The Suffolk coast is home to many popular small seaside towns. Southwold, Aldeburgh and Felixstowe are all, in their own way, hits with visitors to the UK’s easternmost county.

You may not have heard of Orford Ness, an uninhabited cobble spit just below Aldeburgh, but its history is quite remarkable. Visitors to the Ness today will see rare birds, wildflowers and unusual structures in the distance, but if you had ventured on the spit for much of the 20th century you would likely have seen things uniquely associated with the science fiction, reports Suffolk Live.

This, of course, assumes you were able to visit Orford Ness before 1993 when it was purchased by the National Trust. Because from 1913 to 1987, the area was shrouded in mystery due to its occupation by various military departments. The Ness’ military service began in 1913 when the War Department turned a 2,000-acre section of the spit into airfields.

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With World War I on the horizon, the area was used for all sorts of military experiments, such as bomb testing and aerial photography. During the interwar period, the focus of sites on the Ness shifted from experimentation to innovation. With this came the birth of radar technology.

In 1935, physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt and a team of scientists used the island to work on anti-aircraft radar systems, which would later prove crucial to the nation’s efforts during World War II. The role of the Ness during World War II focused on test firing. Work included assessing the effectiveness of Allied munitions and testing Royal Airforce aircraft against German projectiles.



Scottish physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt

Eight years after the end of World War II, in 1953, the island’s covert operations were again intensified when the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) built facilities specifically designed for nuclear testing. Between 1953 and 1966, six test cells were built. Under these conditions, the extreme conditions that atomic bombs were subjected to before detonation, such as vibration, heat, and G-force, could be imitated.

Although no nuclear material was present during the tests on Orford Ness, tests were carried out on the high-explosive initiator. Two of the testing labs, known as the pagodas, still stand on the island today and attract many intrigued visitors.

Some of the laboratories contained a cell on which Britain’s first atomic bomb, known as the Blue Danube, could be lowered and tested. After the AWRE left the island in 1971, the island was used by the RAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

The EOD carried out ordnance disposal on the Ness until 1987, after which the island remained disused until 1993 when the land was purchased by the National Trust. Since then, the 16 km long island has fascinated visitors with its abandoned structures and wildflowers.



An aerial view of Orford Ness

Orford Ness is less than two hours drive from Cambridgeshire, making it the perfect alternative for visiting Suffolk’s most popular seaside destinations. If you find yourself on the Ness at some point during the summer, it might be worth closing your eyes and imagining what you would have seen if you were on the island in the last century. .

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