Needles Old & New Battery

Top choice in Isle of Wight

The Victorian fort complex at Wight's western tip is home to two gun emplacements where engrossing displays reveal how the site was established in 1862, served in two world wars and then became a secret Cold War rocket-testing base. Walk to the battery along the cliffs from Alum Bay (1 mile) or hop on the open-top tourist bus that runs twice hourly between battery and bay.

The whiff of gunpowder seems to linger still at Old Battery: shells and powder kegs lie around, uniforms hang on pegs. You get to pinpoint ships' positions with the rangefinders, then scramble down an ornate spiral staircase, along an echoey 60m tunnel to a searchlight post with close-up views of the eroded cliffs.

In the 1950s the batteries staged top-secret trials of Black Knight rockets; built at East Cowes they were later used to launch Cold War surveillance satellites into space from Australia. In the tiny underground bunker at New Battery, exhibits invoke how this remote location and existing fortification proved ideal for keeping clandestine activities away from prying eyes.

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