IN the early hours of June 29, 1927, the Yorkshire Dales were full of excited people hoping to catch a glimpse of the total eclipse of the sun – Richmond, as we told a fortnight ago, was on “the line of totality” 90 years ago.

Mike Wood has kindly pointed us in the direction of the diary of Virginia Woolf, because the writer and her fellow poet Vita Sackville-West, plus their families, caught a 10pm excursion special from King’s Cross, which arrived at the Broken Brea level crossing a couple of miles east of Richmond at 3.30am.

An omnibus took them up on the tank road to Bardon Moor, which was full of people – and the sky over Richmond was full of clouds.

The eclipse lasted 24 seconds at 6.20am.

“We saw rays coming through the bottom of the clouds,” wrote Woolf. “Then, for a moment, we saw the sun, sweeping - it seemed to be sailing at a great pace and clear in a gap; we had out our smoked glasses; we saw it crescent, burning red; next moment it had sailed fast into the cloud again; only the red streamers came from it.”

She said she felt cheated, but despite the cloud cover, colours were still changing as the sun went out. “The clouds were turning pale; a reddish black colour. Down in the valley it was an extraordinary scrumble of red and black, and very beautiful.

“Rapidly, very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker and darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank and sank, and suddenly the light went out. We had fallen. It was extinct. There was no colour. The earth was dead.

“That was the astonishing moment: and the next when as if a ball had rebounded, the cloud took colour on itself again; and so the light came back. The colour for some moments was of the most lovely kind - fresh, various - here blue, and there brown: all new colours, as if washed over and repainted. It was like recovery.

“One felt very livid. Then – it was all over till 1999.”

WE reproduced the D&S’ headline from its report of the 1927 eclipse which included the line “Best view at Giggleswick”. It triggered a snippet of information from Ian Bagshaw, in Hurworth, who wrote: “I was told that Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was on the train at Giggleswick and the sky was overcast so they shunted the train further up the line so the PM got a clear view.”

This may be apocryphal, but MacDonald was definitely at Giggleswick, where the Royal Observatory had set up camp. He described the experience as “the most magnificent and moving spectacle I have ever seen in my life”.

TODAY, Broken Brea is just a kink beside the river on the B6271 between Brompton-on-Swale and Richmond, although it is a kink that is guarded by a Grade II listed former crossing keeper’s house.

“In my day, the gate keeper was Mr Pallister and my friend and I used to cycle down on an evening and help him open and close the gates,” says Mike Wood, who has an oil lamp from one of the dates. “Occasionally a train would stop and we were treated to a ride on the footplate into Richmond and back.”

When the Royal Train overnighted at Broken Brea, Mr Pallister painted the railway sleepers white, filled up the ballast and ensured his trailing roses looked their best – nothing like our picture of dereliction from after the closure of the line.

“It was a shame to see the crossing keeper's hut in such a condition,” writes Alan Graham from Finghall. “Back in the late Sixties, when going to and from Richmond on the Service 25 United school bus, our lofty position afforded a good view of the little hut and its elderly occupant.

“The dual track had been reduced to single line operation so I don't suppose he had much to do by then. His hut seemed hardly big enough for even one person but he always appeared to have a roaring coal fire going in it, so he was certainly warm and cosy.”

THE Richmond branchline came off the East Coast Main Line at Eryholme and ran trhough Dalton Gates, over Straggleton Crossing to Moulton station, then Scorton station and into Catterick Bridge, where the station was badly damaged in 1944 when an ammunition train exploded. Next was Broken Brea, where there was a milepost saying that Richmond was just two miles away.

The line opened on September 10, 1846, and closed to passengers on March 3, 1969. Goods services topped the following year.

Now the Ordnance Survey map just marks the crossing as “Broken Brae”, whereas the railway called it “Broken Brea”. A “brae” is a Scottish word for a steep slope to a river, and “broken” can be where the smooth flow of a river is broken by rocks – as in Darlington’s Broken Scar. So did the railway mix up its vowels and once the crossing was marked on railway maps there was no turning back – until the line closed and nature reclaimed it.