Annular Eclipse Helmsdale

By Yvonne Cherry

Many people believe an annular eclipse is so-called because it is something which occurs annually, however, this is not the case. It is actually based on the Latin 'annulus' meaning ring, where the Moon appears in front of the Sun but does not cover it completely as it would during a total eclipse where it looks like the Sun and Moon are the same size. Instead, it creates a 'polo mint' effect, and a clear ring of sun is visible around the moon. All in all, a spectacular event, but how would the Scottish weather fair for us?

Helmsdale was our chosen location due to its excellent North-Easterly view over the sea which was essential, as the eclipse would occur around 4.30am, not long after sunrise. This was the furthest North I had ever been, but then again, every single mile after Inverness was the furthest North I had ever been!!! The scenery on the drive was breathtaking to say the least. As the sun shined high in the blue sky, the colours on view were amazing, the greens of the trees and grass, the sparkling North Sea to our right and all in all, it was a very pleasant journey indeed with various tourist attractions along the way.

A few of us arrived on the Thursday in order to get some sleep before our early rise on the Saturday. We stayed at a couple of B&Bs in the quiet town and the Thursday night was held traditionally, down at the local chippie. However, this was not your average chip shop, it was called La Mirage and the restaurant was a shrine to none other than Barbara Cartland. I'm sure you can visualize the pink. Pictures galore graced the walls of our proprietor with her heroine, along with chandeliers and traditional music. The food was excellent and the hostess spent the night ensuring her guests were looked after.

Afterwards, we entertained the locals at the pub with stories of what we were up to and were quite amazed by how much of a non-event this was in Helmsdale. Most of them suggested they would remain in their beds at that time of the morning.

Friday was spent getting to know the area, coming up with some possible locations for viewing. A toe was dipped in the chilly North Sea too on a little beach we found, however, full body submersions were not on the cards. We also visited the Caithness glass factory just outside Wick where we watched the processes involved in making some really colourful glassware. The heat was unbelievable from the huge ovens where the glass was melted and I couldn't imagine working there all day. The fruits of their labour however were beautifully displayed in the adjoining shop.

Later on, once everyone had arrived, we met up to discuss the best locations. By this time, cloud had formed above and various members of our group wanted to go further afield to Durness or Strathy Point to increase their chances of seeing it. We, however, decided on a venue about 45 minutes away called Sarclet Head, just south of Wick which had an area for parking and a sea view to the north east. All we needed was a bit of luck with the weather.

At 2.00am on the Saturday morning we made our way to the venue. The weather, however, was very foggy and didn't look too promising for a good view. Nevertheless, we rallied accompanied by Classic FM and when we arrived at our destination we set up some equipment in front of a ruined building on the cliff top. As dawn's first rays of light began, it was becoming increasingly clear we would not be able to see anything; the cloud was just too thick. However, we made our way to the cliff edge in the hope that the clouds would miraculously part and we'd get a wonderful display. They didn't, although the whole thing happened against a background of birds circling and waves breaking against the rocks. All very dramatic and atmospheric.

Anyway, we packed up our things and headed back to Helmsdale in convoy. Fortunately, just outside a little village called Berriedale, everyone had parked their cars at the side of the road and looking back, we noticed the sun had risen above the clouds and was now filtered by a thin haze allowing us to look at it as the last part of the moon slowly passed by. Frantic photography was going on as everyone rushed to capture the moment just before 4th contact. We headed back to Helmsdale with smiles on our faces.

For us, after a quick snooze, the rest of the day was spent at Dornoch and in particular, the beach. What a beautiful beach it is too, we paddled in the sea (still too cold for a swim) and played beach baseball. The sun was shining in all it's glory, as if making up for its earlier obstruction. Others spent the day taking photographs of the wonderful scenery or panning for gold in a fruitful river nearby. Malcolm met up with his three fishing companions and headed over the Pentland Firth to Orkney for a weeks fishing.