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PICTURES: Thousands gather for solstice at Stonehenge

Our reporter Rob Murphy has been with the crowds at Stonehenge, who have been up with the sunrise to celebrate the winter solstice.

It has been a cloudy one, but that hasn't dulled the enthusiasm of the thousands of people marking this ancient tradition.

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Crowds gather for Stonehenge solstice

Crowds have gathered at Stonehenge in Wiltshire to mark the Winter Solstice. It's cloudy at the ancient stones ahead of the 0804 sunrise.

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Winter solstice celebrations at Stonehenge

For many this marks the beginning of winter. Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Thousands of people are gathering at Stonehenge in Wiltshire this morning to celebrate the winter solstice.

It is one of the rare occasions when visitors can get close and actually touch the stones. The event marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is also regarded as the first day of winter. Sunrise is just after eight.

Experts slam Stonehenge tunnel plan

There are fears the tunnel past Stonehenge could create problems for archaeologists Credit: David Davies/PA Archive

Experts have hit out at plans for a 1.8 mile tunnel past Stonehenge, warning it could damage the oldest encampment discovered near the stones.

Charcoal dug up from the Mesolithic encampment at Blick Mead in the World Heritage Site, around one and a half miles from the stones, has been tested and found to date back to around 4,000 BC, archaeologists said.

A dig by the University of Buckingham has also unearthed evidence of possible structures, but more investigation is needed to see what the site contains. There is also evidence of feasting, including flints and giant bulls known as aurochs, the experts said.

But they warn that the chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain's history could be damaged by the plans for a tunnel through the World Heritage Site as part of efforts to relieve the A303 bottleneck at Stonehenge.

The two billion pound scheme would see the road put into a dual carriageway tunnel past Stonehenge, improving congestion and the setting of the stones - giving the public greater access to the wider prehistoric landscape and benefiting wildlife, supporters say.

But archaeologist David Jaques, who made the discovery of the encampment, said: "The Prime Minister is interested in re-election in 140 days - we are interested in discovering how our ancestors lived six thousand years ago."

He added: "Blick Mead could explain what archaeologists have been searching for for centuries - an answer to the story of Stonehenge's past.

"But our chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain's history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead."

Stonehenge Visitor Centre celebrates anniversary

The centre opened last December. Credit: ITV News West Country

The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre turns one today.

The multi-million pound facility began life with a few teething problems, including complaints about overcrowding and delays. However, a record 1.3 million people have visited it in the past year, including US President Barack Obama.

Earlier this year a beam of light was shone from the stone circle to commemorate the start of the First World War, followed by a special ceremony commemorating a million First World War soldiers.

WW1 soldiers marched again at Stonehenge. Credit: PA

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Hidden monuments discovered at Stone Henge

Stone Henge Credit: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Hidden monuments have been discovered under the ground at Stone Henge. 17 previously unknown structures have been mapped by scientists investigating the area as well as burial mounds that have merged into the current landscape. It's thought they're around 6000 years old.

'I squealed like a teenager': Family's joy at Stonehenge brush with Barack Obama

Janice Raffle posted this picture on Twitter after her chance meeting with the President Credit: Janice Raffle

An excited young family from Wiltshire has told ITV News they are "euphoric" after meeting Barack Obama during his impromptu visit to Stonehenge on Friday.

Janice and James Raffle and their three sons live a mile up the road from the ancient landmark.

They were playing in the garden when they heard helicopters overhead, and decided to make a dash up to the site after hearing the President may be in the area.

After a quick drive, they got even more than they bargained for, when the leader of the free world waved to them and then began approaching for a chat.

The family were told by security officials to "just walk slowly", which they duly did before meeting Mr Obama.

Security officials told the Raffles to "walk slowly" and the President had a chat with them Credit: Reuters

The Raffles were just as polite - welcoming Mr Obama to England.

"Not just England, not just any part of England," he responded.

It was clearly a thrilling experience - and not only for boys Angus, 8, Joshua, 7, and Barney, 3.

"I squealed like a teenager. You'd think I would know better," Janice said.

President Obama said Stonehenge had always been on his bucket list. Credit: Reuters

Eldest son Angus was equally enthusiastic: "It was awesome," he said. "I shook hands with him."

And even the President himself seemed excited by the whole experience - proclaiming Stonehenge somewhere he had always wanted to visit.

"How cool is this?! It's spectacular!" he exclaimed as he roamed the ancient landmark, followed by press.

"Knocked it off the bucket list," he added.

Large crowds predicted at Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice

Dawn breaking over stonehenge as crowds gather on the summer solstice Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire/Press Association Images

More than 30,000 people are expected to gather at Stonehenge in Wiltshire tomorrow to celebrate the Summer Solstice. It would be the largest gathering at the stones since they were re-opened for the solstice in the year 2000.

The police and English Heritage are asking people to arrive early as there will be congestion in the area. Sunrise is at 5am.

Neolithic homes open at Stonehenge

A new housing estate opened today - but it's different - very different to normal. The homes were built using neolithic methods.

They've been put up outside the new Stonehenge visitor centre to give tourists an idea what life was like four thousand years ago. And the homes were built by a team of volunteers, as our Wiltshire correspondent Robert Murphy reports.

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