Orford Ness

There is a terrifying beauty to this place.  It appears post-apocalyptic which, given its history, is as it should be.  Throughout the 20th century the site was used for a wide range of military research programmes, not least by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.  Meanwhile, at the northern end of the ‘island’, the Cobra Mist structure stands as a monument to the experimental, Anglo-American, over-the-horizon radar system.  The vast complex is now privately owned with rumoured plans to use the building to house an IT server farm.

To the frustration of local volunteers, much of the site is in decay and the National Trust has no interest in maintaining the infrastructure, their primary concern being the bird sanctuary.  Even the lighthouse is under threat – perilously close to the shingle beach, the expectation is that one more violent winter storm could see it collapse into the sea.

Orford Ness provides a timely reminder of “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy“.  The research that was undertaken on this site cannot be un-invented.  The threat of Armageddon remains.  Indeed, it could be argued that the threat is greater than at any time since the Cold War with the potential for terrorists and rogue states to get their hands on such technology.  Leaving the ‘island’ behind on the ferry to Orford, there is the distinct impression that school children are being wound up to agonise and protest over entirely the wrong threat.

Towards Black Beacon from AWRE 1

Derelict structure around AWRE 1

Looking south towards AWRE 1

More dereliction at AWRE 1 (you cannot reach the Pagodas)

Left behind – sole survivor

Towards the lighthouse

The lighthouse showing desperate attempts to shore up the underlying supports – “one more bad winter and it could be gone”

The lighthouse from the south

Black Beacon

Black Beacon from the lighthouse

Black Beacon

The approach to AWRE 1

The lighthouse


  1. Sue · May 25, 2019

    “There is a terrifying beauty to this place.  It appears post-apocalyptic”…I totally agree with your sentiments, Robin. It must be 20 years ago since I visited, and I don’t recall getting near AWRE1….

    • northumbrianlight · May 25, 2019

      Thanks Sue – I don’t know how long AWRE 1 has been accessible but until recently, you could get inside the building. It has now been deemed unsafe which demonstrates exactly why the volunteers at the site are so frustrated with the NT. It’s a shame you can’t get near the Pagodas. I have been itching to get out there for some time – it did not disappoint. All the best, R

      • Sue · May 26, 2019

        Oh, well I don’t remember getting into much

  2. Scott K Marshall · May 25, 2019

    Magnificent post a must visit

    • northumbrianlight · May 25, 2019

      I recommend it, Scott, it will not disappoint. It’s fairly restricted access though – Saturdays and Bank Holidays only throughout the summer.

      • Scott K Marshall · May 26, 2019

        To think I lived not far from there once at Stowemarket

  3. Pit · May 25, 2019

    Great b&w pictures!

  4. Maureen Sudlow · May 26, 2019

    fantastic photos and commentary

  5. Aviationtrails · May 26, 2019

    There was an article in a newspaper a few years ago about Orfordness, it would be interesting to see just how bad the decay has been since then. It’s history certainly needs protecting, but it sounds like it may simply be just too late now. How very sad.

    • northumbrianlight · May 26, 2019

      There is still plenty that remains intact if not accessible – you must keep to the defined pathways because of unexploded ordnance which all adds to the excitement. Hopefully the NT will be persuaded to invest eventually.

  6. J.D. Riso · May 26, 2019

    There is something mesmerizing about such desolate places. « Terrifying beauty » sums it up so well. Nice to see you post again, Robin. Hope the light has started to return.

    • northumbrianlight · May 26, 2019

      Many thanks for the kind comments Julie. My good lady is struggling but time will heal eventually.
      All the best, R

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