"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Isle of Wight Day 5 - 4th July - The Needles Breezer Part 1: The Needles, The Batteries and Alum Bay

On the Tuesday (D's birthday) we parked the car in Freshwater and caught the Needles "Breezer" an open top bus which does a circuit stopping at Freshwater and Dimbola Lodge, The Needles New Battery, Alum Bay and Yarmouth. You can hop on and off as many times as you like in one day. It makes a fun day out - we've done the Needles tour once before and been on the Downs Breezer twice too. I don't think the Needles one stops at as many places as it used to though.

You don't see poems like this at bus-stops back at home!

St Agnes Church, Freshwater - I did go inside once and it is very plain and simple but lovely.


First view of the coloured sands in Alum Bay cliffs as the bus chugged along the Needles headland.

We got off the bus at the stop by the Needles New Battery ignoring the sign to the Old Battery as we wanted to explore the New Battery exhibition and visit the Needles viewpoint first.

The Needles Battery was built between 1861/3 to bombard enemy boats and prevent landings in Alum Bay. Now owned by the National Trust.

The Old Battery (lower down on the headland) originally had 6 7" Armstrong rifled breech loading guns. These were replaced in 1872 by 4 7" and 2 9" rifled muzzle loaders and in 1893 by 6 9" rifle muzzle loaders which needed a team of 9 men to load and fire. They were discarded in 1903 and two are now on display in the Old Battery.

Due to subsidence problems (the guns were causing the cliffs to crumble!) the New Battery was built higher up on the headland and completed in 1895. 3 guns were installed here 1900/03 and 11 people were needed to fire just one! The guns remained there until 1954. Both Batteries were used during the World Wars - in WW2 anti aircraft guns were installed and there was firing at German torpedo boats. Troops trained for the D-day landings on nearby cliffs.

Between 1955 and 1971 a top secret rocket and missile development centre employing up to 240 people was based here. Space rockets "Black Knight" and "Black Arrow" were developed. Black Knight was very successful and 22 test missions occurred. It was used by universities and the Government to carry research stations into the upper atmosphere and in 1971 it was used to launch the only British satellite into orbit where, as far as I know, it still remains.

The "New Battery" exhibition is free and I have included quite a few photos of information boards. If you are interested to learn more please just click on a photo to enlarge and it will take you to the photo gallery otherwise just whizz through this section!!

Osborne getting very excited at all this talk of "classified" and "top secret" - I don't think he realised the base closed some years ago!!

Sorry - very blurred photo! - low light!

Black Arrow Rocket

Osborne feeling very glad this was a replica safe on the ground rather than the real satellite whizzing round in space where he would be hanging on for dear life!

Back in the fresh air and there were loads of Pyramidal Orchids scattered through the chalk downland.

Some more wild flowers including thrift (sea pink), centaury and bedstraw plus a few I am yet to identify.

Osborne's first visit to the Needles even though he hails from the Isle of Wight.

I have included D's photos of the Needles here partly because he got closer than me - braving the viewpoint and also because the zoom on the Canon bridge is much better than my limited zoom!!




Years ago we once went on a boat trip to the Needles and it is well worth it once you have got down to the beach - either by a terrifying chairlift ride or zillions of stairs - I took the stair route although it was hard work getting back up!

The Needles are 3 distinctive chalk stacks - once there were four. The stack which is now missing, having collapsed in 1764 during a storm, was needle-shaped and called "Lot's wife". In the bible the book of Genesis states that Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt as her punishment for looking back when she was instructed not to when she was escaping from the destruction of Sodom. The rock was 120 feet (36.6 metres) high and when it existed was the tallest of the four stacks. The Needles gets its name from the shape of that particular stack.

Master Gunner's House near the Old Battery


Although we have been in the Old Battery before (very interesting, super tea-room and a tunnel walk to the best view of the Needles (even I braved that!)), D and E weren't keen on paying again. So B and I, being members, just popped in for a 5 minute whistle stop tour and visit to the shop.

There is then a really beautiful walk back to Alum Bay with lovely views and lots of wild flowers to see.

Rose Chafers

If anyone can help please with id of this insect - please leave a comment. Possibly a Sawfly?

Lots of Pyramidal Orchids in this spot.

Views of the coloured sands at Alum Bay

The Tertiary coloured sands are made up mainly of quartz with some felspar and mica. In their "pure" state these are white and the colours have been produced by "contamination" with other minerals. For example, with red sand the colour is given by the red mineral haematite, green - colour comes from mineral glauconite, black sands (presence of carbon), yellow/brown sands colour comes from the mineral limonite.

Many years ago when I was a child we visited Alum Bay and in those days you could collect some rocks and sands yourself and when we got home we made our own coloured sand filled ornaments. These days to protect the cliffs you can no longer do this although you can visit the "sand factory" and make your own.

There is a pretty little garden, raising money for charity, as you arrive in Alum Bay full of mottoes and garden ornaments.

The real lighthouse originally had a keeper and 3 assistants on duty for 2 months followed by a month's leave but it was automated in 1994.

We had an icecream at the Needles Landmark Attraction - an amusement park but did not linger long!

It might be lovely for children (and believe me there were dozens of school parties there and to be fair my children enjoyed it when younger!!) but I shudder at this awful place. It reminds me very much of the horror that is now Land's End :(

So we caught the next Breezer bus to Yarmouth

and bye bye to Alum Bay! :)

Next part of the post will include a fleeting visit to Yarmouth where Osborne encounters a terrifying sea monster!! and a visit to Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater,once home to pioneering and celebrated photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, which is now a museum and gallery and then a birthday celebration meal at The Buddle Inn, Niton

*D - photos taken by D with the Canon bridge camera SX50


Rosie said...

Wow, so much to see and do I think we will need at least three weeks there!:) I know what you mean about the fun parks - I remember Land's End as a child in the mid/late 50s and you could go almost right to the end. We went all the way there from the Midlands in a motor bike and side car and Dad joined the AA in the car park at Land's End. I loved it when the AA men also on motor bikes with side cars raised their hands to you on the roads because you were a member. Anyway back to the IOW your photos are wonderful and I'm really enjoying your posts. Looking forward to Dimbola Lodge as it is one of the places I would like to visit:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie -Thanks so much. Yes, there is a lot to see and do - we didn't go to some of the "must see" places this holiday as we had been before but I'll up a list of some of the other great places in the last holiday post.

What a fun way to travel to Land's End - somewhere there is a picture of me as a child posed by that signpost with miles to various places on it. And oh yes I remember the AA men saluting :) Those were the days :) Before Dad had a car when I was little 6 of us to used to go out into the countryside every Sunday in my Grandad's little car (A40??) - goodness only knows how we all got in!! I had a little seat in the front over the handbrake!!! inbetween Dad and Granpy! Would never be allowed these days due to seat belts, health and safety!!!

I really enjoyed Dimbola Lodge - it was a first visit and very interesting. Sadly, too late in the day for cake as tearoom just about to close!!

CherryPie said...

This looks like a fabulous day, so many interesting things to see. The museum looks like it has a lot of history to share.

Hello Ted ;-)

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thank you - yes it was a great day and the museums are very interesting :)

amanda peters said...

What a great time you had , so much to see and do.St Agnes Church, is so cute, nice collection of wildflowers.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks Amanda. The wildflowers were just wonderful. I need to read the New Naturalist book on Wildflowers of Chalk and Limestone - have it second hand.