Sunday, 23 September 2007

Needled by the Needles

or 'The Isle of Right' pt II

Having heard of the coloured sands at Alum Bay and The Needles, we planned a trip there towards the end to the week. This proved to be the low point of the week for me - every other place we visited in the rain proved to be more pleasurable.

Having negotiated the South Coast Road, descending to Ventnor seafront by the Isle's equivalent of Lombard Street and then braved the South Coast Road * we had great expectations for a good time.

As soon as you enter the area, your heart sinks. It is just one mass commercial amusement park, designed to extract your money for the lowest cost they can get away with. The main area is a dreary amusement (ha!) park with tatty rides, bits not working and insufficient staff so that you have to hang around expectantly until a ride gets opened (This was mid-August, hardly a slack time). The souvenir shops are worthy of any street trader hanging around the tourist traps of London.

Alum Bay is still there although you are not officially supposed to collect sand from it 'due to the risk of landslides'. Instead you can purchase a tacky placky shape and fill it with Alum Bay sand from the trays scattered about the shop. Once you have fought your way around this you can join a queue to have it 'finished'. The 'finishing' staff, to give them their due were competent, no slouches and not fazed by answering the same inane questions day in, day out. Shame that there weren't enough.

We went down to Alum Bay, eschewing the rickety chairlift that looked recycled from one of the first ever ski resorts and instead descended the wooden steps down to the sea front. There was plenty to see. The Needles - at a distance, the bottom of the chairlift, 10 metres of coloured rockface with tourists scooping sand samples into plastic bags like detectives hunting for evidence of a long-lost idyll. Oh, and detritus - bottles - glass and plastic, bags, wood, bits of clothing, the odd shoe, all contributing to the 'je ne sais quois' of the area.

It's a shame. It's an historic site and if they can get it right at the Zoo or Dino World or, in fact, anywhere else on the island, then you ought to be able to expect a better standard at somewhere as full of history as Alum Bay.

From Wikipedia: "Guglielmo Marconi moved to Alum Bay in 1897 to experiment with radio. He set up a 40 meter radio antenna outside the Needles Hotel in Alum Bay. He was able to successfully transmit to the Haven Hotel in Poole 20 miles away." I wonder if that chairlift was causing interference then?

*The South Coast Road welcomes careful drivers.

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