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The Great Eclipse Trip!
10-12th August, 1999


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Eclipse Day

Eclipse Day, 8:45 a.m., Where's the sun?

August 11th, 1999 offered a rare opportunity to view a total eclipse of the sun from English soil - but only from an extremely limited area of the country's south-western tip. Given the state of English summer weather, whether or not travellers to Devon and Cornwall would see anything was a matter of either good luck or having fast transport and access to precise weather reports.
   This account describes the fortunes of a group who took a travel package to Penzance - the destination also chosen by Patrick Moore.

Tuesday was a grey day but the sun came out as we were setting off for the station – very early in view of one of our party's mistrust of trains, which are late or don't bother to turn up when you absolutely need to catch them, in her experience.
   Lots of remarks along the lines of: "better have a good look at the sun as that's the last we'll be seeing of it until we get back". The weather forecasters give a 10% chance of seeing the eclipse from Cornwall. Similar sun-comments on the train while testing the eclipse viewers just before sunset, when the sun was shining in through the carriage windows.
   We saw three hot-air balloons off to the east on the way down on the stretch between Crewe and Coventry – one on its own and and two within sight of each other. Red sky at night – lots of clouds in sight, on Tuesday.
   The train certainly batted along when it got the chance and it seemed to be going even faster after darkness fell, which happened pretty early and pretty quickly, too. We had a grand tour of a lot of England. The train started from Preston and visited Manchester, Crewe, Birmingham, Reading, Slouth, Ealing Broadway and Bristol on the way to Penzance – although not necessarily in that order.
   There was a weather front packed with clouds heading down over Ireland to the same destination as the one to which we were travelling and the weather forecasters seemed agreed that the clouds wouldn't stick to Ireland and they'd been timed to arrive to spoil the eclipse.
   Exeter, 2:30 a.m. – The bloke behind me was snoring and some idiot bloke and some idiot woman started talking. Complaints from one of our party about people not having more sense than to start chunnering in the middle of the night. Considered telling the snorer and the chunnerers to "Shut the ***k up!" But didn't.
   Sunrise, 6 a.m. on Wednesday – Bright red sky, more or less picking up from where last night left off. Some clear patches but they're all to the north. But looks kinda bright to the south, doesn't it?
   At Penzance station, a good view of the sun from the end of the platform and also from the car park outside, which has the advantage of no street lights to spoil things. A cheerful Cockney selling eclipse viewers at only a pound a time outside the Information Centre was guaranteeing that the sun would shine come eclipse time.
   The sun went into hiding at about a quarter to nine and didn't reappear until ten to twelve. And it started to rain. The lady in the shop where we bought Penzance rock and a tin of Eclipse Biscuits said the previous day, Tuesday, had been just like this but the sky had cleared suddenly. Polite scepticism from the tourists. Our wanderings brought us back to the region of the station car park and the Information Centre. Looked for the Cockney to kill him but he'd done a bunk.
   We viewed the Great Event from the balcony of a shopping centre beside a Littlewoods store. All the lights weren't going to make any difference if the sun wasn't coming out to do a disappearing act.
   At the time of the eclipse, the sky went from gloomy day to full night in a matter of a couple of minutes – apart from a long, white bar on the southern horizon, presumably due to light leaking in from beyond the Moon's shadow. The seagull went mad, and so did the humans. There were photographic flashes popping off all over the place, including the side of the bay beyond St. Michael's Mount. Much speculation in our party as to what they hoped to capture on film. There was champagne for the staff of Littlewoods and a couple of rockets with lots of stars went up at the sea front ahead of us.
   All sorts of street and car park lights went on and off again. The night went away again over a couple of minutes, leaving Penzance to the rest of a gloomy, rainy Wednesday morning.
   All of the museums and other attractions in Penzance were closed for the day, and the shops had notices saying they'd be closed for between half an hour and two hours around the time of the eclipse. Sat on the front and read the papers between showers.
   Back at the station, armed with pasties to eat on the train, we found that the punters weren't allowed on the station. No, they were expected to queue in the rain in the car park. Rebelliously, sought shelter under the awning of the Information Centre. Joined the queue for the train as loading time approached.
   The next thing you know, we were being told that the Wales and West railway company had screwed up the stacking order of the trains, which had been parked out of Penzance's tiny station for lack of room. First, we were told that the train would be an hour late and we could wander off for an hour if we wanted to. Much doom and gloom. Then a young lady came rushing round to tell us the train would leave on time. Deep joy! Tempered by wondering what would happen about people who had wandered off for the hour.
   But as three o‘clock and the official time of departure approached, it became clear that we had been lied to. The crowds began to get restless – and crowds there were because people were in queues for three other trains beside ours. We even had the Penzance constabulary, both of them, there to back up the railway company's petty officials in fluorescent jackets, who were telling the punters that they were not allowed on to their precious station.
   All of them, aided by the station announcer, tried to persuade the punters to move away from the station entrance, but they had no luck at all. The punters were there and there they were staying until someone produced a train. Luckily, the rain kept off.
   Finally departed soggy Penzance at four minutes to four and not all that sorry to see the back of the place. The cause of the delay, according to the guard on our train, was a breakdown of the locomotive on the train ahead of ours in the parking area, which meant that ours had been blocked in until they had fixed the defective loco.
   Luckily, there was a lot of slack built in to the return journey. Stopping for five minutes instead of forty-one at Plymouth for a crew change put us right back on schedule again – "to the minute, to the second" to quote the guard. Which is strange as we didn't leave exactly on the minute by the station's digital clocks. More like 23 seconds past. Same irregular departure after the next crew change at Exeter St. David's.
   It's always encouraging when trains run parallel to a stretch of motorway and steadily overtake everything. It provides proof that the crew is getting on with delivering you to your destination in an efficient and effective manner. The reverse side of that particular coin came along soon enough afterwards when the train creaked to a stop in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.
   Afterthought: the seagulls in Penzance were extremely loud, usually for no apparent reason. They were also candidates for being told to shut the ***k up. There were notices along the sea front telling people not to feed the seagulls as they were becoming a nuisance. I would have thought have become would be more accurate, but one is supposed to trust local knowledge.
   The guard came on the communication system again to tell us that our latest delay was due to sabotage. Some idiot had hung a piece of pipe from a bridge and it had cracked the windscreen of a High-Speed Train two ahead of us. That train had limped to somewhere where it could get out of the way and following trains had to go slowly to make sure it was safe to proceed. Taunton reached four hours into the journey home. The West Country must be bloody huge! You can get from Manchester to London, a couple of hundred miles, in two and a half hours.
   Saw a red Zeppelin on the way home – some sort of miniature barrage-balloon type object tethered in a field.
   Back in Manchester twenty minutes behind our original e.t.a. of 3:15 a.m. on Thursday morning. Home for 4:00 after a high-speed taxi ride, which cost a modest £15. To bed. Interesting excursion. Pity about the eclipse.

The Great Lunar Total Eclipse
January 09th, 2001

Moon 1This eclipse was a much more satisfactory affair. For one thing, it was visible from Romiley and for another, it was all scheduled to go off in the middle of the evening rather than the middle of the night. Of course, we had weather forecasters telling us the day before that there would be cloud and rain at the time of the eclipse, but that was more or less what we were expecting.

Moon 2   The last total eclipse of the Moon was clouded off - which spared us the need to get up in the middle of the night to look at it! And yet, on the night of this eclipse, the Moon was clearly visible through thin clouds as it was rising and we could see Jupiter, Saturn and Venus, and also the Pliades near Jupiter when it got dark enough.

Moon 3   This one was a quality eclipse, which was so well arranged that I was able to watch the Earth's shadow start to creep across the Moon's face at about a quarter to seven from my place at the dinner table! Totality was totally uninterrupted by clouds. And we were nipping out to peer at the Moon through binocs at every commercial break during The Bill.

Moon 4   So did the Moon go blood red? Did it hell as like, no matter what the papers said the next day. [Some Romiley cynics were convinced that the 'reports' were written before the eclipse went off.] It went a dirty, dark yellowy, brass colour. And then the Earth's shadow moved on and it returned to its full brilliant whiteness with a fuzzy white halo some distance from it.

The Great Almost Total Solar Eclipse
March 20th, 2015

This eclipse was total in the Faroe Islands but just 89% in Romiley. Earlier in the week, there was lots of doom and gloom and forecasts of a band of cloud over our region on the day, but for once, Nature co-operated. There was some low cloud but it was not dense enough to hide the sun at the important part.
   Their trusty eclipse viewers allowed spectators to follow the Moon's right to left progress across the Sun until it had reduced the Sun to a thin sliver crescent from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock. The crescent then rotated slowly to 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock on its way to 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock. Then the Moon started to move away to the left and the crescent grew.
   There was no great sensation of darkening, despite the hysteria of the writers in such journals as the Daily Mail. Even with just 10% of the sunlight getting through, it looked like a normal sunny day with a bit of cloud dimming things slightly. Not too long after the maximum of the eclipse, the clouds thickened. But much too late to spoil the occasion.

The Dead Loss Total Lunar Eclipse
July 28th, 2018

The longest total eclipse of the Moon this century was a big waste of time, as far as viewers in Romiley were concerned. For a start, it began at 7:25 p.m. and the Moon wasn't due to rise here until about ten past nine; which was about five minutes before sunset.
   The Moon was therefore in full eclipse in pretty well full daylight. Add to the equation lots of clouds over Romiley, and the waste of time was amplified. Any danger of the Moon reaching a clear patch of sky before 10:15 p.m. and the end of totality? None at all. 100% clouds. Total dead loss.

The Not Quite Dead Loss Partial Solar Eclipse
June 10th, 2021

The mid-point of the eclipse was announced as around 11:30 a.m. There were sunny spells earlier on in the morning but clouds started to gather just after 9 a.m. and hopes declined
   Horizon to horizon clouds in all directions was the story as the morning progressed. But the RLC astronomy buffs still dug out their eclipse viewers and hoped. And also ignored the "DO NOT use after August 12th 1999" warning on the viewers!
   At about 11:20, there was a distinct bright patch among the clouds. Would it, wouldn't it? Yes, the clouds did part. Half a dozen times! The instructions on the viewers included a warning not to stare at the Sun for more than 3 minutes. We should be so lucky!
   The glimpses lasted up to half a minute but the solar disc became clearly visible with a bite in the top half going down about one-quarter of the Sun's diameter. We kept the faith and we actually saw it.
   p.s. Some patches of blue sky appeared towards noon and the clouds were blown clear of the Sun by ten past, allowing a view of a small black bite retreating at top-left.

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