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.