SBURY PLAIN, England - About 30,000 people gathered in the rain by the mysterious standing stones of England's Stonehenge Saturday to mark the Summer Solstice, as dawn broke on the longest day of the year.
At exactly 4:58 am (0358 GMT), the hotch-potch of druids, hippies and the merely curious cheered as the first glimpse of sunrise was detected through the rain clouds.
Peter Rawcliffe, 26, cycled more than 50 miles from his home in Oxford to Salisbury Plain.
"I've done this for the last three years. I suppose I'm a bit of a closet druid. Most the year, I go about my business designing toys, but Summer Solstice brings out the hippie in me. It's a really magical experience." English Heritage, the conservation body that maintains 5,000-year-old site, said about 30,000 people attended this year - a five-year record. The stone circle is one of the most famous and best preserved in the world. It was given world heritage status by UNESCO in 1986 and attracts some 850,000 visitors every year.
The 17 upright blocks of sandstone, which weigh up to 45 tonnes, topped with six lintels, are aligned towards the direction of the sunrise on the Summer Solstice.
As a result, theories have gained ground that it was either a prehistoric observatory or a temple dedicated to the sun.
Archaeologists have also suggested the possibility that the people of the time attributed therapeutic powers to standing stones.
Recent excavations have sought to prove the theory that Stonehenge was a latter-day Lourdes, the southwest French town that attracts Catholic pilgrims because of the reputed healing properties of its water.
Stonehenge has been an important burial site since its inception.