Protesting druids joined hands to form their own circle as the new £27 million Stonehenge visitor centre opened its doors to the world yesterday.
They were on picket duty because conservation body English Heritage is displaying bones from some of the ancient humans excavated by archaeologists at the Stonehenge site over the years. The druids want the bones reburied.
Colourful druid King Arthur Pendragon, who is leading the fight, has lost two legal challenges on the issue.
Wrapped in capes to protect them from a biting wind, the protesters carried placards proclaiming their cause, shouted and played drums, but behaved in an orderly manner as police and the world's news crews, including one from Japan, looked on.
A dozen druids were allowed to make their protest close to the centre, with others being asked to stand a little further away.
The centre, which has finally opened a half a century after it was first proposed, is part of a larger scheme to remove and replace outdated facilities and restore the dignity of the stones, which English Heritage describes as being one of the most important and loved monuments in the world.
A section of the A344 road, which runs past Stonehenge, was permanently closed in June. The new centre, which is a mile and a half west of Stonehenge, cannot be seen from the monument but provides a thrilling interpretation of its creation and use.
The new facility has been masterminded by English Heritage and designed by architects Denton Corker Marshall. Materials for the project have been sourced from a 50-mile radius, and so are far more local than parts of Stonehenge, some of the stones for which were transported from the Preseli mountains of North Wales.
An exhibition includes 250 prehistoric objects – many unseen before – on loan from various collections. One highlight is the most advanced forensic reconstruction of an early Neolithic man's face, based on a 5,500-year-old skeleton buried in a long barrow 1.5 miles from Stonehenge.
There is a 360-degree Stand in the Stones experience, using state-of-the-art laser scans, to allow visitors to experience summer and winter solstices.
More than a million people flock to Stonehenge each year to absorb the unique atmosphere and environment. Sixty five per cent of them are from overseas.
Now they can use a ten-minute shuttle bus or walk down a newly-reconnected ancient processional approach to see the stones.
English Heritage says that over the festive period the public can visit Stonehenge without booking, but for visits from February 1, 2014 onwards, advanced booking is required as entrance to Stonehenge will be managed through timed tickets. Advance booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and at the time of choice and this also applies to English Heritage and National Trust members who have free entry.
The monument is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Altered and restricted times apply during holiday periods. Ticket prices have risen substantially. Adult tickets will be £14.90, children's tickets £8.90 and concessions £13.40, with a family ticket for two adults and three children costing £38.70.
For more information visit www.stonehenge.co.uk