Monday 18 February 2013

February Half Term walk

What do you do on a Sunday in February?

Well, if you are on the Isle of Wight, you go for a walk to enjoy the magnificent scenery. There is so much choice - over 500 miles of waymarked footpaths, beaches, fields, forests and downs.

This week we looked at the prevailing wind direction and visibility and decided to go west onto Tennyson Down and walk along to the famous Needles Rocks marking the western end of the island.

As we climbed from the chalk pit car park behind the High Down Inn we gained stunning views of the mainland shore and Hurst Castle. At the top by the prominent Tennyson Monument we could see south into Compton Bay towards the southern tip of the island at St Catherines. Compton Bay is one of the UK's best surf spots but we could not see anybody out, I guess the wind was in the wrong direction.

A nice walk with the breeze behind us took us to the old Rocket test site at Highdown. This once top secret site was constructed in the 1950s and was operated until 1971. It was used as a ground test firing site for Britain's space programmes. The Black Arrow launcher for Britain's first satellite, Prospero, was tested here and shipped to Woomera in Australia for launch. The satellite was launched in 1971 and is still in orbit now, 40 years later.
See where it is right now.

Like many good British inventions and developments the space programme was cancelled as the first satellite launched due the politicians' views that there was no future for a British space industry!
There is an information plaque by the old site and a museum with lots of interesting information about this site.

Just past the rocket site is a small viewing platform where you can get magnificent views of the famous Needles marking the western extremity of the island. The current lighthouse was commissioned in the 1860's and replace the original one built in 1786. The lighthouse was manned and serviced by boat, weather permitting, until a helipad was installed in 1987. The lighthouse was fully automated and the last keepers left in December 1994.

We walked from the gun emplacements at the top of the down to the old Needle Battery fort overlooking the Needles and guarding the entrance to the Solent with it's big guns. This is looked after by the National Trust and an entrance fee is normally payable, but this week it is free for half term. We went in for a most welcome cup of tea and slice of cake to recharge our batteries (sorry). The Needles Battery is mostly run by volunteers and is a very interesting visit with stunning views.

Walking back from the Needles there is a magnificent view of Alum Bay with its famous coloured sands. Tourists from all over the world come here to fill glass shapes with layers of the coloured sands. During the summer boat trips run from here to view the Needles and the sea level gun slots cut into the cliff below the Needles Battery.

Marconi conducted his early experiments in radio here and in 1898 he managed to transmit as far as Bournemouth and Poole, 20 miles away. How far have we come with communication since then?

Finally, a walk back across the downs to the car. What a great day! Plenty of fresh air and exercise, lovely views and lots of interesting places and things to see. Perfect!

Why don't you come and see our lovely Isle of Wight - it is just as good in the winter and much less crowded.