78 – Orford Ness: to the lighthouse and back 4.9 miles – 26th August

In short: a fantastic, atmospheric walk on Orford Ness – a wild  combination of abandoned military sites and nature reserve. Well paved paths apart from some shingle before and after the lighthouse – so sturdy shoes/trainers or proper walking sandals a good idea. Parking in Orford village (ferry across courtesy of National Trust); public toilets on the Ness but no cafe – so coffee before & cold drink after at the Riverside Tearooms – plus a picnic on the beach beside the lighthouse. 2 hrs 10 mins walking + 45 mins for picnic (& skimming stones!)

This Bank Holiday weekend I am determined to finally get across to Orford Ness – and so, with 3 teenagers and a picnic in tow we head to Orford Quay to catch the National Trust ferry across the water. We arrive just after 11.30 and are lucky enough to get places on the 12.00 ferry – only 12 passengers are ferried across every 20 minutes or so. Just enough time for a quick pre-explore coffee at the lovely Riverside Tearooms – or in the case of the boys, a huge hot chocolate with all the trimmings!

The trip across to the Orford Ness jetty is very quick – not much more than 5 minutes in fact – and on arrival we are greeted by a very knowledgable and friendly NT guide. There is a choice of trails we can follow – and no wandering off the paths in case of unexploded ordnance!! – the boys choose the historical trail – taking in as much military history as possible.

The trails are well marked with coloured arrows pointing the way and we head off on the main path following the red markers.

It’s a lovely warm day, but cloudy – not sure the photos quite do the place justice but there’s an other-worldliness to it which is quite lovely.

We ignore the first (blue) arrow off right and continue on to the second where we turn right and head across the spit of land towards a group of buildings ahead – including the information centre.

We pass groups of wading birds and marsh plants, streams and ponds before arriving at the information centre which we enter to take a look around.

Unfortunately 3 teenagers and a slew of written information don’t necessarily mix well, so after 5 minutes or so we leave to continue our route.

We turn right out of the building and after taking a look from the lookout platform a little further along the path, we continue along our red route towards some more buildings ahead – one of which is the public toilet block. We now have the lighthouse away over on our right and we decide that this is our ultimate destination.

We bear right to cross a bridge over the substantial, tidal, stream that runs through the middle of the Ness.

Here we take the left fork towards the dark tower ahead – which we climb for a good view of the whole Ness from the rooftop.

The path across the shingle is clearly delineated with differently coloured pebbles and so we head more or less directly towards the lighthouse from here.

It’s pretty hard going walking across this shingle, but the promise of a picnic as soon as we get to the lighthouse keeps everyone’s spirits up!

The lighthouse itself is perched on the edge of a shingle beach – tragically it has been abandoned to it’s fate so may not be there many years longer. For today however it is stunning, and picnicking on the shingle at it’s foot is a delight.

After refuelling – and spending a copious amount of time skimming stones – we head off along the shingle away from the lighthouse.

After a hundred yards or so we head off the beach along the indicated path, now heading towards the deserted bunkers of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment – eerily set on this deserted shingle spit.

We head left on a path to these derelict buildings for a look around – and it really is quite spooky!

Retracing our steps we walk back along the path we have just arrived on, turning left at the junction of paths to take us back to the bridge. Here we cross and now are retracing our steps back to the Quay – via the functional but clean and well-equipped public toilets.

Returning the way we came, the weather is closing in slightly and spots of rain appear – but by the time we reach the Quay this has cleared completely and the sun is really warm again.

We arrive just in time to miss a boat and so have a 15 minute wait for the next one – just enough time to enjoy our surroundings and decide that what we really want is a lovely cold drink at the Riverside Tearooms once we disembark.

This is indeed what we do on the far side – sitting outside they really hit the spot!

A perfect walk to do with 3 lively boys – just enough to keep them interested, particularly with an end destination always in sight. And for me…a fascinating slice of history set in an amazing and really unusual landscape. I will return – and soon – to do the birdwatching trail next time!

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