Darkness at the break of noon
I’m being followed by a moonshadow
The date had been in my diary for two possibly even three years so there was no way I was going to miss the eclipse. I had booked the holiday time at the beginning of the year so I wouldn’t miss out. I had even found the campsite at Trevease on the Internet months before but for some reason didn’t get around to booking it until the week before we travelled. I could have stayed at home and seen a 95% eclipse but the chance to experience totality was something I didn’t want to miss.
The date had been in my diary for two possibly even three years so there was no way I was going to miss the eclipse. I had booked the holiday time at the beginning of the year so I wouldn’t miss out. I had even found the campsite at Trevease on the Internet months before but for some reason didn’t get around to booking it until the week before we travelled. I could have stayed at home and seen a 95% eclipse but the chance to experience totality was something I didn’t want to miss.I had also found out that Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters had brought their bus Further over from America to conduct their “Where’s Merlin” search during the eclipse period and would be in Cornwall the same time as us. They were camped at the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno and we went to visit them on the Tuesday afternoon.
The following day was the total eclipse – the last of the Century and the Millennium. It reached totality at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th (How’s that for an eleventh hour!), Anyway we decided rather than risk getting caught in the traffic we would stay on the campsite and witness the eclipse there. The campsite was just off the centre line of totality and we would lose the sun for over 2 minutes. The site also had splendid views over the Lizard Point and away on the furthest point was Goonhilly the satellite tracking station.
The day dawned overcast and cloudy but we hoped that it would brighten up – sadly it didn’t and we never got to see the sun but what we did experience was magical. As the moment of totality approached the sky got darker and darker, the clouds got thicker and more threatening and the temperature dropped. At around 11 minutes after 11 the sun vanished behind the moon and we were plunged into darkness. The drop into darkness was strange, it wasn’t a gradual fade but it seemed to come down in steps almost as if the sky was falling on top of us. As the moment of totality reached us I saw all of the lights at Goonhilly come on together as the shadow came racing over the hill.
The next two minutes were the scariest and most exhilarating of my life! Cold, almost primeval shivers ran down my spine and I felt all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as the shadow of the moon raced over us. The temperature which had already dropped, dropped even further during those two minutes. On the horizon to the west was a beautiful false sunset/sunrise but in the other direction it was just dark.The crowd who had been in high spirits gradually got quieter and quieter until you could almost hear a pin drop. Then suddenly just as if someone had faded the lights up at the end of a movie the daylight returned and a spontaneous burst of applause broke out.
As the light came back the birds, who had fallen silent, started to sing and we saw all of the farmers cows running across the field and moo-ing to be milked. We also saw flocks of birds flying around in what seemed like migratory patterns however there was one animal that seemed to be effected the most – humans! All of the high spirits of the run up to totality had gone and a stunned silence had fallen over the site.
I think everyone who had experienced totality had been overwhelmed by the sheer power of nature. Living on the earth without the sun, even for such a short period, had made us aware of how much we depend upon it for our very existance. the subdued mood lasted for several hours and even later as we headed off for a post eclipse pint I was still getting shivers running up and down my spine. I can’t wait until I can see another one. (The next eclipse visable from UK soil will be in 2090 – I’ll be 129! so I think we may have to travel to see one but see one we will!
“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
Mathew c24 v29
All Photographs © Kevin Geraghty-Shewan except sun photo (unknown) and the photo taken from our office – Eclipse Presentations (honest) © Anton Hardcastle
This page was originally posted on my website in 1999