The Eclipse: After 72 years (and several weeks of hype), some clouds threaten the view

Click to follow
BRITAIN WILL this morning take a collective look skywards for a glimpse of the much-anticipated solar eclipse - the first over mainland Britain for 72 years and almost certainly the most hyped in history.

Quite whether anyone will see anything is another matter. Forecasters were last night still predicting cloud cover for much of the country and giving people in Cornwall, through which the all-important line of totality passes, a 10-per-cent chance of a clear view. Forget Pendennis Point and Sennen Cove, the clever money for clear skies is on Iran.

Despite the forecast, organisers in Cornwall were putting on a brave face, brushing aside criticism for the way initial publicity about the eclipse concentrated on the possible problems, arguably putting off many potential visitors.

Officials from the County Council said more than 1 million people were in the county, half of them tourists. "That is more than double the normal for this time of year," said a spokeswoman.

But, brave faces or not, the numbers are a disappointment for the hundreds of businesses waiting for the arrival of the millions of extra tourists that had been predicted. Many had invested large amounts of money preparing campsites and other facilities, many of which remained sparsely filled.

Despite the late arrivals pouring into the south-west last night, millions fewer people will have travelled to see this eclipse than the last one on mainland Britain, when around 3 million made their way to Yorkshire and Lancashire for 29 June 1927.

"Extra tourists? I'd say we've seen less than normal for the time of year," said Wendy Webb, owner of a truckers cafe on the surprisingly free- flowing A30, Cornwall's main trunk-road.

"I think lots of tourists have been put off by those people charging silly money for rooms and campsites. There were adverts in the paper where people were wanting pounds 5,000 to rent out their cottage. Who's going to pay that sort of money? It's no good them all complaining now; they have only got themselves to blame. It's sheer greed."

Elsewhere in the county others were turning their minds to more spiritual matters. In the garden of his bungalow at St Merryn, near Padstow, where he has erected his own set of Cornish granite standing stones, Ed Prynn, shameless self-publicist and self-appointed Arch-Druid of Cornwall, was doing a sun dance.

"No, it's not a traditional dance," admitted the former stonemason, looking splendid in a white robe embroidered by his partner and fellow Druid, Glynis Kent.

"But I spoke to some people who have been to India and Africa, where there are rain dances, and I just tweaked one of them. I am sure the Sun will shine here tomorrow."

As if to spite the grim-voiced weather forecasters who had been updating the local radio stations with stories of gloom on an hourly basis, Mr Prynn waved his staff at the sky and the clouds broke and the Sun came out, albeit briefly. "There you go. It does work," said Ms Kent.

Mr Prynn looked rather pleased with himself. "I became a Druid 20 years ago," he added." I made myself the Arch-Druid when I was interviewed on the radio and they asked me my position. There wasn't an arch-Druid in Cornwall, so I thought I might as well have the top job."

Eclipse week also saw the first flash of trouble yesterday, when several hundred travellers clashed with police at Truffulock when officers and council officials tried to remove sound equipment from a festival site. Six officials and two officers suffered minor injuries after they were pelted with stones, while the travellers accused police of using CS spray on children.

After several hours of a stand-off in a muddy field, the police left, to the jeers of the crowd.

"I have no idea what the police are doing here. Who are we supposed to be upsetting?" asked Derv, from Leeds.

"Everyone is going to leave after the eclipse. If the police had just waited it would have saved all this bother."

After all the build-up and anticipation, opinion in Cornwall appears divided as to whether the two minutes and three seconds of this morning's total eclipse will be an anti-climax. What seems sure is that if things do not go well, the recriminations and finger-pointing will go on for some time.

With even more madness anticipated for today, people overloaded with eclipse fever and who would bury their head under a pillow rather than stare at the Sun have one consolation: Britain's next eclipse is not until 2090.