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2. Orford Ness

Top 10 ten - Ipswich and the Suffolk Coast

Orford Ness

Orford Ness is a 7 mile long spit of land and shingle hanging tenuously on to the Suffolk coast, which has separated the village of Orford from the sea since Tudor times.
The Ness is an internationally important nature reserve, with a fascinating 20th-century military history. Rare flora and fauna fight to survive on this wild and remote extremity of eastern England, the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe. 

Orford Ness was also the site of secret military testing, from the early experiments with RADAR to munitions in WWII and missiles and communications during the cold war. The abandoned buildings remain – a poignant symbol of 20th-century warfare.

Orford itself is an appealing place, dominated by two large medieval buildings, the remains of a 12th century castle built by Henry II, and St Bartholomew’s Church, where composer Benjamin Britten premiered his music for children, “Noye’s Fludde” as part of the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival.

The National Trust offers boat trips from Orford Quay, which will ferry you across the river Alde to the Ness, which has a 5 mile hiking trail.

Military History
The 70 year period of secret military activity that took place here, and the flat and featureless landscape, have combined to create an enduring legacy of mystery and secrecy.

Orford Ness was acquired by the War Department in 1913, and after being drained and levelled to form airfields, was used by the Central Flying School’s Experimental Flying Section from 1916 to the end of the First World War. Significant advances were made in military hardware and experimental techniques, with pioneering research on parachutes, aerial photography, and bomb and machine gun sights.

Commissioned in 1928 by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, “The Black Beacon” is now a visitor display centre and viewing area. It housed an experimental “rotating loop” navigation beacon. The Racon beacon on top of the nearby red and white striped lighthouse- built in 1793,  is a direct descendant of these early tests.

Perhaps the most significant and influential research and development programme to have taken place on Orford Ness, began on 13th May 1935, when Robert Watson-Watt and his team arrived to found the Ionospheric Research Station.

This name was a cover for the development of an aerial defence system, which was later to be known as Radar, leading to the creation of a chain of Home Stations. These proved to be pivotal in giving British Fighter Command tactical advantage over the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

During the Second World War the site was used for firing and ballistics tests, concentrating on assessing the vulnerability of aircraft to various projectiles. Orford Ness continued to be used for military tests during the 1950’s, focusing on improving the aerodynamics of projectiles and rockets.

Research into advanced Radar continued during the cold war, until finally closing in the 1980’s. The National Trust purchased Orford Ness from The Ministry of Defence in 1993.

Orford Ness Address:                  
Orford Ness National Nature Reserve
Quay Office
Orford Quay
Suffolk, IP12 2NU
England, UK

Orford Ness Opening Times:         
April to June, Saturday only. 
June to 1st October, Tuesday to Saturday
October, Saturday only.
Please visit the Orford Ness Website for full details of opening times.
Orford Ness by Boat 
The only access is by National Trust Ferry from Orford Quay, with boats crossing regularly between 10.00 am and 3.00 pm. The last ferry leaves Orford Ness at 5.00 pm.
Orford Ness Admission:               
National Trust members (ferry only)
Adult £4.00
Child £2.05

Non-members (ferry & admission)
Adult £7.50
Child £3.75

Group pricing structure available depending on type of visit

Access around the site is on foot only, but tractor-drawn trailer tours operate on the 1st Saturday of the month from July to September - booking essential. Some military buildings (eg 'Pagodas') are accessible only on guided events. No dogs or bicycles allowed.

T  +44 (0)1394 450057 (Infoline)

Accommodation and eating out in Orford

The Crown and Castle Hotel, Market Hill

Butley Orford Oysterage

The Jolly Sailor Inn, Pub, Quayside

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