The Needles is a row of three detached masses of chalk that rise out of the sea off the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, in UK, close to Alum Bay. The easternmost stack is close to shore, then there is a wide gap, and then two more chalk stacks follow. Originally, there were four stacks – the fourth one was located between the first and the second, which is immediately apparent from the gap. The rock collapsed in a great storm in 1764, and its impact was reportedly heard as far away as Southampton and Portsmouth. At 120 feet, this rock was the tallest of the four, and was shaped like a needle, which gave the entire formation the name of “Needles”. Although the original “needle” no longer exist, and despite the relatively squat shapes of the surviving rocks, the name has stuck.
The missing rock was also known as “Lot’s Wife”. The name comes from the book of Genesis in the Bible, where Lot’s Wife was turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for looking back after being told not to when she was fleeing from the destruction of Sodom. There is a lighthouse at the end of the chalk formation near sea level, built in 1859. The rocks and the lighthouse have become the iconic symbol of the Isle of Wight, and are featured on many of the souvenirs sold throughout the island.
The Needles form the western tip of a spine of chalk called Purbeck Ridge that stretches from Culver Cliff on the Island's east coast across the middle of the Island to the Freshwater cliffs on the west coast. The ridge then continues underwater to Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, and is believed to have been connected at one time to Old Harry Rocks, about 20 miles away. About 7,000 years ago, the ridge was breached by the Solent River, creating the Island of Wright with its jagged white rocks at the western tip, which we call The Needles today.
The first lighthouse on the Needles headland was built in 1786. But as the tower was situated on top of the cliff, with its light 144 meters above the sea level, it remained frequently shrouded in sea mists and fogs and was therefore of limited use to mariners. A new lighthouse was hence built on the outermost Needles stack, close to the sea. This lighthouse is 31 meters tall and its light is located 24 meters above the sea level. The lighthouse was manned by three men until 1994 when it became fully automated. The helipad on the top was added in 1987.
Towering above the Needles stacks is the Needles headland, a narrow peninsula of perpendicular chalk cliffs that stretch from the Needles to Alum Bay and Headon Warren. In this headland, was built a military battery in the 1860s to guard the West end of the Solent. The battery was eventually decommissioned in 1954. The site is now owned by the National Trust, and is open to the public.
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