London - It’s at this time of year – the excitement of Christmas over, the new year’s resolutions already broken, that my thoughts turn to holidays. I am disorganised when it comes to booking a holiday, and have a grudging admiration for those who have everything sorted months ahead.
Last year I met a group of people who know where they are going to spend their next holiday, years in advance. And although their choice of destination is dictated by the sun, they are not interested in getting a tan.
They are eclipse chasers: people who will go to incredible lengths and expense to get to the place where they will be able to witness the extraordinary phenomenon that is a total eclipse of the sun.
I travelled to Cornwall to see the total eclipse in 1999. Thick cloud obliterated any view of what was going on, but I’ll never forget the otherworldly feeling of darkness visibly creeping across the sea, triggering the street lights of Penzance to come on and the gulls to rise, screaming with confusion, then fall suddenly and eerily silent.
I remember the sense of stillness, as if the crowd that I stood among on the top of the cliff had been bewitched. I was therefore delighted to be asked to fly to Cairns, Australia, to film last year’s total eclipse.
In the days before the eclipse, clouds hugged the horizon. The scientist hosting the group I was with was nervous. “We’ll leave in the middle of the night and drive inland,” he said. We set off at 1.30am in search of a cloudless sky.
At the moment just before totality, the light seemed to be sucked away. It was an almost physical sensation, and one that caused me to feel a sort of primeval terror that abated only when totality was reached and the sun was reduced to a thin glowing ring around the dark shadow of the moon.It was a sight so overwhelming, so affecting, that I stood speechless, tears running down my face. Then there was a flash, and the light returned. I looked at the scientist, but he just laughed. “I’ve seen 20 total eclipses and I feel the same as you every time.”
Many of the people I was with will have already booked to travel to Gabon for the eclipse on November 3. I’d like to say I’ll be there, but I haven’t quite got round to sorting it out. – The Independent on Sunday