Last weekend we went for a walk up on Tennyson Down which is one of my favourite places in the world. You walk along an ever narrowing chalk escarpment until you reach the end of the world (or rather the Isle of Wight) at the Needles rocks and lighthouse.
The Wikipedia entry on the Needles Lighthouse tell us the following:
The Needles Lighthouse was built by Trinity House in 1859 on the outermost of the chalk rocks near sea level. Designed by James Walker, it cost £20,000. Constructed from granite, it stands 33.25 metres (109.1 ft) high and is a circular tower with straight sides.
It replaced a light tower on top of a cliff overhanging Scratchell's Bay, which was first lit on 29 September 1786. Its height of 144m above sea level meant it was often obscured by fog and sea mists.
In 1987 a helipad was added to the top of the lighthouse, and it became fully automated when the last keepers left on 8 December 1994. One of the last three remaining manned rock lighthouses in England and Wales, before automation it was staffed by a three man crew operating a 24 hour watch, serving one month on / one month off, living in rudimentary conditions in three levels below the light.
When I was a child this was a manned lighthouse without the helicopter landing pad on the top. Early each December there would be a picture in the local paper of the Christmas food going out by boat with the men on the Christmas shift. It must have been a very tough life!
In the middle of the down, on the highest point, lies Tennyson Cross, a memorial to the great Victorian poet who lived in the lee of the downs towards Freshwater Bay. He was apparently often to be seen striding across the downs in his trademark cloak and hat and is rumoured to have composed some of his greatest work up here
At the bottom of the track that leads from Highdown pit up on to the down there is a visitor information board detailing some of the plants and wildlife one might expect to see. I was astonished to see that one of the plants listed was the gentian which I previously associated solely with alpine regions.
Up on the downs the flora mostly consisted of some small harebells and some kind of thistles, then I spotted them, the English gentians, perhaps not such a brilliant blue as their alpine counterparts but gentian shaped all the same, and just like the picture on the information board !
Continuing our walk towards the Needles we had a wonderful view of my other favourite walk on West Wight, Headon Warren, where the heather was just beginning to turn purple across the cornfields
The shadows on the top picture are of the clouds scudding quickly above the sky and I admit to using a bit of artistic licence (AKA photoshop) on the bottom picture.
The habitat over on the warren is very different, perhaps because the land is slightly less exposed. Instead of the large swathes of springy turf there are tangles of gorse, heather and brambles interlaced with honeysuckle.
The view of the needles is different too, classic but less iconic than when viewed from above.
This walk was one of my sparkling moments last week - I'd love to hear about yours