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Great trip this. To get to the Needles Old and New Batteries you have to catch the open-top (Needles Breezer) bus.

This starts its journey from Yarmouth, and I'd recommend getting on board before it reaches the hoards at Alum Bay.

Other than for disabled visitors, there is no public vehicular access to the site, which is up a spectacular and scary narrow winding road.

The fort was built in 1862 as one of "Palmerston's Follies", and is now in the hands of the National Trust. Please see their official site for details of opening times, admission prices, etc.

Two of the six Armstrong 9-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns installed in 1873 still remain in the Old Battery. These used the old black gunpowder and were soon made obsolete by the invention of white Smokeless Gun Powder by Sir Andrew Noble in 1884.

In 1893 they were replaced by new heavier, more powerful guns which were installed in the New Battery further up the hill.

The Old Battery remained in use as a gun aiming position until 1954; the position finding cells used to aim the guns have been restored.

Not to be missed is the spectacular tunnel dug out in 1885 which leads to a bunker perched immediately above the Needles. This was originally used to monitor and detonate mines laid across the Solent, but was converted to a searchlight position in 1899.

During the Second World War the Admiralty built the large Port War Station to keep a look out for enemy ships. It later became a coastguard station which remained in use until the 1990s. It is now a fine National Trust tea room.

High Down Rocket Testing Site

The New Battery was built in 1893 to house new, more powerful guns. They were installed here as it was felt that they would be too heavy for the Old Battery's Parade Ground, and might cause the cliffs to collapse when fired.

After they were decommissioned in 1954, the site took on a new and exciting role as the control centre for Britain's secret rocket test site, known as High Down.

It now houses an exhibition on Britain's space program and the history of the testing site. Some of the equipment has been reproduced by National Trust volunteers and gives a good idea of what it must be like. That said, it pays not to look too closely at the wooden 'metal cabinets'.

The remains of the actual rocket test site is a short walk away round in Scratchell's Bay. Here the Black Knight and Black Arrow rockets were tested before being sent out to the launch site in Woomera, Australia.

Looking down at the hundreds private yachts sailing around the island, it seems amazing to think that back then it could have been considered secret despite its exposed position. But then in those days it would only have been seen by a few taciturn fishermen.