This page contains older news articles from the Duchy. As preparations for the eclipse started ramping up, the inccessible nature of Cornwall (traffic jams and water supply issues are normal in summer) together with predictions of millions of people heading to the eclipse set off a firestorm of predictions of chaos and disaster.

With the aid of several invaluable contacts in the Duchy itself, I tried to keep abreast of changing conditions there; but the news from the county was that space was rapidly filling up.

How Big a Rush?

Cornish Guardian: Crunching the Numbers

There's no sensible way to predict how many people will join in the Eclipse Rush. This is a problem, because shopkeepers need to know how much food to get in, emergency services need to know how to plan ahead, and much, much, more!

So how much can Cornwall take? Well, the permanent population of Cornwall is just under 500,000; the largest Cornish town in the eclipse area, Redruth, has a population of just 35,000. 250,000 visitors would normally be expected to be in the county in August, plus maybe 40,000 friends and families of residents; so the total visitor capacity (Cornwall runs at pretty much full capacity in a normal August) is under 300,000. This is made up of about 35,000 serviced beds, 65,000 self cater beds (of which 30,000 are provided by caravans), the aforementioned friends and families, and around 150,000 people's worth of campsites.

Devon has far greater capacity -- Plymouth, which is in the total eclipse path, has a permanent population of 256,000, and Torbay, also in the path, 58,000.

As for the size of the Eclipse Rush, most guesses seem to aim around the 1.5 to 2 million mark. I hope this isn't too conservative; the last eclipse on the mainland was in the north of England in 1927, and only lasted for 25 seconds, despite which an estimated 3 million people went to see it! And this in a day before family cars, and when a trip to the north was a major undertaking (probably more than a trip to Spain would be today).

So certainly a huge overload for Cornwall, at least. Pretty much everything there -- hospitals, food supplies, busses, car parks, etc. -- is geared towards the normal population. The water supply, in particular, is often severely stressed in summer, and the roads cope only with difficulty; informed opinion is that the county can take no more than 2 million visitors at maximum.


Electronic Telegraph: Rents Eclipse the Sun

First and foremost, and obviously, book early, and I mean now! I'm still (as of Dec. 98) getting some emails from people wanting to advertise everything from camping to entire houses; but this clearly won't last forever. To cope with the eclipse rush, just about every spare room will be let out, and a lot of complete houses; but the majority of extra accommodation will take the form of campsites. Campsites are usually the most common form of accommodation in Cornwall, and this is likely to be true tenfold during the eclipse.

An early update from Tracey "Rumour Control" Dixon:

August 13th, front page, Cornish Guardian :-

"Already accommodation is being squeezed with hotels and B&Bs taking bookings and with rented houses and cottages being snapped up. Established campsites are filling for the week of the eclipse and new temporary campsites are springing up courtesy of enterprising landowners and farmers ...

... the Walker Group is a company providing additional campsites and is in the process of obtaining 10,000 acres across the West Country. Total Eclipse of the Sun (Cornwall) Ltd already has permission for 24 sites and also offers local residents the chance to rent out their homes or caravans over the eclipse period."

In order to alleviate the enormous congestion problems that are more than likely, the authorities are strongly advising visitors to stay for at least the week, and also strongly advising landlords to let accommodation for a minimum of a one-week period. This will obviously spread the enormous movement of people over a much longer period, and so should go a long way to helping the county to stay sane. It's a great place to stay for a week, anyhow! (Thanks to Jane for first pointing this out.)

Going by tent may well be the best way to beat the rush for beds, then; but please don't go at all if you haven't got a reserved place to pitch it. It's going to be crazy enough as it is, and the environmental damage must be kept to a minimum.

The good news -- at least as far as the number of spaces is concerned -- is that the enterprising Cornish are turning just about every flat piece of turf they own into Eclipse Accommodation. Lloyd Roberts reports:

I have had first hand information that many residents of St Ives are allowing campers in their back garden for £100 per night... and they are fully booked!!

Getting a list of approved campsites is a good start; when you can find one! From John Fraser:

I made enquiries at Penzance Tourist Information Centre about camping; the local authority (Penwith D.C., I believe) is of course bound to check all proposed temporary camping sites for adequate water, sanitation, etc. (I'm not a big fan of bureaucracy, but in this case I make an exception!) The problem is that they hope - but don't promise - to get this done in time to publish the approved list (which they will send me) in their November newsletter (or whatever). I strongly suspect that by then the prime places will be taken. Tricky.

and Matthew Trewhella reports:

Penwith District Council (containing Land's End, St Ives and Penzance) are requiring people to register camp sites. I'll be impressed if they get a brochure out by November though!

So, in summary, things aren't too bad, yet. Don't leave it too late; but don't be totally discouraged if you haven't booked a place yet.

Water and Health Services

Cornish Guardian: Design Poser To Get Round A Fundemental Problem

While overcrowding and lack of beds are obvious problems with many people trekking to a small place like Cornwall, there are less obvious potential problems: like a lack of water! The problem is so severe that rationing may be introduced. The sewer system is also likely to be severely strained. This from Soothsayer Tracey Dixon:

I thought you might like to know that currently the authorities in Cornwall are expecting the county to run out of water during the time of the eclipse due to the massively increased demand during that time. My family live in the eclipse zone (lucky me - guess who is booked to visit them come August 1999!?) and have been paying attention to the local news....

Cornwall is a small county with limited water supplies that are stretched during the holiday season as it is.... So take your own drinking water to ease the strain!!

Cornish Guardian: Cornish Guardian: Extra Air Ambulance Planned
Cornish Guardian: Fears Over Police Cover

The health and emergency services are also likely to be feeling the strain at eclipse time. The air ambulance service is beefing up its presence, and the emergency services in general are bracing for the demand. More from Soothsayer Tracey Dixon (and confirmed by another Cornwall spy, Matthew Trewhella):

I know the local constabulary has been running through various disaster scenario drills... but not details of WHICH particular disasters... the water shortage anticipated is not hypothetical unfortunately...

BBC: Cornish women told to put family plans on hold

But this takes the prize for Eclipse Story of the Year: Women in Cornwall are being warned to avoid getting pregnant in November -- so they don't give birth in the middle of next year's solar eclipse. Seems that the health authorities are worried that the may not be able to cope with the demand on their services.

Travel Problems

Cornish Guardian: Eclipse Travel

While Cornwall is certainly doing everything it can to prepare for the eclipse, I guess it's inevitable that the roads will be awful. From Tracey Dixon again:

The roads are likely to be solid with traffic, we are talking mainly small country lanes that, again, can have trouble with ordinary holiday traffic - madness will prevail on the day, and I think it would be extremely unlikely that on the day you would be able to move between inland and the coast as you suggest to catch the clearest weather - it will probably be set up camp and hope for the best!!

Electronic Telegraph: Cornwall May Have to Close!
Cornish Guardian: Police Could Turn People Away

In a normal August changeover Saturday, the main roads can carry about 200,000 new people into or out of the county per day. However, experience with large events (such as the Tall Ships event) shows that imaginative use of the back lanes can move 300,000 people into the Falmouth area on a Sunday morning. Although the challenge is clearly immense, Gage Williams (the eclipse co-ordinator) is confident that the roads will cope (albeit slowly).

All in all, though, if you can avoid it, don't drive! There will be plenty of alternative methods of travel, from planes and helicopters, to ferries, and of course train services into the area. But it's not quite that simple, as Michael Lockley reports:

Further to your recent comments on your Eclipse99 Website about road gridlock, I would just like to point out that there is a main-line rail service to Cornwall. In fact nearly the whole of the rail system from Dawlish South-Westwards will experience the eclipse and most of the main resorts in Cornwall have a rail service with Inter-City services from throughout Britain.

And in fact, you can now buy a ticket! Although it's not easy...

Booking for trains to Cornwall in August for the Solar Eclipse has now opened up for Virgin Trains, despite the complete absence of any publicity, and general confusion as to when it would be available. This was the 3rd enquiry today I managed to make a successful booking, and about the 10th enquiry this year. On the first attempt they said they were only taking bookings from Birmingham, the customer care line then said that all bookings were being taken, then it was back to the standard booking line and success.

If you are going or know somebody else who is going book NOW while there are still tickets and avoid the predicted traffic gridlock. ... Obviously the timetable is only provisional at the moment.

Nevertheless, you should definitely consider the train: a train to Penzance will drop you right in the middle of the total eclipse zone.

Of course, people like me have to think about longer-term travel: I got my ticket from SF to London in September, and it was still $940! Ouch!

Fun Things!

It's not all gloom and doom (well, we're all hoping for gloom, of course... ;-) ; some fun events are being planned for eclipse time! Tracey "The Sooth is Out There" Dixon reports:

August 13th, Cornish Guardian :-
"Concorde will chase the shadow of the moon -
Concorde will race towards Cornwall from the Atlantic Ocean next year, chasing the shadow of the total solar eclipse. Passengers on board will experience the eclipse for five times longer than those on land, but will have to pay in excess of £1,000 for the privilege of the three hour flight.

All being well, Concorde will stay in the shadow of the eclipse for 11 minutes, racing towards the Cornish coastline at around 58,000 ft.... {bit about it having to slow as it is not allowed to travel at Mach 2 over land} ...there has been tremendous interest in booking of seats."

Well, that certainly sounds like fun; and, of course, you'd be above the clouds (if any)! Though I have to wonder just how much you'd see out of the windows! Apparently, passengers will be asked to trade with the aisle seats half-way through.

In General

Cornish Guardian: Top Tips for Businesses

Cornwall is certainly preparing for the big day in earnest. A 20-point plan has been prepared for businesses, and every piece of flat ground in the county is being made ready to rent!

Here's an interesting point; do you want to be in a town for the eclipse? John Fraser raised an interesting problem:

... in these days of photocell-controlled streetlights (not to mention householders with either no interest in the eclipse or a pathological fear of the dark, and shops etc. determined to carry on 'business as usual'), a present-day English town is not a very clever place to be for an eclipse observer ...

So you're standing in a quiet Cornish street, waiting to gaze at the majestic splendour of the faint solar corona... and the streetlight over your head snaps on! I don't know if they actually work this way, but it's certainly something to think about!

BBC: Total eclipse will bring chaos to Cornwall
BBC: Eclipse minister plea blotted out

A BBC News article from 11 August 1998 mentions many of the same problems. Traffic (particularly on the day), water and sanitation are singled out as potential major problems. There have even been calls for a special Minister for the Eclipse, as described in another article from 25 November.

Trivia Section

Courtesy of Tracey you-know-who... ;-)

"Who Put the Lights Out?" (sic) Not a statement from one of the participants at Truro's Real Ale Festival, but the name of one of the beers there, the first to be produced for the eclipse. The pint... produced by Skinners of Truro is dark in colour, but with light tastes.

Camera's festival co-ordinator Steve Wilmott said: "It's a bit of light and a bit of dark, just like the eclipse itself. And, just like the eclipse if you drink it too quickly it lasts just two and a half minutes."

And as if that wasn't enough...

A cornish brewery is producing some special tipples to whet the palates of the hordes of people expected to invade the county in August for the total eclipse.

St Austell Brewery is to launch a new ale - Daylight Robbery - in its 150 pubs in Cornwall and Devon from June and it assures customers that the price will be anything but!

And Totally Red and Totally White are limited edition wines - the red will be a Merlot from the Vin de Pays d'Oc region of southern France and the white will be a Sauvignon from the Vin de Pays Jardin de la France region of the Loire...

. . .

Businesses throughout Cornwall have the opportunity to give the eclipse their official stamp of approval. Companies which use mailroom franking machines to deal with outgoing post can now have an Eclipse 99 mark included in their mark to promote the major event.

Dec 10 - Cornish Guardian
In addition to the huge influx of the simply curious for August's eclipse, the police will have to cope with huge numbers of members of the media pouring into the county to record the once-in-a-lifetime event. A special meeting held at Launceston last Thursday saw police officers gather to discuss how they were going to handle a predicted invasion of 6,000 media representatives.