The Needles are one of the iconic landmarks of the Solent. Projecting out from the western tip of the Isle of White, the three chalk stacks rise majestically out of the sea. They are capped at the Western tip by the distinctive red and white stripes of a light house. For confident paddlers, the Needles provides a somewhat committing and exhilarating route.
Although Keyhaven is the usual start point for the a trip to the Needles, I opted to launch from Lymington. Putting in 2 hours before Low water, at the Bath Road Public Slipway, I hugged the edge of the marked channel out into open water. Low lying cloud semi obscured the Isle of Wight however there was enough visibility to make out Fort Albert which lies West of Yarmouth so I headed directly across the Solent.
From Fort Albert, you head through narrowest point of the Western Solent, with Hurst Castle on your Starboard side. Whilst being on the Island side of this gap keeps you out of ‘The Trap’ (the fast tidal flow caused by the narrow gap) you start to feel the effect of the open sea ahead of you.
Following the coast line brings you to the tip of Alum Bay and from here I opted to head directly across the bay to the Needles, rather than hug the coast line. Although the conditions were relatively calm, the swell grew and at tmes I would lose sight of yachts on a similar course as they dropped into the troughs leaving only their masts visible.
Nearing the Needles, I could see waves breaking between the stacks which mean’t that ‘threading the Needles’ would need to wait for another day. I spent a good twenty minutes bobbing around taking photos and enjoying the exposed nature of my position before heading back into Alum Bay.
Landing at the bottom of the cliffs in Alum bay gave me an opportunity to admire the multi-coloured sand and clay of the cliffs. A chairlift provides tourists visiting the Alum Bay Park with an easy route down the cliffs so the beach was very busy. The relatively unusual sight of my sea kayak drew a small crowd and I found my coffee break became an impromptu Q&A session on sea kayaking.
By now, the tide had turned so from Alum Bay, I paddled out into the trap and was able to ride the flood tide back to Hurst Castle. After a brief stop for more photographs I headed across the bay past Keyhaven and back into Lymington Marina.
I planned this paddle to use the last of the ebb tide to aid my passage out to the Needles, with my arrival timed to coincide with low water. This ensured I could use rather than fight the flood tide back. The tidal flow through The Trap (between Hurst Castle & the Island) can reach 4.4knots and in certain wind conditions (South Westerly) can be tricky.
If you would like more detailed information, it is well worth reading Mark Rainsley’s route description in the excellent ‘South West Sea Kayaking‘ guidebook.
Also, check Easytide for up to date tidal information.
View Lymington to The Needles in a larger map