Towering Tennyson

isle-of-wight-historic-walking copy

A walk around the wild western tip of the Isle of Wight taking in Alum Bay, The Needles, West High Down and the magnificent
Tennyson Down, with views across Headon Warren to the Solent and the mainland beyond.

Distance 4.4 miles.

Start Bus terminus at Alum Bay at The Needles Park, via the No. 7 bus or the Needles Breezer.

Access information
Many steps and some hills. Open downland
countryside with spectacular views. Often quite

Refreshments Needles Park café, pub
etc. Warren Farm tea rooms (seasonal). New Battery
refreshment kiosk (seasonal).

Toilets Needles Park or Warren Farm tea room.

West Wight is a fascinating area bursting with history and heritage, characterised by chalk downland geology and a unique roof-of-the-world feel. This walk takes full advantage of the far-reaching views this part of the Isle of Wight has to offer.

Respect other people

• Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors

• Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available Protect the natural environment • Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home

• Keep dogs under effective control Enjoy the outdoors

• Plan ahead and be prepared

• Follow advice and local signs Countryside Code Respect Protect Enjoy

The Needles Rocks – 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. The formation takes its name from a fourth, needle-shaped pillar called Lot’s Wife that collapsed in a storm in 1764.

The Needles lighthouses – This was a very dangerous coast which produced numerous wrecks, so in 1781 Trinity House was petitioned to build a lighthouse here. The first was sited 462 feet above Scratchell’s Bay but was not very effective due to being obscured by sea mists. It was manned by a keeper and wife and had 13 lanterns shining onto copper reflectors – which led to grass fires. In 1859 a new lighthouse was built at the end of the Needles Rocks. It was 109 feet high, with granite blocks three feet thick at the base and was manned by three men, with a water reservoir and an electric generator fired by coal. But even this lighthouse could not prevent the wrecks of the Irex in 1890 or the Varvassi in 1947. The lighthouse was automated in 1995.

Headon Warren – In Neolithic times, 5,000 years ago, trees were cleared to allow the grazing of sheep and cattle. In the 15th century, rabbits were farmed here for their fur and for food. Now rabbits are allowed to graze the site as part of its management plan. Gorse and heather give spectacular colour and a rich habitat for rare species.  A Bronze Age barrow, 3,500 years old, was excavated in the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III. A local chieftain was believed to be buried inside, with jewellery, ornaments and weapons, but nothing was found.

Chalk geology – A central chalk spine runs right across the Island to The Needles, which reappears further west at Old Harry Rocks at Swanage. This line of rocks was eventually breached by the sea about 8,000 years ago, creating the Island and the spectacular chalk formations we see today. The sea bed here is largely shingle and quite shallow, but a 60 metre-deep channel does allow some large ships to steam in and out of the Solent. Most, though, go to the east of the Island at Spithead to access the south coast ports of Southampton and Portsmouth.

Victorian fortifications – West Wight boasts a number of defences from previous centuries designed to protect against invasion. Some of Lord Palmerston’s forts are:

Hatherwood Battery 1860s to 1903.

Fort Albert 1854 to mid 20th century

Needles Old Battery 1860 to 1900.

Needles New Battery 1893 to 1904. (This was used in both world wars but the guns were finally removed for scrap in 1954).

Into the Space Age In 1955, Saunders Roe, of East Cowes, designed the Black Knight, a rocket intended to carry guided weapons. Static testing was carried out at The Needles before launching in Woomera in Australia during the years 1958 to 1960. In 1966 the rockets were developed into satellite launchers: Prospero was successfully launched in 1971. The government cancelled the programme in the belief that there was no future for satellite technology!



Needles Park,Alum Bay New Road, Alum Bay PO39 0JD

Plan My Route