Newest Review: ... so narrow and steep I was convinced the coach was about to plummet into the sea! It is also possible, if you don't mind the walk, to get... more
Not your usual kind of batteries!
The Needles Old Battery and New Battery (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
The Needles Old Battery and New Battery (Isle of Wight)
Advantages: Interesting visitor attraction with lots to see and do
Disadvantages: Difficult to get to
When I was planning my trip to the Isle of Wight, I made sure to schedule in as many heritage trips as possible. I am a member of both the National Trust and English Heritage, so I get in to these places for free. I resolved to visit as many as I could, and one of these was the Needles Old Battery and New Battery.
Owned and run by the National Trust, the batteries are military defences perched on the edge of the Needles headland at the westernmost point of the Isle of Wight. The Old Battery dates from 1862, built to help protect the naval dockyards at Portsmouth at a time when the threat of invasion from the French was very real. The New Battery, built later, was used to test British-made rockets during the Cold War.
*Location and Access*
The Batteries are rather high up on the cliffs near Alum Bay. There is no vehicle access to the site itself, but it is possible to park in the nearby car park for Alum Bay. The Island Breezer bus travels round the island from Ryde to this point in a clockwise direction, once at the beginning of the day before going back the other way in the evening. This was the method I chose to reach the Batteries, and the views from the top of the cliffs were spectacular, although the roads were so narrow and steep I was convinced the coach was about to plummet into the sea! It is also possible, if you don't mind the walk, to get the bus to Alum Bay and walk up to the cliff.
Summer opening times for 2013 are not yet up on the website, but last year the Old Battery was open most days during the week, with the New Battery only being open a couple of days - so plan your visit carefully if you want to see both.
*A Brief Summary*
The Old Battery was never actually needed for defence, but it served other purposes. Soldiers tested gunpowder in a special lab. During World War II it was used as a lookout post, with the underground tunnel coming in particularly handy. The site offers excellent views of the sea to the south, with the potential to provide advance warning of attempted invasion.
The New Battery was used for rocket testing before the UK pulled out of the 'space race'. The Isle of Wight provided an ideal location, being close enough to the UK mainland to be easy to reach, but remote enough to be secret.
Both batteries were closed in 1945.
I visited the Old Battery first. On going through the gate I was confronted with a large open courtyard, with two guns pointing out towards the sea (The guns are original Victorian ones, but their stands aren't). I had a look around, climbing up to the top of the fort and enjoying the view of the Needles and of Alum Bay, which were spectacular. It was a lovely, warm, sunny day, and the atmosphere was very pleasant indeed.
I checked out the room where gunpowder testing used to take place - it had a window at the top where people could peek in and see what was going on! I also ventured down the secret tunnel: this involved going down a very steep spiral staircase and walking through a narrow tunnel, eventually reaching a small room overlooking the Needles. Though there was a lamp in here, it must have been pretty spooky at night.
I had a delicious cream tea in the tea room, which looked out over the Needles. The café is small, but pleasant, and the staff were very friendly.
Afterwards I headed up the hill towards the New Battery. This is laid out as a series of underground rooms and is smaller than the Old Battery, but there is still plenty of interest to see regarding the history of Britain's involvement in rocket testing, of which I had no prior knowledge whatsoever. I found my visit really interesting.
The Old Battery has a café, shop and picnic area, as well as toilets. The New Battery, being smaller, has only a small kiosk selling drinks and ice-creams.
Dogs are welcome at both sites provided they are on leads. Groups are welcome, but are requested to contact the site before visiting.
At the Old Battery, there is limited accessible parking (please contact beforehand for details). There is also an adapted toilet, an induction loop and a wheelchair available for hire. The New Battery has no such facilities.
NT Member: Free
Entry to the New Battery is free.
I enjoyed my visit to the batteries: I learned a lot and had a good experience. I think kids would enjoy spending time here too as the secret tunnel is great fun and there are interesting rooms to explore. I feel that the admission price is a fair one, particularly as you can visit the nearby New Battery for free. The area is a little tricky to get to compared with other heritage sites such as Osborne House, but once you are here you can view the Needles and explore Alum Bay, which are important parts of the Isle of Wight experience!
For more information about the Needles Old Battery and New Battery, see the website:
Summary: A worthwhile attraction on the Isle of Wight
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