Castles and churches, not a bad afternoon!

Saturday 14 May 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

In the previous post, I talked about how I had spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon visiting the wonderful Orford Ness, a National Trust wilderness area. A beautiful spit of land tagged on to the Suffolk coast, and separated from the town of Orford by the River Alde.

When I arrived back on the mainland from the ‘Ness’ it was only mid-afternoon and though it was cold there was still plenty of day time left, and plenty of things to see in the village of Orford itself.

Like all coastal towns Orford has a long history of fishing and shell fishing, there is still some industry here but I suspect it is now subservient to the tourism industry. Having a few old fishing boats lying around is never going to hurt from a photography tourist’s perspective either!


The older part of Orford has really embraced tourism; so well that you could drive through and not notice it was there at all. Just how it should be. The village is really pleasant to walk through, lovely red brick houses, nice old pubs, one tiny store, a village hall and a fabulous bakery/cafe. It is all subtle, there are no overt signs, nothing showy. Just a small village full of seemingly very friendly people. They do it well. So shhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone or they will come along and spoil it.  I must admit I fell in love with it, as I suspect do a lot of other visitors.


St Bartholomew is an old Norman church in Orford, originally built around the same time as the castle in the 1170s, though there were extensive modifications in 1300s. The chancel was walled off in the 18th century and then collapsed in 1830. The remains were restored in the 60s and 70s and is a charming and peaceful little spot.



After a invigorating coffee and a totally unnecessary, but delicious slice of chocolate brownie I went to visit Orford Castle. I was surprised at how popular it was, a full car park and a number of other visitors. I thought it was only me who liked out of the way castles !


Orford Castle was completed in 1173, under King Henry II. The keep, for something so old, is in remarkably good condition and is the best preserved keep in the UK from that period. Though the castle lost favour with the crown after the death of Henry it still had some significance as Orford was a major trading port. More important than  nearby Ipswich, which is hard to believe now! Unlike so many other castles Orford pretty much allows access to the whole building, there are loads of little rooms and hall ways and of course my favourite – spiral staircases. All maintained by English Heritage, who are doing a great job here. 


I enjoyed my visit, the highlights for me were the old names carved into the walls, I like to believe they are original.



I am staying in Lowestoft overnight, I thought it was the nearest town with accommodation, but when I walked past I noted that one of the pubs in Orford had rooms. I looked it up when I got home as I thought it might be a nice place for El and I to visit in summer. At £270 a night (including dinner for two) I think we will have to pass! Orford is a lovely village though, and I will return now that I have a car.



Over my pre-castle visit coffee I looked through my ruins book and decided to check out St Andrews Church in Covehithe as it is pretty much on the way to Lowestoft and looked quite interesting.


The oldest part of the church remains are from the 15th century. What is unusual about this particular church is that rather than it being destroyed by war or by royal decree it was pulled down by its own parishioners in 1672 when they could no longer afford the upkeep. The smaller church was constructed inside it – and is still operating today.




 It is a lovely little spot, made a bit moody by some heavy handed editing to make the clouds look a bit fuller than they really were. Though to be fair to me it did actual drizzle a bit while I was there. What I liked about St Andrews is that there was some detail still left in the stone work, you could imagine what the building looked like with the tiled finish on the outside.




The amazing Orford Ness

Saturday 14 May 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

Wow, what a day today! It was so good I have had to make it a two post day. I love a day like this, and there should be/could be/would be more if I wasn’t so lazy or prone to prolonged bouts of procrastination. All I needed to do was to grab my camera and get out of the house, though it did help that I went somewhere amazing!

Last weekend I finally got around to buying a car. I have been pondering it for a while, but living and working London I have not had a desperate need to own one and if we did want to go away it is cheap enough to rent a car. However, there are always those things you need to do that require a car, and having to plan ahead to organise a rental, or book affordable train travel, meant we rarely did spontaneous trips out in to the country. Not having, or wanting to spend a vast amount of money on a car – I do hate them, I ended up buying a 2003 Lexus IS 300. With a three litre motor it is not the most economical or emissions friendly vehicle, but I wanted a car I could throw a mountain bike in the back of if I ever decided to do a riding trip. Thinking ahead, that is my motto 🙂


At the end of last year I bought a book about unusual ruins in the UK and there was mention of Orford Ness. The pictures in the book made it look interesting and as Suffolk is really easy to get to by car from NE London I decided to go and check it out.

Orford Ness is a 12 mile spit of land, pretty much entirely separated from the mainland by the River Alde and is accessed via a tiny ferry from the town of Orford. Orford is just under 100 miles from home, so a perfect distance for a first drive in a new car.

I left home pretty early, by my standards anyway, and made good time. Cruising down English country lanes shrouded in trees with dappled sunlight hitting the road has to be one of life’s real pleasures, I could have done this all day. I stopped once on the way to take a photo of a rape field. I think there is a law that requires all people who think of themselves as landscape photographers to stop and take a photo of a rape field at least once each year.


I arrived in Orford just after 10:00, when the ferry starts its regular run across to the Ness. Orford Ness, or at least this section of it, is managed by The National Trust, of which I am a member. They run a small ferry across the river and only allow 13 trips a day with a maximum of 12 people per trip. This reduces the impact of humans on the very fragile shingle environment.


In the 1920s and 1930s the site was used to test a wonderful new technology called radar, later, in the 1960s, it was a semi-secret location for atomic weapons research. Of course no bombs were tested there – these were all done in the US, but detonators and other components were designed and tested. Testing all these things like radar and detonators meant a heck of a lot of bombs were dropped here from the 1920s onwards. Wandering off the beaten track is not encouraged, and there are numerous signs warning of this.


It is also very popular with the birding community as there are a number of nesting sites across the marsh and shingle areas. Some of these areas are closed to the public at the moment while the birds are breeding, so only one of the three ‘walks’ is open today. 

The boat ride over to the Ness only takes 5 minutes, there were seven of us on the boat, when I was leaving the ranger on the island told me there had been just over 80 people there all day, perfect numbers for me. My first photo on the Ness, flat, empty and big big clouds overhead. I was thinking that this was going to be a great day.


The first few hundred yards are past some swampy waterways, those more interested in birds than I am spent a bit of time here while I carried on going, heading for a bridge over a river and on to the shingly side. I stopped at the information centre for a look around, there was some interesting photos and history in there, I am assuming this warning sign is an old one!


There is a concentration of old buildings here and a few rusting, decaying pieces of machinery are reminders of when this place was busy with men doing manly things with bombs and technology. A lot of it is behind signs barring entry, though all the fences have been taken down so the restrictions are just based on trust. I liked that, and decided to not breach that trust. 




I took a few photos from the bird watching hide, none of birds of course! I wanted to visit the ‘pagodas’. Remnants from when this was under the control of Atomic Weapons Research establishment (AWRE) and I was really looking forward to getting to them. They are one of the reasons I wanted to visit. They, and a lot of the scene here, remind me of the old computer game Doom.


There are paths that have to be followed to get around, as I said earlier there is a lot unexploded munitions on and under the shingle, and caution needs be taken at all times. These gates were leading off to one of the paths that was closed today, as always I was intrigued as to what was there.


From 1982 until 2011 the BBC World Service was broadcast to Europe from Orford Ness, and the transmission towers can be clearly seen further up the spit, past those gates.


The shingle area is covered in vegetation, some of it quite rare, another reason this is a protected site. The mix of the muted greys and browns of the shingle and the brighter colours of the grasses and wild flowers made for an interesting sight and hopefully I will get some photos that make the most of that variety.


My first stop was the bomb ballistics building; built in 1933 it was fitted with state of the art equipment to monitor the flight of bombs to help with designing aiming tables. The view from the top was really interesting, it was the only place that provided enough height to look down on the shapes in the shingle



The view from the inside was good as well.



I followed the red shingle road towards the black beacon for a while before turning off and heading towards the lighthouse.


The shingle is constantly being moved around by the sea and the weather, it almost appears to be laid out in waves, with vegetation growing on its crest. It was quite arresting. I was very interested to know (and still don’t) what the small square concrete pads are, there are a hell of a lot of them seemingly randomly placed.


There is a lot of old metal and track lying around, but not many exploded bombs – this one was conveniently located right next to the path.


The PO has been to most parts of the country, but I was surprised to find they had laid cables here, I guess they go to the lighthouse ?


The lighthouse is not managed by the National Trust, it is owned by a small local trust, who have open days, today was not one of those days, so I was unable to get in and have a look, but I expect the view from there is stunning. The light house and its neighbouring coast guard house just feel so isolated, as a bird flies they are probably only a kilometre from Orford, but the shingle and marsh and the river have them cut off, it feel like another world.


The light house is in danger of falling down now, the trust are trying to raise funds to save it. When you get round the far side you can clearly see why, the ground is almost completely subsided, the only thing holding this section together is the sewer.


Next to the lighthouse is a derelict building that was used as a coast guard lookout up until 1951, and finally abandoned in the 1960s.


The trail goes along the edge of the North Sea for a couple of hundred yards before turning inland towards the Black Beacon, built in 1928 to house an experimental new beacon.



I had a walk around looking for somewhere sheltered from the strong and cold wind so I could sit down and eat some lunch, but there was not a lot of opportunity so I just carried on going I liked the football sitting in the window of this building along with a pile of rubbish washed up by the sea.


Finally the path took a turn towards the old AWRE area, which I was really looking forward to exploring. I loved this gate, ensuring no-one passes along that road. It is a shame there is no longer any fence 🙂


The security fence has mostly been taken down, there are occasional fence posts and light poles still standing, and I particularly liked this one with its broken light arm laying at its foot.


There are a couple of interesting buildings here, this one covered in shingle for instance, there was no entry point though, but I have visions of a vast network of tunnels underneath the shingle, joining all these low, almost hidden buildings together.


Sadly, and to my disappointment there was no access allowed to the pagoda area 😦 I was a bit gutted by that to be honest. I guess I could have strayed in there for a sneaky look, but there a number of rangers around and I did not want to annoy anyone, and I do want to come back!


I cannot quite work out what this last building is, but you could at least get in the doorway and peer through into its rather damaged centre.


This photo almost sums up the Ness for me, darkness, dankness and decay in the buildings, and an almost arid nothingness outside. Like a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie. Love it!


I stopped for lunch here, before turning round and walking back, mostly the way I came, to the ferry point. Stopping to give some grass and then take a photo of these lambs on the way.


While I waited for the ferry I had a chat with one of the National Trust volunteers. He told me about some organised photo tours that take place three times a year and explore some of the places closed to the general public. One of those tours is an over night visit in July and I managed to book myself on one of the final places once I got home. I am very excited about that!

Just before I left I took a photo of where I am heading next, once I am back on the mainland. Orford Castle.


I was on the Ness for about four hours. I took more photos there (as you can tell) than I have anywhere else in a very long time. It is a fascinating, interesting, glorious place. Make a visit !

For the first time in ages I took and used two lenses. I have got into a bad habit of just using the 16-35mm wide angle lens, and at the occasional gig the 50mm. Today I used the wide angle and a 70-200mm zoom, I really should use the 70-200 more, it is a brilliant, if very heavy lens and allowed me the chance to get different angles and views.  I want to improve my photography, so I should use all the tools I have to hand. 

What a fantastic day, and it was only mid afternoon!

The beautiful bluebells of Chalet Wood.

Friday 29 April 2016 – Wanstead Park, London.

It is spring here in the UK, not that you can tell that by the weather. Two days ago there was a flurry of snow in London – admittedly if you had blinked slowly you would have missed it, but it was a snow fall nonetheless. I am blaming a cutting arctic wind that slices through to the bone if you are not adequately dressed. When I was walking home after taking these photos today there was a brief wind driven hail and rain shower that felt like mid-winter had returned. It was awful.

Only working a four day week means I have Fridays off, so I took the opportunity to nip out to Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park to check out the bluebell fields, hoping that it would be less crowded than I knew the weekend would be. El and I have been planning on visiting for the past couple of weekends but just have not had a chance to make it. With the season about to end I decided to go solo.

Having been to look at the bluebells last year it took me no time at all to find my way there from Wanstead Park Station, which obtusely is near Wanstead Flats, not Wanstead Park. The walk through the flats was quite nice though, the sun keeping the cold away.


Once I got to Chalet Wood and the bluebell grove I took lots of photos, there is no point in me saying any more really!


I liked the interplay between shadow and light between the trees and the way the small paths wound their way through the patch, allowing visitors to get in amongst the flowers without trampling them down.


I think this crow was guarding it’s small patch !


Fabulous – and not too many people there either. I had planned on getting there early to catch some early morning sun coming through the trees, but I didn’t make it, there was still some sun though it was sporadic, eventually leading to rain and hail on the walk back home.