A solar exclipse ~ Never to be forgotten ~ Uniting strangers

A Solar Eclipse.

All my life I had wanted to experience a total solar eclipse and, when I heard that there was to be one visible in the UK on the 11th August 1997, I determined that I would be where it was ‘total’. This was a narrow band across Cornwall and South Devon.

So, on the afternoon of the 10th I put a mattress in the back of my estate car together with a sleeping bag, some food and a camping stove and headed for South Devon. I visualised sleeping in the car somewhere near the sea and had chosen Slapton Sands. When I arrived there I felt strongly that here was not the right place for this experience so I drove back inland and further down the coast to Hallsands, a tiny village with a shingle beach. I arrived here just as it was getting dark and found the whole car-park along the shore lined with cars and camper-vans.

Everyone was there to share the eclipse and a fantastic atmosphere was apparent, all the tradition British reserve put on hold and everyone chatting to their neighbours, all excited about what would happen the next morning, but none knowing quite what to expect.

Just to the south-west was the Start Point lighthouse, flashing its warning signals throughout the night and automatically switching itself off at dawn.

The eclipse was due just about 10 a.m. and before that, groups of new-found friends gathered in anticipation, each holding a piece of smoked glass. Out to sea we counted over 100 small boats, waiting expectantly just as we were. Through the thin cloud overhead we could see the first sign as the sun appeared to change shape where the moon started to pass between it and the Earth. Gradually the moon eclipsed more of the sun until it was almost dark.

A pair of seagulls flying over, spiralled down to land on the sea and a couple who had obviously planned this in advance, ran down the beach and plunged into the calm water. It was suddenly almost completely dark and the Lighthouse started to flash its warning, whilst all around, from cliff-tops and offshore boats, cameras flashed in a 360 degree circle.

It was dark for just over a minute and then we saw the light ‘running towards us’, across the land and sea. The lighthouse switched itself off again and everybody laughed spontaneously as if we had together escaped some kind of danger.

Kettles were put on to boil and cups of tea shared in a ‘the Blitz is over’ kind of mood and then we all drifted away back to reality – but I’ll never forget that morning.

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