On our way towards the New Forest National Park, we took the long way round, stopping first in the small town of Highcliffe-on-Sea…
Status: Christchurch Unitary Authority, Dorset (historically Hampshire), Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Highcliffe Castle, Isle of Wight Views etc
Arriving in Highcliffe, we pulled up at a Car Park on top of a cliff, overlooking the beach below, as well as the Solent, the large body of water which separates mainland Hampshire/Dorset from the Isle of Wight.
It also offered us a fantastic view of the aforementioned Isle, in particular the “Needles” at its westernmost tip.
The Needles are a set of three large chalk cliffs which rise out of the sea. They are part of a long chalk ridge which runs through the Island, underneath the Solent, and reemerges on the mainland at Lulworth Cove in Dorset.
The Isle of Wight itself was of course once joined to Great Britain, with the River Solent running around it. It is this River that eventually widened, and cut through the rock around it to make the new island. The Needles themselves show the last vestige of this connection, with the area between them and the mainland gradually being washed away by the river.
Up until 1764, there were actually four Needles, however the centre cliff, known as “Lot’s Wife”, collapsed that year, leaving a gaping hole.
Attached to the outermost needle is the “Needles Lighthouse”, completed in 1859 to designs by James Walker (1781 – 1862, Scottish Engineer from Falkirk). The Solent has always been a dangerous place for shipping, with strong currents and deep waters, and the Needles themselves were also a hazard.
In 1786, a previous light had been installed, on top of the Cliff overlooking the innermost of the Needles. It soon proved inadequate, and needed replacing. The whole Lighthouse has been automated since 1994, a few years after a new Helipad was added to the top of the structure.
Less than a mile further into the town, lies Highcliffe’s most famous landmark, Highcliffe Castle.
This stunning Castle/Manor House was built from 1831 – 1835 for the 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay, Sir Charles Stuart (1779 – 1845, British Diplomat assigned to various countries including Portugal, France, Russia and Brazil). After retirement, Sir Charles had enough wealth to begin work on his new family home.
This site had once belonged to his family, but this family had sold it off. Sir Charles bought back the land, and with the help of an Architect named William Donthorne (1799 – 1859, Joint founder of the RIBA, Royal Institute of British Architects), he built Highcliffe Castle.
Since then, the Castle has passed through a number of owners, until the great fire of 1967 badly damaged the property. This prompted the local council to buy the building, and it is now open as a Tourist Attraction.
At the rear of the Castle is a small garden, and the whole estate sits on top of the cliffs which gave the town its name, looking out towards the Solent. You can find out more about visiting the Castle on their official website here.
We pressed on, and our final stop before entering the New Forest National Park was the beautiful town of Christchurch…