Go back
I visited Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast for the second time in October. I first explored this vast, desolate and fragile landscape a year ago and despite the isolation was immediately drawn to the place. The wide open space gave an initial sense of escape and space for contemplation. Yet the secrecy that shrouds Orford Ness intrigued me. I found there was something of the unknown drawing me in, something almost unsettling, a strange aura that surrounds the place - an otherness.

Although often referred to as an island (as the only access is by boat), Orford Ness is a remote, shingle spit and a designated National Nature Reserve. The National Trust acquired it in 1993, following over 80 years use by the British military where highly secretive scientific research and testing was conducted. At the forefront of military technology during the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War, tests included pioneering radar trials led by Robert Watson-Watt, and testing by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment on the atomic bomb trigger mechanism.

Many of the former testing laboratory structures still exist, despite being stripped of their former use and in a state of disrepair. It is these buildings I visited on my second trip. Like much of Orford Ness most of them are out of bounds to the general public - unstable environments, which echo the past. The tension between the buildings left to decay and the protected natural habitat builds further with the knowledge that there may be unexploded ordnance hidden amongst the shingle. Yet there is a sense that they are also trying to blend and hide each other, almost as if the landscape itself is striving to keep the past a secret.
© Liz Harrington 2011