Orford Ness is a place like few others. From a distance it appears to be a barren landscape, the largest shingle spit in Europe. Shifted and moulded by the sea as the seasons and the years pass by. Access is difficult: you either need to swim or take a boat across the river. The ness is part of a National Nature Reserve and access is restricted. You could of course walk down the shingle beach from Aldeburgh, it’s a few miles and hard work on the shingle beach. Never mind the risk of stepping on something nasty left from the past!
From a distance you can see the the remains of buildings left to decay. There’s an old listening post, a lighthouse which may soon be swallowed by the sea, a black watch tower and some other old buildings. Then finally some strange structures standing as a testament to the past.
Orford Ness was use in the last century as a testing ground for British ordinance. It was used for live firing tests as well as vibration tests of triggers for early atomic bombs. The strange buildings, appearing as a mix between a pagoda and a Greek temple, were used to put the triggers through the rigours that they’d face in flight. If one exploded the roofs would fall in and smother the blast.
Now the buildings are left to decay and the flora and fauna are left to their own devices.
I arrived well before the sunrise, the moon and stars shining bright against the black sky. Bitterly cold I settled down in the one spot on the river Alde close to the northern end of Havergate Island and watched the scene develop. The moon was just a quarter full and not bright enough to use as a light, maybe next time. Broken cloud started to drift across the sky and as the sky got lighter there was no sign of the sun behind the bank of cloud out to sea. Normally I love to move around but today the sky did the work for me. Finally, the sun showed itself streaming thorough the cloud. Every time I thought of heading off to a warm cafe the sky would change and persuade me to stay for just one more shot. After 3 hours I finally headed back along the river bank to the warm, a hot coffee and breakfast!
My time opposite Orford Ness is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk. Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.