My best moment... watching the solar eclipse

I witnessed a partial eclipse of the sun as a child and promised myself that I would one day see the full monty. That chance came in August 1999. So, with family, I set off on a cosmic adventure — destination Newquay, on the path of total visibility.

On the morning of the eclipse, cloud covered most of Cornwall and Devon, threatening my long awaited solar eclipse. But we remained optimistic. We walked down to Fistral beach, where we found thousands of watchers enjoying the atmosphere and excitement. All around were little beach parties and general merriment. The clouds continued to darken and the sun was shrouded.

With just 20 minutes to go, the rain came down. As we waited, my two kids and I constructed a model of Stonehenge from rocks on the beach. A group of students nearby liked our little work of art, and took turns being photographed inside the two foot circle of stones, hoping, it seemed, that it would bring good fortune.

Although it was raining and cloudy, we knew that we would experience the darkness of the eclipse. Everyone was gazing up to the sky, occasionally glimpsing the sun’s silhouette behind the veil of clouds. Then the amazing started to happen.

With no more than a couple of minutes to go a small break in the clouds appeared, and the wind was blowing it towards the sun. The small chink in the clouds widened and, with no more than a minute to go before the start of the eclipse, the sun became fully visible in this miraculous hole in the clouds.

I sometimes think that it didn’t happen as I remember it, but it did and I was not alone. Just at the right time and in the right part of the sky the whole of the eclipse was visible on the beach. We watched as the moon began to migrate across the sun to the point of full eclipse, the totality. We saw the corona effect at this point and the whole area was bathed in darkness.

The crowds went silent almost instantly. As the moon began to move away the diamond ring effect was beautiful. The eclipse ended as the moon fully cleared the view of the sun. Seconds later the gap in the clouds closed over and the sky was again overcast.

We later heard that most of Cornwall was overcast, and that Newquay was one of the few places where the eclipse was visible.

My children think that the Stonehenge model acted as some sort of dedication to the earth god, and I still to this day look back on our time on that Cornish beach with a sense of wonderment.

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