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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Midday Darkness Blazes Trail Across Planet

LIZARD, England -- The sun will turn black. The air will turn frigid. Owls and bats will swarm in the midday sky. It will all happen at 11 minutes past the 11th hour on the 11th day of August. And if you think that's a coincidence, then you haven't been studying your necromancy tables.

On Wednesday, the last total solar eclipse of the millennium will sweep across a long arc of Earth, from the North Atlantic to the Bay of Bengal. The first point of land it crosses, achieving totality from 11:11 a.m. to 11:13 a.m., will be the southwest corner of England, a storied peninsula of rocky headlands and rolling hills reputed to have been the site of King Arthur's Camelot, but now known as the county of Cornwall.

Across the English Channel, Wednesday's total eclipse will plunge a diagonal swath of Europe, the Middle East and South Asia into the shadows of a gentle madness.

Perhaps never in history have so many people had a chance to see the sun fully obscured for a couple of minutes by the moon, and to feel their world turn cool and dark at noon.

Despite nonhazardous live coverage on television and online, millions of people are expected to crowd into southwestern England and along the coast of northeastern France to glimpse the millennium's last solar eclipse.

The "zone of totality'' - the pitch black of full solar obscurity - will race at 2,827 kilometers per hour across major parts of France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India, before dying out over the Indian Ocean.

The eclipse is attracting the attention of followers of ancient religions as well as modern-day New Age travelers and other eclectic bands of sun worshippers. Moslem preachers in Iran called on the nation to pray, calling the eclipse a "sign of God'' that demands prayer. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus will bathe in sacred rivers and lakes in India in the belief this will purify their souls.

"For pagans, totality will be the most important two minutes of the decade,'' said Andy Norfolk, an amiable landscape architect and druid bard who is one of tens of thousands in this corner of Britain still practicing ancient celestial religions. They will gather - at henges, quoits and stone altars erected here long before Christ was born - to worship the meeting of the sun and the moon.

"Oh, yes, we'll have druids, necromancers [sorcerers], New Agers; the whole sun-worshiping lot,'' said a smiling, retired British Army Brig. Gen. Gage Williams, who has been appointed Cornwall's eclipse coordinator and dubbed the prince of darkness.

Despite weathermen warning that the eclipse would almost certainly be a washout, thousands of eternal optimists were pouring into Cornwall on Tuesday.

"We are on target for just over 1 million visitors," Williams said.

Police reported that up to 9,000 people an hour were crossing into the picturesque county to give the local economy a welcome fillip.

Many of the eclipse seekers will bring their boats, jamming small harbors, such as the beautiful turquoise cove here at Lizard Point. The British coast guard predicts 100,000 small craft, the largest armada in British history.

Five million viewers are expected on the French coast alone, even as rumors spread that teeming crowds will be pushed from the fabled cliffs into the sea - or, wilder still, will cause the cliffs to collapse. A few hundred well-heeled fans will ride on two chartered Concordes that hope to follow the arc of eclipse as it moves across the globe. British railroads have added enough cars to bring 28,000 additional passengers; all the seats are sold.

But most visitors probably will come by car, and that worries Cornwall's eclipse coordinator. "We're urging people to put bicycles on top of their cars, so if the [traffic] block is impossible, they can still get through,'' Williams said. Thousands of road signs have been readied - some meant for expressways hundreds of kilometers away - reading "Expect Heavy Delays.''

To keep medical facilities available, all elective surgery planned for early August has been rescheduled. Williams surmises that there might be a rush at maternity wards. "The last druid baby born during a total eclipse grew up to be Merlin, and some parents might want to repeat that,'' he said.

Numerologists are analyzing why there are so many 11s in the time of totality. Astrologers are fascinated by the proximity to the end of the millennium. But since the millennium, a Christian concept, has no particular meaning to nature worshipers, they have other things on their minds.

Norfolk, a local druid who heads the Cornish Earth Mysteries Group, says worship services and ritual bathing are the traditional pagan activities during an eclipse. But there is also a suggestion in the druid community that people shouldn't observe the eclipse at all.

Cassandra Lathan, a local nurse and moon worshiper, argues that an eclipse is the coming together of the sun and the moon. "A god and goddess are making love,'' she said. "We have no right to look upon it.''