STONEHENGE, England: Rain-sodden crowds welcomed a spectacularly rainy summer solstice at Stonehenge in true British fashion yesterday: with stoicism and wit.

Even one of Britain’s latter-day druids – fixtures of the annual celebration – was forced to seek refuge with journalists in a tent set up near the entrance.

“It’s a wash,” said King Arthur Pendragon, his fine white beard turned into a soggy and silvery sponge. “Literally.”

The crowd at the festival was way down on previous years, when numbers have hovered just below 20 000.

But through the wind and rain, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept up their thumping rhythm, New Age pagans kept up their chaotic dance, and visitors kept up their sense of humour.

Summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – has long drawn people to Stonehenge, a mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains a matter of conjecture.

The climax of the ceremony, which took place at the pockmarked Heel Stone at the edge of Stonehenge, involved chants of: “All hail the sun!” even though the sun was nowhere to be seen. – Sapa-AP