Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Isle of Wight - The Needles

A sunny and humid start so I headed for the beach at Sandown for a picture before catching the bus to Newport. Newport is the County Town on the IOW and has a population of 23,957 give or take a few since the last census in 2001. The IOW Music Festival has just finished in Seaclose Park Newport with the likes of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen headlining. Newport is also home to three prison sites including the notorious 'Parkhurst Prison'which has housed some of the biggest names in British criminal history. These include; 'Yorkshire Ripper' Peter Sutcliffe, 'Moors Murderer' Ian Brady, The Richardson brothers and the Kray twins. I had a 'short' wait at Newport literally before catching the next bus to Alum Bay. It was so humid I mad a detour to Marks and Spencer and purchased some bright blue shorts to change into. There were not the most stylish or fashionable but they served a purpose. In fact I did an amazing top deck 'quick change' on a busy number 7 bus that Houdini would have been proud of. Either the fellow passengers were too embarassed or too polite to say anything?
Alum Bay is a bay near the westernmost point of the IOW and judging by the number of coaches something of a tourist attraction. Away from the; glass blowing, sweet factory and crazy golf there is geological interest and the Bay is noted for its multicloured sand cliffs. Alum Bay is the location of a classic sequence of Eocene beds of soft sands and clays, separated by an unconformity from the underlying chalk formations. Basically layers upon layers or strata built up over millions of years or so i'm told.
It was a steep walk up the coastal path to view 'The Needles' although an open top bus does operate in the Spring and Summer. In fact with the mist rolling in and the chilly air I almost had to change back out of the newly aquired shorts but decided to brave it out having spent £10 earlier on them. The rocks and lighthouse have become icons of the IOW and known worlw wide. However, the main tourist attractions of the headland itself are the two gun batteries, the experimental rocket testing station, and the four coastguard cottages. I was really surprised just how much there was to see.
The Needles also has strong military links with a 'Battery' built in 1861–63 to guard the West end of the Solent to defend against enemy ships. The 9 inch guns took a team of 9 men to load and fire. These guns fired projectiles weighing 256 pounds (116 kg). Early searchlight experiments were conducted at the site between 1889 and 1892. The present observation post housing a searchlight was built in 1899.
As if that wasn't enough ! The site was employed in the testing of rockets for the ICBM program. Tests took place from 1956–71 for the 'Black Kight' and 'Black Arrow' rocket engines with 240 people working there at it's peak. These rockets were later used to launch the 'Prospero X-3 Satellite. It was great to be able to walk around the underground rocket testing rooms which are free to the public.
The Needles Lighthouse stands at the end of the rock formation. Built in 1859, it has been automated since 1994. Previously 3 men worked on there at any time doing shifts of 2 months on and then a month off. The lighthouse was built in 1859 by Trinity House. Constructed from granite it stands 33.25 meteres high and cost £20,000 to build. In 1987 a helipad was added to the top of the lighthouse, and it became fully automated when the last keepers left on 8 December 1994.

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