Travel: The greatest show on Earth

Where better than magical Cornwall to experience the total eclipse of the sun, says Matthew Brace

Cornwall is England's mystical county, a Celtic outpost taking the full force of angry Atlantic gales on the chin and softening the blow for the rest of us. Many of its people are passionate about independence. They display car stickers showing the black and white Cornish flag and the region's traditional name, Kernow. Last summer, a band of kilted Cornishmen blocked traffic on the Tamar Bridge at the frontier - with Devon.

Legend and historical fact have been interwoven down the centuries. Some believe Cornwall was once the land of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, who fought evil and injustice along the precipitous cliffs and coastal inlets. Others say the Lost City of Atlantis lies submerged just beyond its shores. Witches' covens were common and much feared for placing hexes on their enemies.

With such a reputation for sorcery and fantasy, Cornwall is the ideal county to be blessed with the magic of a full solar eclipse, one of Nature's most awe-inspiring phenomena. The cosmic event will plunge the county into temporary darkness for a couple of minutes at 11.10am on 11 August, when the moon passes between the sun and the earth.

It is bound to be a memorable day for the hundreds of thousands of people who will make their way south-west to witness it. The artists of St Ives and Lamorna Cove will be busy sketching and painting, surfers will be out riding the waves in the eerie gloom, and scores of ravers will be dancing on every available scenic headland and open space. Somehow, it just would not be the same if it was all happening in the skies above Milton Keynes.

Some mystics are predicting the end of the world, convinced by the coincidence of this rare event (the last one was in 1927 and the next in 2090) with the end of the second millennium. The police are thought to be worried about the breakdown of law and order through mass civil disobedience. Most Cornish, however, are predicting large cheques in their bank accounts.

Houses are being rented out for astronomical fees. One is reportedly going for pounds 10,000 for the week of the eclipse. Farmers are either ploughing up and barricading their fields to stop the masses encroaching, or vigorously marketing them as Official Eclipse Campsites to draw in the paying crowds.

It is hardly surprising, for as well as being one of the UK's most beautiful counties, Cornwall is also one of the poorest, with high unemployment and few prospects for future growth. Tin mining, once the prevalent industry here, is now dormant, as are several of its spin-off businesses. Farming has suffered, as it has nationwide, and fishing has been badly affected by quotas and foreign competition. Cornwall is banking on tourism, and major crowd-pullers like solar eclipses are rare. It will be the biggest tourism event in Cornwall for the next two generations.

The eclipse will be seen clearly across the whole county as it all falls within the width of the "track of totality" (the dead centre of the eclipse's path across the face of the Earth), from Launceston in the north to the Scilly Isles in the south.

Visitors to Cornwall have their favourite places where they return to annually, and they will no doubt do so again this August. Among my favourites are St Ives, with its whitewashed cottages and brilliant light, the Roseland peninsula with its gentle harbours and chugging motor launches, and Newquay and the north for the nightlife and the powerful surf.

One of the most dramatic spots is Lamorna Cove, a slim valley on the south coast, a couple of miles west of Mousehole. You can walk to Land's End in an afternoon, via Porthcurno and the submarine communications museum, and the famous Minack Theatre which clings to the cliff like a seagull's nest. Plays are performed regularly during the summer months.

Lamorna's beauty is spiritual enough as it is, but when bathed in the ghostly half-light of a total solar eclipse, it will be transcendent. The two flanks of granite that form the cliffs either side of the cove do their best to shelter the small beach from the elements, but the waves (cerulean with frothy, white manes) crash in regardless, throwing broken lobster nets and tarred driftwood planks up the beach.

The road down through the woods is so narrow and the car park at the end so tiny that the number of vehicles is severely restricted and it is quite a walk on foot - factors which might persuade eclipse-worshippers to settle for a more open, accessible viewing platform. This is a blessing for Lamorna folk who, while loving the trade tourists bring, also like to be able to breathe their own air.

On New Year's Eve, a Force 8 gale did its best to destroy the cove. It had been blowing for most of the day and by nightfall, as the villagers headed for the Lamorna Wink pub for a fancy-dress knees-up, 25ft waves were smacking the defensive wall like freight trains. The noise sounded like dynamite exploding underground.

At the storm's height, the wind raked the trees as it screamed up the valley, scattering the rooks from their perches. The fishing boats had been drawn right up the road, 200ft or 300ft away from the water's edge. The previous tide had left a telling warning sign - a line of seaweed and debris more than 100ft further up the valley than normal.

The beach cafe, which serves the best seafood chowder and fisherman's bake I have eaten in Britain, had battened down its hatches. The building shuddered in the gale. The Lamorna Cove Hotel - once the haunt of artists who came here to paint stormy skies and feel the sea spray lashing their canvases - stood defiantly on the hillside with its face turned into the wind and its windows bending inwards with every gust.

In the moonlight, curtains of spray rose up 40ft or more from the defensive wall like marine phantoms after each big wave struck.

Standing there in the full force of the tempest, I began to realise what the mystics were on about. All it would have needed was an eclipse and I, too, would have been convinced the end of the world was nigh.

Lamorna Cove Hotel (tel: 01736 731411). Cornwall Tourist Office (tel: 01872 274057). Minack Theatre (tel: 01736 810694). Penzance Tourist Office (tel: 01736 362207).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week