelled into the centre of the monument.

It is believed solstices have been celebrated at Stonehenge for thousands of years.

Summer solstice takes place as one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt toward the sun and the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, ensuring the longest period of daylight for theyear.