Winter Solstice: Stonehenge crowd gathers for sunrise

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Image caption, English Heritage opens the ancient stone circle for both the winter and summer solstice

The winter solstice has been celebrated by about 1,500 revellers who gathered to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge.

Druids and pagans were joined by a mass of revellers at the ancient monument, accompanied by a soundtrack of pounding drums, chanting and dancing.

Although Sunday was officially the shortest day, Monday's sunrise was the closest to the moment when the North Pole was tilted furthest from the sun.

However, a heavy blanket of grey cloud kept the sunrise from clear view.

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Image caption, Senior druid King Arthur Pendragon (pictured centre) said the event celebrates a message of hope
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Image caption, Pagans and druids were joined by hundreds of people who wanted to experience the event

Senior druid King Arthur Pendragon, said: "What we're really here for is to celebrate the fact that the cycle of the world turns, and from now on the days get longer and it's the return of the sun.

"It's a time of change and hope is renewed - the same message really from a pagan perspective as from a Christian perspective.

"That's what this season is all about - a message of hope."

Last week English Heritage - which manages the stones near Salisbury in Wiltshire - reported a record number of tourists in the past year.

At the scene: Karen Gardner, BBC Wiltshire

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Image caption, In the UK, the winter solstice was a little after 23:00 GMT on 21 December

I've just been passed by a giant lampshade playing the accordion and I think I've seen the widest selection of wellingtons ever known in one place on the earth.

It's the middle of Salisbury Plain, it's an ancient monument. We never [usually] get as close and everyone is here because they want to be here.

In front of me there are people from Korea and I can hear German accents behind me.

I have spoken to Canadians and all sorts of people - all here for one reason and that's because Wiltshire has one of the best ancient monuments in the world.

The body said 1.3 million people had visited the site since the opening of the £27m visitor centre in December last year - a 9% increase on the previous 12 months.

This means a continual reinforcement of the message that the stones need to be looked after and treated with respect, it added.

Heather Sebire, English Heritage's curator for Stonehenge, said: "People think that because it's stone it's virtually indestructible - but in fact the stones are quite fragile.

"We know through our research - we had a wonderful laser survey done - that many stones have carvings that you can't see with the naked eye.

"So they can be damaged and we do ask people to respect the stones while they're here."

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