Tomorrow morning (Friday, March 20th) the moon will slip between the earth and the sun, and turn our world to darkness. Well, maybe not complete darkness, and maybe not the whole world, but certainly our little corner of the UK should see something of it.
I find these celestial happenings absolutely fascinating. The last time we experienced a solar eclipse was on August 11th 1999. The prediction was that the best part of the country from which to enjoy sightings would be Cornwall. Things went ballistic. Every hotel, guesthouse, caravan and campsite was full to bursting as hopeful eclipse watchers booked their accommodation.
At that time too, it seemed like every journalist in the land was getting in on the eclipse act. I was no different.
I did my research and discovered that an earlier eclipse in 1927 had been spectacular in our part of Yorkshire. I got to wondering if any of the county’s older people would still remember it.
I placed an add in a rural weekly newspaper asking for anyone who had a story to tell of that eclipse to get in touch with me.
Bundles of letters began to arrive by every post. It was wonderful. I got caught up in all the memories so many lovely people were willing to share. Their stories were fascinating for me to read, and nostalgic for them to remember.
For the next few weeks I went through the letters, contacted many of the senders, and heard first hand wonderful tales of how their schools at the time had made the special trip up into the hills to witness the event.
Many described their excitement as the whole class lined up and became a crocodile of eager children following the local country lanes to the best viewpoints.
They remembered how the surrounding countryside suddenly grew eerily quiet as the moment of total eclipse neared, how the birds stopped chirping, and how the skies grew dark. They all remembered it as a magical time. Their stories were so vivid and poignant that I felt I was standing right there beside them on that memorable day.
One old gent recalled how his parents had taken him to a hotel in Cornwall to experience the phenomenon. In a bid to relive that happy memory he had booked his accommodation in that same Cornish hotel to ensure a grandstand view of the 1999 eclipse.
Sadly, although what the media had dubbed the Millennium Eclipse happened as predicted, it all took place behind a heavy cloud base, lessening the spectacle in Cornwall.
We were up here in Yorkshire at the time, and on the day itself my daughter and I went out onto the cliffs, and with a small gathering of other eclipse hopefuls, we stood gazing out over the sea and sky in anticipation of the momentous event.
Nothing happened! The eclipse came and went and had no effect at all on our little part of the east coast. Maybe tomorrow it will be more spectacular. I hope so.
It starts around 8.30am, depending where you are in the UK. If you’re planning to go eclipse watching tomorrow, do check out Jodrell Bank’s safety advice. It’s here.