As part of their day out visiting places of nautical interest, the Admiral Yacht Insurance team spent a windswept hour exploring the Needles Old Battery on the western tip of the Isle of Wight, high above the iconic Needles.
The guns at the Needles Old Battery have weathered many storms and have sent out a strong message to any invader for many years. The first soldiers came to the Battery in 1864 and the last left in 1945. Their job was to protect both the Solent passage and the dockyards at Portsmouth from enemy invasion.
Further up the headland from the Old Battery is the small site of the Needles New Battery. Its two underground rooms tell the fascinating story of the British space rockets which were secretly tested there between the 1950s and the 1970s.
The row of three distinctive chalk stacks that form the Needles regularly feature on views of the Isle of Wight. However, there were originally four rocks and the name actually comes from the fourth rock which at 120 foot was the tallest of the four and shaped like a needle. The spectacular collapse of the fourth rock, in a great storm in 1764, is said to have been felt in Portsmouth. The gap left by its collapse can be seen very clearly in the picture below:
The Needles form the western tip of a band of chalk that crosses the centre of the Isle of Wight, stretching to Culver Cliff in the east. In fact, this chalk ridge continues west under the sea to Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, and is believed to have been connected at one time to Old Harry Rocks, about 20 miles away. In about 5,000 BC the ridge was breached by the Solent River, creating the Isle of Wight.
Around the western tip of the Isle of Wight there are some twenty named ship wrecks. The last boat of any size to be wrecked was the SS Varvassi, 3,875 tons, on the 5 January 1947. The SS Varvassi was en route to Southampton from the Mediterranean with a cargo of wines and much to the delight of local residents, quite a bit came ashore.
The SS Varvassi shipwreck is one of the hazards of any yacht race around the island. A narrow inner passage between the wreck and Goose Rock is a tempting shortcut for Sailing Yachts when racing around the Isle of Wight Needles, but nearly every year someone miscalculates it! Despite its legendary status, it’s a bit of a mystery. The SS Varvassi boilers still lie about 150m west of the Isle of Wight Needles lighthouse.
The Isle of Wight Needles, along with both the Old and the New Battery are now cared for by the National Trust. They provide a great viewing point for the Round The Island Yacht Race and The Needles Old Battery will be open early on 1st July 2017 for those wanting a hearty breakfast whilst watching Sailing Yachts as they round the Isle of Wight Needles rocks.