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The Needles Park (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: kevin121
The Needles Park (Isle of Wight)
Date: 22/07/11, updated on 11/02/12 (163 review reads)
Advantages: Its location which overlooks the Needles; its Marconi link; the beach with unusual colourful cliffs
Disadvantages: "It's free to enter" . . . but then you pay for everything; ATM charges
As we found, there is a choice of visiting the National Trust property slightly further up the coast at the Old Battery, or for those wanting more of a thrill, there is a choice of boat trips which leave from here.
* Park? Park where? *
The park may be free to enter, but for those travelling here by car, parking will set you back £4. Probably a reasonable rate for any popular tourist attraction, so in we drove. There was one staff member in a hi vis jacket taking the fee at the entrance, but it would have been helpful to have had some staff monitoring where the free parking spots actually were. We arrived on a lovely warm June day and the car park was pretty much already full up. In other places, there might be several staff waving you to nearby parking spots, but not here.
So we did what twenty other cars were also trying to do, and that is driving up what are really quite narrow corridors, to find that, yep it's all full here, and reversing back to the main drag, only to try another one, and then another.
By the time we actually found a spot, my teeth were clenched and I was all set to leave. Not a good start, but then that's just because I'm a sourpuss. My spirits were bound to lift once we got into the park.
* Entering what is "the island's most famous and best value attraction for all the family". *
In all fairness to the Park's management, a pleasure park - any pleasure park - is primarily aimed at those with children. Not having, or bringing any with me when we visited here, most of the attractions were in all likelihood not to be geared towards me or my husband. That's not to say I'm a total grinch. I've been to the three Disney resorts in California, Florida and Paris, and enjoyed all of them. I can also remember spending a lovely day with riends at Margate's Pleasure park, which has since closed.
Primarily it has a large outdoor area with rides, with several eateries and a large gift shop here. So far, so bland. Two of their more unique visitor attractions though are the sweet factory and glass factory.
* The sweet Manufactory *
We didn't visit, but it seemed very popular when we were there. Here you can watch staff making boiled sweets - and get samples- which you can then of course buy at their sweet shop only next door.
* The Glass Studio... *
... is where you can watch demonstrations of all manner of things being blown from glass, from killer whales (not life size presumably) to more standard bottles and vases. It would have been of more interest to us if it weren't already full of a school party, and so we skipped past it.
* Raising a glass *
For three years, starting in 1897, Gugliemo Marconi had worked in what became his Wireless Telegraphy Station. In what is now the grounds of this Park, he went from sending wireless messages to a boat just off shore, and subsequently to Bournemouth nearly 15 miles away, and then further afield. The rest as they say, is history.
The only nod to Mr Marconi's achievements left here are a stone monument and a licensed bar named after him. We admired the monument, then went and had a drink in his honour. We didn't have anything to eat here, but the drinks were reasonably priced.
Marconi's Bar is fully licensed, so was ideal for those visiting sans children, but there are various other cafes and one proper restaurant here for those wanting a more child orientated eatery.
* The rides. *
Those with small excitable infants wanting to play on all the rides will soon discover that although the park is free to enter, the rides - each and every one of them - will cost you. The cheapest when we were there were demonstrations in both the glass studio and sweet manufactory which are £1 each. That's right, pay to watch someone making boiled sweets, then get dragged next door by your offspring to buy more!
More expensive are the teacup ride and carousel ride, which were both £2 a go. A newer ride which only opened this year is the Vintage cars ride, in which you travel round and around a track in a car which wouldn't have looked out of place in 30s Chicago if they weren't so colourful. A less expensive £1 each, these were probably the only thing that I would have been tempted to go on, though for a family of four it seemed like a very fast way to lose nearly a fiver.
* There must be something worthwhile here! *
So far, I haven't done a good job of selling the park to you, but there are some more pleasant attractions here. Well, one at least springs to mind. That is the beach. As beaches go, it's not up there with the West Indies or the Seychelles. The sand isn't a perfect golden hue, nor is it lapped by the Indian ocean or surrounded by palm trees, but it does have colour. And views of a sort.
As far back as the mid 19th century, Alum Bay was noted for having colourful sands. A total of 21 differing shades is claimed to exist here, though to my eye most of those blurred into one very similar colour. Still, to see the famous cliffs here, a visit to the beach is necessary. There is the option of taking the chairlift down the Cliffside, or walking down the nearby stairs. The chairlift would undoubtedly give an excellent vantage point of both the nearby Needles and the bay itself. The price was £3 for a one way 'lift', £4 for a return journey, or £6 for unlimited travel on the chairlift all day long. Quite why anyone would want to spend all their time whizzing up and down on a chairlift I don't know, and more importantly why they'd want to part with £6 for the pleasure is even more baffling, but the option is there.
We took the stairs, with our dog, both ways. Despite it being a long way down - it probably took us about 3 minutes to reach the bottom - we saved ourselves about pound a minute each! There are nigh on 200 stairs here, so those less mobile or with buggies would find the overpriced chairlift their only realistic option.
A short walk along a tarmac path at the bottom and you reach the beach. We had by then already visited the NT site the Old Battery and seen the Needles up close, but for those interested, here is where several boat trips leave to get a close up view of the Needles and around the small bay.
The beach itself is unremarkable, even slightly disappointing. The sand is more a rough shingle which would be no good for those with buckets and spades. The cliffs though are certainly more colourful and interesting to behold than those at Dover, say, or Brighton. I'm glad we took the trouble to see them, but for those wanting a relaxing day by the seaside there are much nicer, and more easily accessible beaches on the island.
We were at the park almost until closing time, and perhaps the tide was coming in, which made the beach seem even less hospitable but we had a little walk up and down and took some photos of the Needles, and then headed back to the steps for the walk up again.
Incidentally, Michael Portillo had been filming at the park and took the chairlift only a day or two before we were there for his television show Great British Railway Journeys. I wonder if he got a free ride?
Another plus point for the park is that it has good access to the Needles by land. A bus travels every 30 minutes from just inside the park entrance up the headland and stops at the Old Battery. At £5 return for adults it isn't cheap, but those willing to walk will find the park has the easiest and quickest route there too.
Anyone wanting to visit should note that there is one ATM in the grounds, which is situated in the gift shop. Needing to use it ourselves, we were disappointed to find that it's one of the few that still charges for withdrawals at £1.75 a pop.
* Would I recommend a visit? *
I would have to say no. I appreciate the park provides employment to many locals, and all of the staff we spoke to were very responsive and pleasant. It seems unfair to charge £4 to park here, and then expect parents to pay for all their bambino's amusement rides once they're inside, some such as the chairlift, which are frankly exorbitant.
Its location at the most westerly tip of the island, and the views of the Needles and colourful cliffs wouldn't be enough to tempt me to want to visit again. Had we not taken the bus to the Old Battery from here, I would have left feeling disappointed.
Curiously, this park has already been reviewed six times on Dooyoo and all the reviews that I've read were far more positive than mine, albeit they were all written a while back and much could have changed in that time. Perhaps take what I've written with a pinch of salt - or colourful sand - and visit anyway. Just remember to take lots of cash.
* Opening Times *
2 April to 30 October - 10am to 5pm every day.
Every Thursday between 28th July and 25th August this year they are holding a 'Magic in the Skies' fireworks night which starts at 6.30pm.
1 November to 25 March - Open at 10am although closing times will vary depending on the weather.
Isle of Wight
Telephone: 0871 720 0022
For those without a car, there is a regular Number 7 Southern Vectis bus which comes from Newport to Alum Bay and stops just inside the park entrance.
Summary: I feel there are so many better attractions than this one on the IoW, I couldn't recommend it.
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