Solar Eclipse 11th August 1999 Report: Andrew & Ann Bate (Tresco, Isles of Scilly)


Tresco is the second largest of the Scilly Isles. No cars are to be found on the few roads Tresco has. It is either bicycle or walk: from one end to the other it is less than two miles. Getting to the scillies involves either a two hour boat trip or a twenty minute helicopter ride. The weather forecast had not been at all promising, in fact the Scilly Isles were given to be the worst for weather for the entire track of totality across England. The day dawned. Sure enough cloud was everywhere, and there was a slight drizzle from time to time. These conditions prevailing we decided to go to a place where there was shelter close at hand, the church yard of St.Nicholas’ church.

As the sky was overcast and steady rain had set in, hopes of seeing and photographing the sun’s corona etc had faded, so no great preparation of cameras had been made. It was my hope to set up a video camera under a plastic sheet to record the darkening and lighting of the landscape; this camera, having had its clock synchronised to the Rugby time signal, was recording the time on the picture. The automatic exposure adjustment being disabled, the resulting recording would show what time totality started and ended.

Totality was predicted for 11:09 hrs. At 11:05 the video camera was set up under its protective sheet. By this time it was getting quite gloomy. The lights inside the church were on and it was noticeable that they appeared much brighter than they had half an hour previously. Then it stopped raining, and believe it ot not the crescent sun was visible through thin cloud.

We watched through our eye screens as second contact came and nothing could be seen through them; so to naked eye observation. There was the corona, through high cloud but it was there and clear. From the distance came the sound of ship fog horns and cheering in the black and white environment the only colour was the bright red of the solar prominences peeping out from the edge of the black moon against the silvery inner corona. Binoculars were needed to see the prominences. Then the diamond ring of third contact and it was all over. The build up, the anticipation and all the media hype of the preceding days, years even, were now consigned to the memory and history.

Reflecting on the events of the day, the following points stand out:

  • That the sky should clear just in time for us to see it, then cloud over again- was unbelievable.
  • That hundred seconds or so of totality seemed the shortest one hundred seconds ever.
  • The darkness was a very eerie kind, a bit like that just before a heavy thunder storm, but much deeper. It had a sort of greyness about it and the horizon round about was lighter.
  • It looked as though it should be colder, but I did not notice feeling any cooling.

It is very easy to see why primitive civilisations took fright in these circumstances.