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The Needles is a row of three distinctive stacks of chalk that rise about 30m out of the sea off the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, close to Alum Bay, and part of Totland, the westernmost Civil Parish of the Isle of Wight. The Needles Lighthouse stands at the outer, western end of the formation. Built in 1859, it has been automated since 1994. The waters and adjoining seabed form part of the Needles Marine Conservation Zone and the Needles along with the shore and heath above are part of the Headon Warren and West High Down Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The Needles lie just to the southwest of Alum Bay, and are a tourist draw. Scenic boat trips operate from Alum Bay that offer close-up views of the Needles. The rocks and lighthouse have become icons of the Isle of Wight, often photographed by visitors, and are featured on many of the souvenirs sold throughout the island.
A branch of the National Coastwatch Institution is also based at the Needles, sited near the New Battery and Rocket Testing Site on High Down.
The Needles – Landmark Attraction (previously known as The Needles Pleasure Park) situated at the top of the cliff at Alum Bay is a small amusement park. A Chairlift operates between the park and the beach.
A nearby site on High Down was employed in the testing of rockets for the British ICBM programme. The headland at High Down was used for Black Knight and Black Arrow 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.
The batteries are accessible by car, foot, bicycle, and bus. Though there is a paved road up to The Old and The New batteries, access is on foot, from a car park. 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. 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.
The Isle of Wight Coast Path has its westernmost point at the Coastguard Cottages.
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. At Old Harry Rocks (east of Studland and north of Swanage) 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.
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. The Doomer etching is contained in Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem (published ca. 1662), which is in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. It is not clear from this drawings what transpired and whether Doomer was exercising artistic license. Doomer's painting shows three stacks when there should have been four, prior to the collapse of Lot's Wife.
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