The Needles Adventure

Not quite Jackie O elegance.
A Sunday fog wasn´t the end of my dream to see the Needles lighthouse. We weren´t due to leave until Tuesday, so Monday we made another try for it.

This time we went by another busroute, with an open-top tourist "breezer" (to which we had access with the same 7-day bus pass that worked for all the other busses on the island - so very convenient!), which took us past Freshwater. This is the most picturesque little village and my feet itched to walk the Tennyson Downs - because, as you may not know, this is where Tennyson lived! If you don´t know anything about him, I´m sure you still will have heard these lines:
Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all
There is also a photography museum in Freshwater, in the former home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, called Dimbola Lodge. Cameron was 48 when she got her first camera and she became famous for her portraits of famous people like Charles Darwin and, of course, Tennyson. Her niece, Julia Stephen, wrote her biography and also happened to be the mother of Virginia Woolf. This would have been a treat to visit, but it´s nice to have something to look forward to when I return there, and I´m confident that it will not be terribly long until I do.

Anyway, we hopped off at the Needles New Battery, which was the base for the UK rocket science program from 1956 to 1971. They managed to put a satellite called Prospero in space and it is still orbiting the Earth. After that success, however, the whole program was cancelled. There was a real James Bond vibe to the whole place, I thought. It´s a very nice museum, interesting displays, and totally free of charge.

From the New Battery we walked down to the tip of the headland and got a cracking view of the lighthouse. This, and nothing else, is why I bought the Pentax and the telephoto lens. It still feels like a great idea and I now have something like 150 photos of the lighthouse from all directions. The guy who had the sweet spot before me changed lenses twice and shot away even crazier than I did - probably knowing more about what he was doing.

We finally managed to prize ourselves away from this magnificent sight, motivated equally by cold and hunger, and paid our way into the Needles Old Battery, which is another amazing museum, with both canons and a tearoom. We had a great lunch, and then spent a couple of hours, I´m sure, to thoroughly explore the place.

The National Trust has hired cartoonist Geoff Campion to help tell the story of the battery, and what a good idea that is! It can be hard sometimes to imagine what a place was like to the people who actually had to live there or work there, and even if the first and second world war doesn´t seem that long ago to me, it probably does for kids born in this century. (And aren´t they growing up fast!)

When we had had our fill, we walked down to Needles Park again, stopping every five meters or so to take another snap of the view, that seemed to look completely different every time. We really got a good look at the geological feature they call "the coloured sands": layers of sediment from which are collected 21 different shades of sand that you can buy and turn into a souvenir at the Sand Shop, by packing it into bell jars. I didn´t take a picture of the things, since I wasn´t buying, but they look like this, and have been made since Queen Victoria´s time.

We took the chairlift down to the beach, and walked all the length of the flint shingle beach. I picked up a few pebbles and took them home, a cheap but satisfying souvenir. We got pretty much the last ride back up, and got on the bus home. A full day, and a very satisfying one, too.

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