'I guess it's an addiction': Solar eclipse chaser travels from UK to Toronto to witness spectacle for 7th time

By Isaac M April 7, 2024

At 4am on Tuesday, Sarah Marwick’s alarm went off: it was time to get her children and partner ready for their flight from Heathrow to Toronto, with a stopover in Chicago. The 3,500-mile journey towards seeing her seventh total solar eclipse had begun.

“It’s kind of an addiction I guess,” the slightly jet-lagged 51-year-old GP from Birmingham said, coffee in hand, during a first-morning call with Sky News from her hotel room in Toronto.

Sarah is preparing for the total solar eclipse on Monday which will stun viewers across the US, Canada and Mexico.

She has so far travelled to France, Africa, Libya, China, Svalbard and Wyoming, as her first experience of the moon’s perfect alignment with the sun and earth made her want to keep chasing total eclipses.

Ms Marwick has been chasing total solar eclipses for 25 years. Pic: Supplied
Image:
Sarah Marwick viewing the eclipse from Wyoming. Pic: Andy Vile

Back then, it was 1999. She was 26 and had just finished university when she travelled with her family to Reims, France, for the event.

There were thick clouds in the sky but it was nonetheless the “most unworldly experience”, Sarah said, as it was like “some kind of end-of-days movie where you see this blackness just approaching you”.

Total eclipse promo

‘The eclipse was perfect’

p>Sarah said she is “torn between” her eclipse experiences but if she had to choose a favourite it would be the one on a trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia, where she boarded a canoe and camped on a sand island surrounded by hippos.

“It was the most glorious day… the eclipse was perfect. I was absolutely hooked at that point.”

During a total solar eclipse, the sky falls dark as if it were dawn or dusk, and a halo forms around the sun as its light is blocked out by the moon.

During her trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia, the eclipse wasn’t as dark as Sarah expected it to be, it was “more like a 360-degree sunset”.

Map showing when the eclipse will happen across the United States
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A map of the path of the eclipse across the United States

“There was a black hole in the middle of the sky where the sun should be and it was just stunning,” she said.

Next stop was Libya in 2006.

Asked what pushed her to travel to the conflict-torn country, Sarah said her trip predated the 2011 NATO-led invasion aimed at overthrowing its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

While it felt a bit “hairy” at times, she said, “it wasn’t in a good state, but it wasn’t in chaos”.

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‘It never gets old’

In 2008, Sarah’s hobby took her on a trip to China with fellow eclipse lovers.

“That wasn’t just a holiday to see the eclipse. This was a group of 60 people who were all there bringing like 10 cameras with them,” she said.

“It made me know I’m not the only crazy person in the world that does this.”

Asked if she could ever get tired of chasing eclipses, she firmly said: “You never ever become used to a sight, it never gets old… it’s different every time.”

Svalbard, between the North Pole and Norway

After a few years off because of unpractical locations, Sarah flew to Norway with her family but left her children in Oslo so she could catch a glimpse of the 2015 eclipse in Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago on the Arctic Circle.

“It was absolutely stunning. It was like -26C, we were basically on an ice sheet in the Arctic Circle with these mountains behind,” she said.

“That one was incredible because the light reflected off the ice, it was so bright and then it got dark.”

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A 2017 trip to Wyoming which included a stop at the Yellowstone National Park was the first time her children, at the time aged five and eight, saw a total solar eclipse.

Ms Marwick's children experiencing a total solar eclipse  for the first time in Wyoming in 2017. Pic: Sarah Marwick
Image:
The GP’s children experienced a total solar eclipse for the first time in Wyoming in 2017. Pic: Sarah Marwick

Explaining how she goes about choosing which total eclipse she is going to chase, Sarah said it depends on affordability as well as practicality, while she will also strive to build a trip around the spectacle.

“It’s a really good excuse to go to places I wouldn’t have necessarily otherwise have chosen to go,” she said.

Now in Toronto, she is buzzing to see Monday’s eclipse as she jokes about suffering from “withdrawal symptoms”.

Ms Marwick said she tries to build a holiday around the solar eclipses. Pic: Supplied
Image:
Sarah said she tries to build a holiday around the solar eclipses. Pic: Andy Vile

So why do it?

“I’m not in any way religious at all,” Sarah said. “But it’s almost as close to a religious experience you can get without being religious.

“The universe puts on this amazing spectacle for you, but equally you know you are so small.

“It’s happening, you cannot control it, this is bigger than you, but you can enjoy it and then the lights come back on and the universe gets on with its day… but if you’ve seen a total eclipse, it changes you forever.”

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