Winter solstice attracts thousands to Stonehenge

  • Thousands of early risers celebrated Winter Solstice at Stonehenge on 21 December
  • Sunrise was just after 8am, marking the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere

Over five thousand people gathered at Stonehenge on 21 December to celebrate Winter Solstice at Wiltshire's prehistoric site.

Many travel to Stonehenge for Winter Solstice annually, with some participating in traditional pagan ritual and ceremony. Lauren Tompkins came to the henge to celebrate her 45th birthday:

It's very iconic and typically British. It's an opportunity to be up close with the stones and it's brilliant. It's like a new start, like a clean slate.

The sunrise was at 08:09 GMT beginning the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere with just under eight hours of sunlight. Properties curator Heather Sabire was also present:

There were thousands of people at Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice, with lots of music, drumming and people celebrating in different ways. Lots of the general public come because they like to visit Stonehenge but we also welcome pagan and Druid communities because it's part of their religious calendar.

English Heritage provided open access to Stonehenge to enable visitors to enjoy the sacred site and witness the symbolic changing of the seasons.

Steve Judd journeyed to the stones all the way from London for the sunrise. He said:

I've spent most of the morning listening to the drums. I was here at the moment as the sun rose and saw the birds fly overhead. There's just a really great time being had by all.

In 2016 Stonehenge celebrated its 30th year as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To recognise the occasion, a plaque was unveiled by local school children as part of Kids in Museums Takeover Day in November.

To see highlights from the winter solstice, follow @EnglishHeritage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What is winter solstice?

  • When the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun, England experiences its shortest day - and longest night - of the year.
  • Stonehenge attracts many visitors during the solstice who hope to catch a glimpse of the iconic sunrise above the stones.
  • The solstice symbolises the changing of the seasons and is derived from two Latin words 'sol' (sun) and 'sistere' (to cause to stand still).
  • Increasing interest in the solstice has seen visitor numbers rise in recent years. Attendance at Stonehenge for winter solstice has climbed from 350 in 2000 to around 5000 in 2015.
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