The next day, we take another boat across to the Ness, this time with Orfordness Lighthouse Trust to visit the Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 2013 by Trinity House. Although the building is Grade II listed, the remoteness of location, unstable ground and encroaching sea made a perfect storm in which the viable options to save it were, and are, very limited. According to the Lighthouse Trust, the National Trust (who own the surrounding Nature Reserve) were offered the building for nothing by Trinity House, but they declined. Their approach was one of ‘controlled ruination’ and that visitors would see the structure from the outside only.
The Orfordness Lighthouse Trust was formed by members of the community who took over the building in order to allow visits inside the building for as long as it is safe to do so, and to look at alternative ways to save parts of the Lighthouse.
The erosion is strikingly evident as the sea approaches the base of the lighthouse. Recent defences made of shingle encased in geo textile have temporarily prevented the low cliff from being undermined, but Chris and Lydia, our guides from the Trust, say that the building may succumb to the sea in the next three years.
It is with this knowledge that I feel an urgency of our visit, to photograph and perhaps find a way to document this majestic building before it is claimed by the sea.
We are taken inside and up the 100 steps to the lantern at the top. It is surprisingly spacious inside with an elegant sweep of stone stairs. The quality of light in the staircase area is incredible, with dancing shadows and light emanating from the small windows as we ascend. On two of the windows there is original port (red) and starboard (green) glass that filter the light on the curved stair walls.
When we reach the lantern at the top the dazzling light, even on the grey day, is striking. The ridges of shingle are clearly seen from this birds-eye vantage point and the line of the coast from the lighthouse at Southwold in the north, to Harwich in the south. These lights are safe and have been increased in power since the switching off of this one.
Felicity and I shoot some digital film and stills walking up and down the spiral stairs, inside and out. We are both drawn to the painterly qualities of the light, but the movement and subtle of it seems to be best captured in film.
I leave with a sense of sadness, with the knowledge that the life of this building is short. However, it also starts me thinking about ideas for further projects that might be able contribute to celebrating this unique building and site.