The Needles

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For other uses, see The Needles (disambiguation).
The Needles from the cliffs inshore at The Needles Battery showing the Needles Lighthouse
Close-up of the needles
The Needles from Isaac Taylor's "one inch map" of Hampshire, published in 1759,[1][2] showing Lot's Wife, the needle-shaped pillar that collapsed in a storm in 1764.

The Needles is a row of three distinctive stacks of chalk that rise out of the sea off the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, UK, close to Alum Bay. The Needles Lighthouse stands at the outer, western end of the formation. Built in 1859, it has been automated since 1994.

The formation takes its name from a fourth needle-shaped pillar called Lot's Wife that collapsed in a storm in 1764.[3] The remaining rocks are not at all needle-like, but the name has stuck.

The Needles were featured on the 2005 TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of Southern England.


The Needles - Landmark Attraction (previously known as The Needles Pleasure Park) situated at the top of the cliff is a small amusement park with a selection of shops and rides. The most famous attraction at the pleasure park is the Chairlift, which operates between the park and Alum Bay.

The Needles are inextricably linked with Alum Bay, and are a major tourist draw. Scenic boat trips operating from Alum Bay that offer close-up views of the Needles are very popular. The rocks and lighthouse have become icons of the Isle of Wight, and are featured on many of the souvenirs sold throughout the island.

However, the main tourist attractions of the headland itself are the two gun batteries, the experimental rocket testing station, and the four Coastguard cottages owned by the National Trust and let as holiday homes.

The site is on tour bus routes and hiking trails.

Military use[edit]

The Needles were a site of a long-standing artillery battery, from the 1860s to 1954, which was eventually decommissioned.

A nearby site on High Down was employed in the testing of rockets for the British ICBM programme.[4] The headland at High Down was used for Black Knight[5] and Black Arrow[6] rocket engine tests from 1956–71. During the peak of activity in the early 1960s some 240 people worked at the complex, while the rockets were built in nearby East Cowes. These rockets were later used to launch the Prospero X-3 satellite. The site is now owned by the National Trust, and is open to the public. Concrete installations remain, but the buildings that were less durable have either been demolished or were torn down by the elements.

In 1982, HRH Prince Charles officially opened the restored Needles Old Battery facility. Underground rocket testing rooms are currently being restored for exhibition. The first phase of restoration was completed in 2004.[7]

Compressed Sand bottle Needles Isle of Wight by Environmental Sand-Artist Brian Pike


The Needles - From the Beautiful Britain series, The Isle of Wight, by G. E. Mitton.
The Needles Isle of Wight sand-painting based on a Victorian engraving by George Brannon by Environmental sand artist Brian Pike

The batteries are accessible by car, foot, bicycle, and bus.[8][9] Though there is a paved road up to The Old and The New batteries, access is on foot, from a car park.[10] The battery site becomes dangerous in high winds and is closed to the public in winds above force 8.

In the Spring and Summer, the Southern Vectis bus company sends open-top buses along a route called "The Needles Tour". This route approaches the Battery along the cliff edge, using a road reserved for bus traffic. The Needles Tour also has stops in Alum Bay, Totland, Colwell Bay, Fort Victoria, Yarmouth, and Freshwater Bay.[11] The Needles Tour buses are the only vehicles allowed on the road from Alum Bay, apart from those owned by National Trust staff or, by prior appointment, vehicles transporting disabled visitors. This is because the single track road's position close to the cliff edge is considered dangerous for multiple car use.[citation needed]

The Isle of Wight Coast Path has its westernmost point at the Coastguard Cottages.


The Needles – View from the experimental rocket launching station

The Needles' pointed shape is a result of their unusual geology. The strata have been so heavily folded during the Alpine Orogeny that the chalk is near vertical. This chalk outcrop runs through the centre of the Island from Culver Cliff in the east to the Needles in the west, and then continues under the sea to the Isle of Purbeck, forming Ballard Cliff (near Swanage), Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.[12] It is also believed that The Needles were once connected to Old Harry Rocks[citation needed] (east of Studland and north of Swanage) where these strata lines moving from horizontal to near vertical can be seen from the sea.

Just off the end of the Needles formation is the Shingles, a shifting shoal of pebbles just beneath the waves. The Shingles is approximately three miles in length. Many ships have been wrecked on the Shingles.[13]


Some controversy has been raised about the actual shape of the "Lot's Wife" stone column, that allegedly collapsed in 1764. A drawing of The Needles by Dutch landscape artist Lambert Doomer (1624–1700) made in 1646 depicts a rock formation with much stouter shape than that shown in Isaac Taylor's 1759 "one inch" map of Hampshire.[14][15] The Doomer etching is contained in Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem (published ca. 1662), which is in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.[16] It is not clear from these drawings what transpired.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ One Inch Maps, University of Portsmouth Geography Department website
  2. ^ Taylor's Hampshire 1759, Martin and Jean Norgate, University of Portsmouth Geography Department website, 2004
  3. ^ The History of The Needles at Alum Bay, The Needles Park website
  4. ^ High Down Rocket Test Site,The Needles Battery website
  5. ^ Black Knight Testing at The Needles
  6. ^ When Britain Joined the Space Race, Civil Service Motoring Association Motoring & Leisure magazine, May 2006, p130
  7. ^ What to See and Do, The Needles Old Battery, National Trust website.
  8. ^ "Getting There". National Trust. Retrieved 26 October 2007. 
  9. ^ "The Needles Old Battery". National Trust. Retrieved 26 October 2007. 
  10. ^ The car park is located at grid reference SZ307853.
  11. ^ "The Needles Tour". Southern Vectis. Archived from the original on 26 May 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2007. 
  12. ^ Ian West, MSc PhD FGS (2005). "Geology of the Isle of Wight – Field Trip Guide". Geology of the Wessex Coast, Southern England. Retrieved 30 May 2006. 
  13. ^ The Spithead-Solent Shore, Isle of Wight Shipwrecks, BBC h2g2.
  14. ^ a b The Needles: Tall Rock or Tall Story?, Archive of Monthly News Items As previously featured in the History Centre, Isle of Wight History Centre, November 2002.
  15. ^ a b Earliest Known Scenes of the Isle of Wight, Isle of Wight History Centre
  16. ^ The Atlas Blaeu-van der Hem, Peter van der Krogt and Erlend de Groot, HES & De Graaf publishers BV 't Goy-Houten, the Netherlands, 1996–2006

External links[edit]

General information[edit]

Pictures and video[edit]

Coordinates: 50°39′46″N 1°35′22″W / 50.6626968°N 1.5893269°W / 50.6626968; -1.5893269