1.Starting Point Red Jet Terminal Cowes
Step off the Red Jet into Fountain Yard and you’re in the world’s yachting capital of Cowes that hosts the infamous Cowes Week regatta at the beginning of August. The Yacht Haven is to your left and in the summer it will be glittering with yachts of every shape and size – you’ll probably have already seen quite a few on your voyage over the Solent. Cowes is probably the best shopping town on the Island too, with lots of upmarket chains (mainly sailing connected) and boutique quirky shops, plus great pubs and restaurants.
Bit of History: Cowes was where the first ever America’s Cup was held in 1851 and is where you will find the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron – which fires the canons to start the races during Cowes Week.
2. Bus Journey to Alum Bay
You need to take the number 1 bus to Newport that will be waiting in Fountain Yard outside the door to the Red Funnel terminal. Then change at the bus station in Newport to the number 7 bus to Alum Bay. Buy your ticket all the way through to Alum Bay when you get on at Cowes and just show it to the driver on the second bus, as otherwise you will be paying more than you need to. If you intend to do more exploring during the day (such as the trips later in this guide) then get a Day Rover for £10.
The bus journeys will take you through some beautiful countryside, skirting Parkhurst Forest and giving views across the fields to Newtown Creek. You travel through the pretty port of Yarmouth (great boutique shops) and Totland before you arrive at Alum Bay car park.
3. Buying your tickets
The Needles Landmark Attraction sits at the top of the cliffs here and is well worth exploring, especially if you have children. It is here that you buy the book of tickets you need to take the chair lift to the beach (and back) that will also let you take the fairground rides. You buy the boat tickets to the Needles at the beach, so make sure you have cash and/or cards with you.
4. Chair Lift
Just the same as a ski lift, the chair lift continually moves very slowly and you will be helped onto your seats by an experienced assistant. You’ll move horizontally over the top of some tall trees until you get to the edge of the cliff and then the chair lift angle changes to about 45 degrees and you’re dropping gently to the beach. You’ll see the coloured sands of the famous cliffs beneath your feet and to the left. At the bottom you’ll be helped out of your seats by another kind assistant and you make your way to your choice of boat.
5. Boat to the Needles
You can take a sturdy little ferry style boat or a fast rib ride out to the see the Needles chalk stacks and the lighthouse. Look out for the entrances to the tunnels at the bottom of the cliffs and the lookouts hewn into the chalk. Turn to look back at the beach and you have one of the best views of the multi-coloured sands of Alum Bay and the turquoise sea. As you round the lighthouse the almost perfect semi-circular bite out of the cliff that is Scratchell’s Bay comes into view.
6. Needles Landmark Attraction
Retrace your journey back to the top of the cliff by chair lift and they take a photo of you as you get to the top of the cliff. A sign will tell you to look at the camera. You can then buy the photo from the kiosk at the top. Or you can walk up all of the steps if you prefer a bit of exercise. At the top you can fill a glass ornament with layers of the coloured sands, watch sweets being made in the Sweet Factory or see the artisan glass makers blowing swirly coloured glassware at Alum Bay Glass, making sure to buy some top quality mementos. There are loads of rides and stuff to do for kids and a large giftshop. Look for the memorial to Marconi, who sent his first radio signal from this location.
7. Spot of Lunch
Named for the pioneer radio transmitter, Marconi’s Restaurant has a selection of self-service hot and cold meals and you can sit inside or out. Next door Marconi’s Tea Rooms have a range of yummy cakes, hot and cold drinks and both are fully licensed. Check the Special Offers page on their website as there may be a food deal. http://www.theneedles.co.uk/category/offers
7a. Bus to Old and New Batteries (optional)
Walk up to the top of the car park and you can take a Needles Breezer Bus to the Old and New Batteries at the tip of the white cliffs from which the Needles emerge. Well worth a look, the Old Battery has a really cool passageway to a lookout over the Needles. The New Battery hosts an exhibition to the Rocket Men who tested rocket engines here under total secrecy during the Cold War. You can see the remains of the bunkers they used and get to meet the men themselves.
8. Bus back to Cowes. Optional stop off in Yarmouth
Take the Needles Breezer all the way back to Yarmouth and you could stop off here for a meander around the town, with its cool shops and interesting castle. Blue is a great ladies fashion and lifestyle shop; Harwoods is a chandlery shop but has so much more, including fashion and homeware; Drift has lovely Fair Trade jewellery, wall hangings and vases; Yarmouth Gallery features the work of owner Ann Toms and many other Island artists. There are also a handful of great hostelries; The Wheatsheaf, The King’s Head, The Bugle and the more upmarket George Hotel.
Then take the number 7 bus to Newport and change onto the number I bus to Cowes. (If you are going to take the stop off in Yarmouth option, buy a Day Rover in Cowes. If you just want to go directly back to Cowes from the Needles then take the number 7 back to Newport and the number 1 to Cowes).
9. Supper in Cowes before going home
It would be a real shame not to see a bit of the famous Cowes before getting your Red Jet back to Southampton. Wander down to The Parde and see the historic Royal Yacht Squadron, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2015, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and The Royal London Yacht Club and then have a drink and some supper at the new Yachtsman pub. Or opt for another eatery in the town such as the cool Mess Canteen, Nomad’s fusion street food, Coast’s fab pizzas or the new North House hotel’s fine dining and oyster bar – and there are many more.
10. End Point Red Jet Terminal Cowes
Your bus drops you right at the Red Jet terminal, whether you choose to mooch around Cowes is up to you! Have a great trip and we hope to see you back again soon.