Empire of the Sun: A lifetime’s passion for ‘shadowfile’ David

David MacDougall joined fellow enthusiasts in Svalbard for the 'greatest show on earth'
David MacDougall joined fellow enthusiasts in Svalbard for the 'greatest show on earth'

Dedicated eclipse chaser from Kirkcaldy travelled to the arctic extremes of Svalbard in Norway to witness last week’s spectacular event

A partial eclipse is like getting a kiss on the cheek whereas seeing totality is like a night of mad passion.

So says David MacDougall, whose love affair with the sun and moon began when he took a trip to see his first total solar eclipse in Cornwall in 1999.

Since then the 54-year-old from Cluny has travelled the world to witness nine total eclipses, in locations as far flung as Australia, Zimbabwe and, most recently, Svalbard in Norway.

The software developer and golf enthusiast would be the first to admit his friends think his hobby is a tad crazy, but for him there’s no better reason to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

“That’s part of the thrill,” he said, “to get to go to places where you wouldn’t normally go.”

David MacDougall

David MacDougall

What’s more he visits those places accompanied by a like-minded community of “shadowfiles” - the collective term used for people who “stand in the shadow of the moon.”

One of them even brought a hot air balloon to the greatest show on earth.

“There was something like 80-90 people on this Explorers Tour and I must have known at least half of them by sight,” said the 54 year-old.

And the trip north was worth it because Friday’s total eclipse, which enjoyed clear skies and displayed spectacular prominences, was the best one he had ever witnessed

I will never complain about the cold ever again!

David MacDougall

Arctic conditions in Svalbard did prove challenging, however, for those assembled on the outskirts of the town of Longyearbyen which is situated 78 degrees north, in temperatures of minus 21 degrees centigrade.

“At totality the temperature dropped further to minus 24 degrees centigrade,” said David.

“Everyone was experiencing serious problems with technology because batteries were going flat in the cold, cameras stopped working and operators couldn’t actually feel if they were pushing the button!”

Nevertheless, he managed to capture magnificent shots.

“It was like somebody had touched a dimmer switch and turned off the light,” he said.

“In the distance mountains were still draped in sunlight but where we stood it was very dark.”

He added: “It’s staggering that the sun and the moon are exactly the same size in the sky during alignment,

“As the author Iain Banks said: if you want to meet an alien stand in the shadow of the moon and they will be there.”

Meanwhile, he’s already planning a trip to Indonesia next year.

“The first person that complains bout the heat will get sent to Svalbard,” joked David.

“I will never complain about the cold ever again!”

Armed guards for Svalbard group

Four armed guards surrounded eclipse hunters in Svalbard to provide protection from roaming polar bears, following an attack on a Czech tourist recently.

“All the locals were quite upset when that polar bear was put down,” said David.

“There are 2000 people and 3000 polar bears and they all know them by name.”

A tent was assembled on the ice to provide eclipse hunters with a warm refuge from arctic conditions.

David said: “After the eclipse, 90 people tried to get into that tent, including guards with rifles!”