'Twas a cold and windy but dry day when 24 of us gathered on the Quay at Orford to catch the ferry across to The Ness. Many had viewed this isolated land between the River Alde and the North Sea from the comfort and warmth of the Quayside cafe but now we were to experience setting foot on it. It is actually a shingle spit built up and moved around by the tides. It is flat, there are no trees or bushes and so the wind enjoys total freedom. In recognition of this, the majority were wrapped up in several layers and anoraks with hoods fastened around heads was the order of the day. There are some old concrete roadways left and they provided a respite from walking on shingle, which really tested the leg muscles. When viewed from the mainland it looks as if the lighthouse is in the middle of the land but having walked across to it, you find it is actually sitting on the beach at the far side, constantly being battered by the tides of the North Sea. The erosion at the base is obvious and several efforts have been made to reinforce the foundations but I feel sure that the sea will win out in the end and a landmark will disappear.
A walk inland, from a shingle beach of course, brought us to the old wooden Black Beacon and this was to be our refuge for the lunch stop. The problem was that we had to venture out again afterwards. Across more shingle towards the pagodas. These may look ordinary from the mainland but as you approach you start to appreciate their formidable size. Built with thick concrete walls and then covered with tons of shingle against any accidental blast from the bombs which were being invented, constructed and tested. The gaps between the top of the walls and the roof were left on purpose so that any blast could escape, should the worst happen. Looking through gaps in the lower walls one could imagine the white coated scientists and military personnel working away on weapons of mass destruction; at least these would have been real and not of the Tony Blair variety! Several buildings have been retained and refurbished to be used as visitor centres and these have large displays of old photographs showing some of what went on; the rest was top secret. The early days of RADAR detection were also tested here.
Only two of the famous brown hares made an appearance and one lonely deer charged away through the reed bed. At the end of a very interesting ramble with a difference, we made our way back and were relieved to see our ferryman waiting on the bank.
Thanks go to Keith Moxon, who is a Volunteer Ranger here during the summer months, for organising and making our visit possible.
PS: On recent walks I have heard of holidays to South Africa, Cuba, Middle East, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps you would like to share your experience with us and write a short piece for the next programme.