Britain plans 'managed access' to Stonehenge during solstice

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SALISBURY, England -- For the first time in more than a decade, Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle a few miles from this medieval market town, will be opened to the public for next month's summer solstice celebration, said English Heritage, the London-based British government unit charged with protecting historic sites.

The ancient site at Stonehenge. The decision to allow full public access is an effort to avoid a repeat of the riot that broke out during summer solstice 1999, when hundreds of New Age travelers stormed the protective barrier around the stones to protest a limited-access policy in place since the previous year.

In addition to being a top tourism draw, the site is especially important to druids and pagans, who plan special celebrations to mark the dawn of the longest day of the year.

Some druid, pagan and other groups were given special solstice access last year, prompting the melee in which dozens were arrested and some police officers injured.

"With this open-access arrangement, there will be no reason for anyone or any group to mount a challenge," said an English Heritage spokeswoman, who added that no parties, fires, music, camping or pets will be allowed anywhere on the Stonehenge landscape.

"We hope people will come in the right spirit this year -- for an opportunity to celebrate peacefully," she added.

From the late 1980s to 1998, there was no access to Stonehenge during summer solstice; in fact, local police traditionally set up a no-access zone in a four-mile radius around the stones.

According to English Heritage, visitors to Stonehenge for this year's summer solstice will have free access starting at 11:30 p.m. on June 20 through 7:30 a.m. on June 21.

"English Heritage staff will be on site to manage the flow of people," the spokeswoman said.

Stonehenge, one of Great Britain's -- and Europe's -- most-visited tourist attractions, is a World Heritage site.

Public transportation to Stonehenge is available from the Salisbury bus station.

The site is about a 90-minute drive from London. Rail service also is available from London to Salisbury.

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