Orford Ness

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One of the two pagodas on Orford Ness – test laboratories used in the development of British atomic weaponry. The walls and roof are designed to withstand blasts, with explosive gasses able to escape via the upper windows.

I can’t recall ever having been so cold for so many hours. It brought to mind snowball fights as a child wearing only knitted gloves.

img_9671Even on a fine day, Orford Ness wouldn’t be pretty, for all its ecological value never military significance. The shingle beach has shifted drastically over the centuries and continues to do so: it is only a matter of time before this spit becomes an island. It is littered – there is no other word for it – with military buildings and debris dating back to its use as a pioneering airfield in 1913. It then became an experimental bombing range and was significant in the development of radar in the 1930s. After the war, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment used it for their work. This ended in the 1970s, and bomb disposal squads were stationed on the Ness, for obvious reasons, until 1987. It then lay derelict and vandalised until 1993, when it was bought by the National Trust.

img_9676I could have learned all that in half an hour but was obliged to endure a lot more information! There were compensations: it was interesting to see the lines of consecutive layers of shingle over the ages, demarcated by valleys (where the larger pebbles were deposited) and peaks (where the smallest pebbles provided a more hospitable environment for shingle-tolerant annuals). It is a very delicate environment – disturb the shingle and only a sea surge can return it to its original condition, so you really have to stick to the paths. (Or, in my case, an open trailer.)

I saw a hare and was introduced to Chinese water deer –  small non-native deer with teddy-bear faces and Dracula fangs (well, tusks). There was also talk of a golden plover, but I had to be satisfied with a couple of avocets.

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