© TMP

Up the Creek - Isle of Wight

Alum Bay

  This Bay situated on the Western end of the Isle of Wight overlooking the famous Needles Rocks and Lighthouse and of course has the unique multicoloured sands in the cliffs.   The Bay now has a Chair Lift stretching from the Beach to the cliff top.   It has attracted tourists for over 200 years and in Victorian times they travelled from the Mainland by Paddle Steamer.

  The Lighthouse to the West was originally erected in 1785 on the Downs at 462 feet above Sea Level but at that height it was considered of little use and the current Lighthouse was built in 1859 at 109 feet high with the light 80 feet high.  This Lighthouse originally had a Keeper and 3 assistants with 2 months on watch & 1 off with 3 on watch at any time however in 1994 it was automated.   The name 'Needles' is believed to have been derived from a slender tapering rock pinnacle which was formerly situated a little to the north (i.e. on the Alum Bay side) of the present central rock.   This needle-shaped rock, about 120ft high and known as 'Lot's Wife' collapsed into the sea in 1764 with a crash which was said to have been heard many miles away!  The stump of this pinnacle can still be seen at low water where it forms a dangerous reef. The saying “Threading the Needle” is derived from vessels travelling through the 2 innermost Needles Rocks (see Photo).  This can only be achieved on the top of high tide with courage and al lot of local knowledge.   Maybe someday?

  Another item of curiosity was that in 1897 Gugielmo Marconi sent the very first wireless transmission to Ships at Sea from a 168 feet high mast outside the Royal Needles Hotel above Alum Bay.   A monument to Marconi stands on the cliff top with a history of this work.  In and around the Bay there are some 20 named Ship Wrecks and even today more are being uncovered, one reputed to be older than the Mary Rose.  The last boat of any size to be wrecked on the Needles was the SS 'Varvassi' 4,000 tons, on the 5 January 1947.   The Varvassi was en route to Southampton from the Mediterranean with a cargo of wines and, needless to say, quite a bit came ashore!   One thing is sure, the very short slack tide mean that little diving is done in the area and many secrets still wait to be uncovered.

  On the cliff top East of the Needles stands Palmerston’s famous folly Battery built in the 1860’s.  The circular plate in the battery is the site of the first ever use of an antiaircraft gun in Britain.   An experimental one pounder "pom pom" gun was mounted here and fired against a kite towed by a ship.   A tunnel accessible via a small spiral staircase leads down to a Searchlight position built in 1899.  The Battery is well worth a visit.   Travel by bus from the cliff top or walk.   Better still hire a “tripper” boat and visit the Needles by sea and you should learn of the very many tunnels in the area.

  A good, free anchorage can be made in around 4M water suitable for all craft, west of the Pontoon in light Easterlies or Southerlies and Dinghy ashore.   The Kids will appeal to the tackiness on the cliff top and very poor fairground but its still worth a visit.   Beware Long Rock and 'Lot's Wife' Rock and the many rocks off the Southern cliffs.  This mooring is not at all ideal for an overnight stay but is good for sunsets.

Alum Bay Aerial view

Alum Bay from the Needles Battery

Alum Bay from the Cliff Top

Alum Bay

Threading the Needle - Maybe one day?

© Copyright Terry Paynter