The day arrives when we can take the ferry onto Orford Ness. Entry and movement around the Ness is strictly controlled to protect the marshland and shingle habitat, and to avoid the public finding unexploded ordnance left from successive testing in the C20th. The presence of secret activities is felt everywhere on the Ness. We take no head of this historical sign in one of the Information Buildings, and again use sound, still and moving image recording to document the textures and forms on this strange landscape.
We head towards the buildings we have been viewing from afar: Black Beacon, the Bomb Ballistics viewing platform and the Lighthouse.
There are remnants of metal and concrete structures in the ground which would not look out of place as a land art installation in the desert by Nancy Holt or Richard Smithson.
The vastness of sky and flatness of land are striking. I feel very small and exposed to the elements. Perhaps that is why I’m drawn towards traces of the human presence here as a way of trying to make sense of this land.
Although the control of visitors to the Ness is strict, the coast of the Ness, is not immune to the global problem of marine debris (largely plastic).
The Orfordness Lighthouse Trust run monthly public tours of the Lighthouse and we’ve managed to book a couple of spaces on the tour for the next day, so we concentrate out efforts on the other areas that are accessible to the public.
From the top of the observation tower, you can clearly see the ridges of shingle which are evidence of centuries of longshore drift (strong southerly action of sea currents depositing material on the shore).
Each ridge is a trace of an ancient shoreline. Whilst some areas of the Ness show this progressive action of deposit. Other areas, particularly where the Lighthouse is situated are being eroded. The starkest reminder of this is that when the lighthouse was built in 1792, it was sited a significant distance from the shore; now it is only a few metres.
Some of the most iconic structures on the Ness are the nuclear shell testing Laboratories, commonly referred to as ‘The Pagodas’. We are allowed to visit Laboritory 1. Here the robustness of the outer shells were tested on vibration pads. The buildings are incredible: abandoned, steeped in ominous history, an oasis for greenery. Felicity and I are drawn to the painterly colours and textures which we find both beautiful and immensely disturbing.