Orford Ness, Suffolk
About Orford Ness
Internationally important nature reserve, with a fascinating 20th-century military history. Take a short boat trip to this wild and remote shingle spit, the largest in Europe. Follow trails through a stunning landscape and a history that will both delight and intrigue. Discover an internationally important nature reserve littered with debris and unusual, often forbidding, buildings from a sometimes disturbing past.
Orford Ness is a special place. In keeping with its character there are no catering facilities, so please bring your own food and drink. There are plenty of places to sit, relax and enjoy a picnic. The beach offers an ideal location for this. Likewise there is no National Trust shop, but guidebooks are available in the ticket office on the quay and from the volunteers caravan once on the 'Island'. Please remember not to leave any litter behind. You can learn more about the amazing hidden history of Orford Ness from volunteer Paddy Heazel's book Most Secret: the Hidden History of Orford Ness. Pick one up when you visit, or read up before you arrive.
Orford Ness visitor trails August 2014
You can follow waymarked trails through salt-marsh, mud-flats, brackish lagoons and the internationally rare and protected vegetated shingle. (Numbers in triangles on the map are distances in km from the jetty.) The blue and green routes open after the breeding season. This is usually by mid-August but please call to check before visiting.
The red route is open whenever the site is open to visitors. It passes through the airfield site, home to marshland birds. It then crosses the Bailey bridge to the shingle habitat.
The red route gives access to all the buildings you can look inside, including Laboratory One of the Atomic Weapons Reasearch Establishment. Approximately 9km
Open seasonally once young birds have fledged from the airfield site, the Blue route is a peaceful extension of the red route.
It will get you closer to some of the military structures used from the First World War, including those associated with radar. Approximately 1km extension to red route. Call to check if open before visiting.
Open once the breeding season is over, the green route will take you out into King's Marsh. This peaceful and remote trail will also take you close to the Cobra Mist site.
There's no access to the Cobra Mist site itself as it's not cared for by us, but still lots to see. Approximately 5km extension to the red route. Call to check if open before visiting.
WE177A atomic bomb © Atomic Weapons Research Establishment
See inside a secret site. The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) site is dangerous and so access is restricted. Because of the unstable state of the structures and the presence of deep pits and drops only escorted access is possible.
You can visit the Pagodas on a guided tour, when you'll also learn why they were built and what they were used for.
This former site head quarters, briefly the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment administrative base, then became the security office and a telephone exchange. Now you can look inside and find displays about the island and a real (decommissioned) atomic bomb.
Don't forget to write a comment in the visitor book.
Built in 1933 to house advanced technical equipment including Vinten 100 and then Vinten 300 cameras, this was the centre of operations for the bombing range. In use for over 40 years you can learn how the bombing range operated and evolved at the forefront of ballistics testing.
Built to house an experimental radio apparatus, this enigmatic building housed a secret: a marine navigation beacon to the outside world but in reality a homing beacon for military aircraft. This area was later the site of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment technical HQ and telemetry station.
Climb to the upper level viewing station for views across the sea and shingle.
Standing next to the Black Beacon yet built four years after it, a generator within supplied power to the 'marine navigation beacon'. The beacon had been powered from elsewhere on site - why did it need a generator now? A power cable also ran out to the newly built Bomb Ballistics building some distance away.
The 'Pagodas' are Laboratories 4 and 5 of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) site. The buildings in this area are highly unstable and contain deep pits and drops.
For this reason you can only get close to the 'Pagodas' on a guided tour, when a warden will make sure you're safe.
On a standard visit you can follow the Red Trail to the edge of the AWRE site and see inside Laboratory 1, which gives you a good idea of the interior of the labs as they were all based on the same basic design principle - to contain an explosion.
Orford Ness - Natural History
The spit's isolation and closure by the military for most of the twentieth century made it a haven for wildlife. The flat, open landscape, particularly the alien shingle terrain, will remove you from busy mainland concerns. This is a fragile place and easily disturbed. Please tread carefully to preserve its beauty for future generations.
© Simon Bradford
The grazing marshes on the Ness are flat and open with pools of water that expand and contract through the season providing habitat for breeding birds. Sheep graze to provide the varied grass height the birds prefer, eating around the military debris. The King's Marsh brackish lagoons provide an important habitat for invertebrates.
© Simon Bradford
Separating the marshes from the shingle is Stony Ditch, a tidal creek. Mud flats provide a huge food reservoir for wading birds, such as curlew, redshank and oystercatchers. Lining Stony Ditch is salt-marsh that flowers pink and purple through the seasons; sea lavender replacing sea thrift in summer, then tall sea aster in the autumn.
A strange, undulating desert of shingle with rows of long flat mats of strange and lovely plants. Here sea campion blooms white and yellow horned poppy adds a cheerful note. This is an extremely rare and fragile habitat that supports scarce natural communities of living things. The structure of the shingle is formed by the actions of the sea and other processes to provide a natural matrix that is crucial to the survival of these communities, particularly in this hostile environment.
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