A family holiday to the Isle of Wight saw us make a visit to Alum Bay and The Needles, surely the most famous tourist attraction on the island. This is taken from the cliff above the bay and the Dorset coast can be seen across the water in the distance.
The name 'Needles' is believed to have been derived from a slender tapering rock pinnacle which was formerly situated a little to the north (i.e. on the Alum Bay side) of the present central rock. This needle-shaped rock, about 120ft high and known as 'Lot's Wife' collapsed into the sea in 1764 with a crash which was said to have been heard many miles away! The stump of this pinnacle can still be seen at low water where it forms a dangerous reef.
The present lighthouse, 109ft high, clings to the base of the most westerly rock of the Needles group. It started working on 1st January 1859, taking over from the original lighthouse on the cliff top. The light, 80 feet above high water mark can be seen 14 miles away at sea level, either white, red or green accordingly to the position of the observing ship; it is easily identified by the double-occulating nature of the light, eclipse for two seconds, light for two seconds, eclipse for two seconds and then darkness for fourteen seconds. Many visitors, however, will be most familiar with the lighthouse foghorn which sounds every fifteen seconds during periods of poor visibility.
Originally this lighthouse had a keeper and three assistants. The men were on duty for two months and then on leave for one month. There were always three men on duty at the lighthouse at any one time. Sadly, the lighthouse was automated in 1994 and we said goodbye to the keeper and his assistants. In spite of the presence of the lighthouse, the Needles have always constituted a danger to shipping - over the years many ships have foundered on or near these rocks.
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