Goonhilly, catkins, water drops and an eclipse…

I went out to Goonhilly Downs on the day of the recent partial eclipse. I thought the wide open plateau of these ancient downs – farmed since prehistory and now a National Nature Reserve – would provide an excellent spot to view the eclipse. Goonhilly has so much sky.


It was a gorgeously sunny day here in the south-west. Arriving about half an hour before the eclipse was due to begin, I pottered about taking photos of the soft yellow catkins that were everywhere, and of the water droplets clinging to them.

Willow catkins at Goonhilly (photo: Amanda Scott)
Willow catkins at Goonhilly (photo: Amanda Scott)

In fact, given I had neither eclipse-watching glasses nor the proper filter for my camera, I spent quite a bit of time lining up an image of the sun in a water drop, using my macro lens. It would have made for a fantastic photo once the eclipse started…or at least it would have if the sun hadn’t edged into a new position just a little too early. As I tried to realign my set-up, the water drop duly dropped and was no more. Ah well, the best laid schemes, and all that…

Water droplet (without reflection of eclipse…) (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Water droplet (without reflection of eclipse…) (photo: Amanda Scott)

Instead, I found a muddy puddle that held a reflection of the sun. The light breeze rippling its surface was very pretty, but did make for a fuzzy eclipse shot. Here’s the best I could do, in a very under-exposed sort of way.

Partial eclipse in a muddy under-exposed puddle (Bad photo by Amanda Scott!)
Partial eclipse in a muddy under-exposed puddle (photo: Amanda Scott)

So, at this point I gave up and decided to enjoy the atmosphere. And it was very eerie. It didn’t get that dark. It was just a little greyer, a little more chill. But…everything also felt just a little different, like stepping slightly out of phase with the rest of the world. The birds began to sing their evening songs and flowers closed up their petals. I sneaked some split-second glances at the sun as the moon passed over its face and, even though I know all the scientific things that are going on, I felt just a little uneasy. For a moment, it became possible to step into the shoes of those Goonhilly ancestors of ours from prehistory and to share a little of their awe and fear.

What awed me most of all was seeing the edge of the moon’s shadow – the penumbra – high above me. The sun’s part of the sky was bright and blue, but northward it was clearly a darker, more grey-blue colour. The narrow boundary between them was an arc across the sky, from horizon to horizon. It’s a cliche to say it, but I felt very very small.

And then the eclipse finished, the birds and flowers got on with their daytime activities again, and I trotted back to my trusty old car. But that sense of strangeness, of wonder even, given me by the eclipse had lifted my heart for the rest of the day.