The Needles

The Needles (c) Jason Hawkes

Britain from the Air - The Needles

A favourite haunt of Tennyson and a haven for smugglers

With its deep, narrow valleys, dangerous rock platforms, secluded inlets and private beaches, the southern coast of the Isle of Wight was once a haven for smuggling. For over 500 years smuggling was a lucrative second career for many cash-strapped fishermen and farmers until government legislation and the creation of the coastguard finally put an end to it in the 18th century. Even so, in 2002 a drug smuggler was jailed for 26 years for attempting to bring a record £90 million of cocaine into the Isle of Wight from the Caribbean.

Space rockets

A little known fact about the Isle of Wight is its role as the home of UK space rocket and missile research between 1955 and 1971. Used to build and test rockets to carry research modules into the upper atmosphere, the centre, on The Needles headland, closed after the only all-British satellite was launched into orbit in 1971.

The history of The Needles

Chalk, perhaps the most easily recognisable rock, forms the backbone of the Isle of Wight and extends into the sea as a line of  impressive jagged stacks at the eastern end of the island. But the tall, needle-like stack that gave its name to these rocks collapsed during a storm in 1764. The stump of this former 120 foot pinnacle is now only visible at low tide and forms a dangerous reef.

Just to the north of The Needles, the multi-coloured sands of Alum Bay are also fascinating, the bright colours, including reds, orange and purples come from the different metal oxides found in the sand.

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Location: The Needles, Isle of Wight, PO39 0JH
Grid reference: SZ 29104 84859

Britain from the Air - The Needles credits

Thank you to -

Jason Hawkes for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Chalk is found in many common and household products. It is in toothpaste and kitchen cleaners where it can be used to wipe off grease stains!