SNOW and ice failed to keep people away from Stonehenge today as they gathered to see the sun rise on the winter solstice.

More than 2,000 people came together at the stones, which were surrounded by a thick blanket of snow.

The winter morning mist obscured the actual sunrise - which took place at 8.09am - but an eclectic mix of people celebrated the ancient festival.

Among the Druids, hippies and sun worshippers were those just curious to experience the spiritual event at the site, on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire.

Serving soldier of 15 years Lance Corporal Paul Thomas, who fought in Iraq, was ''knighted'' with a sword by Druid protester King Arthur Pendragon.

Formerly known as John Rothwell, King Arthur changed his name by deed poll.

Formerly of Winchester, Arthur stood as a parliamentary candidate for the city in 2005 and in Salisbury during this year's general election.

This morning, he also performed a handfasting - a Pagan marriage ceremony - inside the stones.

As well as the traditional Druid and Pagan ceremonies, a spontaneous snowball fight erupted as people enjoyed the cold weather.

The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21, but this year the Druid and Pagan community marked the first day of winter today because the modern calendar of 365 days a year - with an extra day every four years - does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days.

During the winter solstice the sun is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year, meaning shorter days and longer nights.

The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.