1 The Needles One of the most recognisable landmarks in Britain and the top Isle of Wight attraction, the Needles are jagged chalk stacks jutting out from the coast with an unmanned lighthouse at the end. The name Needles is said to derive from a tapering pinnacle that was a little to the north of the present central rock. This stack, about 37 metres high and known as Lot's Wife, collapsed into the sea in 1764. Its stump is one of many underwater obstacles that have claimed numerous vessels ( www.theneedles.co.uk ). 2 Blast-off There's more to the Needles area than the chalk stacks. From 1955 to 1971 a secret rocket and missile-development centre called High Down was built on the site of the old Needles Battery. In the control rooms and other installations, 240 or so people developed the Black Knight and Black Arrow rockets. Although Black Knight was originally only a test rocket, in the 1960s it was used to carry research modules into the upper atmosphere, and in 1971 it launched the only all-British satellite into orbit ... where it remains. Little is left of the site save the shells of the buildings. 3 Carisbrooke Castle Crowning a hilltop south of Newport, the castle was the dominant defensive position on the island for more than 600 years and has good examples of a keep, battlements and working well-house. There was a Saxon presence here in the 7th century and a timber fort in the late 11th century. The present stone castle has existed since 1100 and became a royal jail in 1647, when Charles I was imprisoned in the Constable's Lodging, complete with bowling green. He made two failed attempts to escape before becoming the first ruling monarch to be executed on January 30, 1649 ( www.english-heritage.org.uk ). 4 Fish and chips The most traditional of British seaside foods is available all over the Isle of Wight. But to absorb the island's promenade atmosphere, find a beachfront pub on the Shanklin or Sandown esplanades. Don't leave it too late, because space is limited and the prime viewing positions fill up quickly with 'mainlanders' from the rest of the Britain. While gazing out across the English Channel towards Europe, from where most of the island's numerous invaders originated, you'll probably be served by their modern-day equivalents - waiters from all parts of the continent. 5 Brading Roman Villa Like many outstanding finds, Brading Roman Villa was discovered by a farmer, then excavated by well-meaning but amateur Victorian archaeologists. Although important historical details were lost during the dig, much was also discovered, including colourful mosaics. Covered by an Edwardian barn and virtually forgotten for almost 100 years, the site was saved by a #3 million lottery-fund grant in 1998. The resulting interactive exhibition centre has become a popular destination for tourists and schoolchildren. Visitors are guided by the 'voice' of Palladius, an exiled Roman official, who explains what life was like on Vectis, as the island was then known ( www.bradingroman villa.co.uk). 6 Oldest vineyard Although English wine is still something of a novelty with sommeliers, the island's Roman rulers planted vines 2,000 years ago. Their skills were largely lost during the reign of Henry VIII, but the Isle of Wight has one of the oldest vineyards in Britain. Set on a south-facing chalky slope 1km from the Brading Roman Villa, the Adgestone Vineyard was established in 1968. Small quantities of red, dry fruity white and sparkling wines are produced here as well as at other sites around the island. Adgestone also offers bed and breakfast accommodation for those who don't feel the need to rush their imbibing pleasure. 7 Cowes Week Regarded by many sailors as the premier regatta in the world, the August event - which actually lasts eight days - attracts entrants from around the globe as well as a fair few well-heeled groupies. More than 1,000 yachts and 8,000 competitors - from amateurs to Olympic champions - compete in multiple classes in the waters of the Solent. First held in 1826, the event is the longest-running regular regatta in the world. Cowes is also famous for its sparkling social calendar, with yacht club balls, dinners, cock- tail parties and concerts. The highlight is a fireworks display on the final Friday, which attracts more than 170,000 spectators ( www.cowesweek.co.uk ). 8 Hiking The Isle of Wight Coastal Path ( www.celtrail.com ) is a 112km circular trail and a delight to walk, whether you're a seasoned hiker or simply like to fill your lungs with fresh air. The varied and unspoiled scenery is the island's finest natural asset, with the two stretches of pristine Heritage Coast comprising almost half of the island's 97km coastline. The path gives bird-watchers ample opportunity to spy peregrine falcons swooping after prey along the sheer chalk cliffs. For centuries, the invigorating air, quality of light and enchanting aspect have drawn artists, poets and scientists, including J.M.W. Turner, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Darwin. For those on two wheels, mountain-bike trails cross the island. 9 Osborne House In 1845, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House and its 400 hectares as a country retreat. But it was too small for their needs, so Prince Albert designed a replacement. By 1851, the new Osborne House, based on the prince's ideas, with input from Thomas Cubitt, was a gargantuan affair. After Albert died Queen Victoria spent most of her time at Osborne House, where she died in 1901. Since her death little has changed and many of the royal couple's possessions, photographs and paintings are still on view. The property and grounds, just outside Cowes, are open to the public and are used for concerts and other events in summer ( www.english-heritage.org.uk ). 10 Thatched pubs Dotted all over the island, most thatched pubs are well cared for and make some villages resemble picture postcards. The old part of Shanklin, on a hill above the esplanade, has a collection of thatched buildings on either side of the original village track, which is now part of the main round-the-island route. Two of them are pubs, so visitors can sample some of the local beers (although Village Idiot did nothing for me). But for beer lovers, adding a few thatched establishments to your itinerary makes for an interesting alternative to the regular tours of the island.