Druids gather at Stonehenge for 2013 Winter Solstice
The druid Merlin walks towards the stones on winter solstice at Stonehenge.

Thousands of pagans and druids gathered at prehistoric Stonehenge at dawn on Saturday to celebrate the winter solstice.

Worshippers started arriving at the stone circle in Wiltshire at about 5.30am, and by the time the sun rose at 8.09am, there were 3,500, many dressed in ceremonial robes and masks, with chief druid Arthur Pendragon leading the celebrations.

"The wind and the rain did not dampen the celebration. And the ancient stone circle was filled with the sound of song, drumming and chanting," said Kate Davies, who manages Stonehenge for English Heritage.

Druids gather at Stonehenge for 2013 Winter Solstice
Worshippers greet the dawn at Stonehenge.

"We are grateful to everyone who helped to make this winter solstice a success and we look forward to seeing people at the summer solstice next year," she said.

Winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, is a sacred occasion for pagans, for whom it is Yule, and marks the rebirth of life by the grace of the gods.

Police said that parking restrictions mean that they are unable to admit as many as the 30,000 who celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

"We're really limited here because we can't use local fields for parking and we can't use anywhere else, so once we're up to 5,000 people, that's it, we have to close it off," Inspector Christian Laynge told the BBC.

Earlier this week dozens of druids protested at a new £27 million visitor centre at Stonehenge, where prehistoric human remains excavated near the site are displayed.

The druids claim the remains are of members of an ancient royal household, and want them reinterred.