Orford on the Suffolk heritage coast is one of Britain’s most famous coastlines featuring Europe’s largest vegetated shingle spit Orford Ness, which is a National Nature reserve accessible by ferry from Orford Quay. The Ness, known as the island, is a precious protected landscape of saltmarsh, mudflat, brackish lagoons and rare vegetated shingle and is home to many breeding and migratory birds. Waymarked trails weave around Orford Ness and visitors can also tour the iconic Orford Ness Lighthouse.
Pretty Orford village is home to a selection of fine old inns, quirky gift shops and the just a short walk from the centre sits the Orford Castle Keep built by Henry II as a mark of royal power directed particularly at local baron Hugh Bigod with his powerbase at Framlingham Castle. Climb to the top of Orford Castle Keep for spectacular views of the Ness spit.
Castle & Museum
Orford Castle Keep built between 1165 and 1173 is one of England’s best preserved castle keeps and is all that remains of what was an extensive powerhouse. Orford Castle was built by Henry II in response to threatening barons, particularly the Earl of Norfolk Hugh Bigod in East Anglia. The design of Orford Castle was pioneering in its day and a mighty symbol of Royal power.
Orford Castle Keep survives amazingly to its full height and is open to visitors who can tour the Lower Hall, Basement, Kitchen, Chapel, Upper Hall and King’s Chamber before moving on up to the roof for panoramic views of Orford village and Orford Ness. Detailed records of the building of Orford Castle also survive and include information on the king’s expenditure – a huge sum by 12th century standards. The records are held in the Pipe Rolls at the National Archive in Kew.
The Orford Museum is housed in the Upper Hall of the Keep and features fascinating Roman and Anglo-Saxon local finds from Orford and Sudbourne plus information on Orford Ness and the Lighthouse. The fossil collection and an exhibit on the legendary story of the Wild Man of Orford recorded some 800 years ago are other highlights in the museum.
National Nature Reserve
Orford Ness is a special landscape in Britain, home to Europe’s largest vegetated shingle spit and a popular spot for boat trips and sailing around the quay. Pick up boat trips to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve – known as the island – from the quayside. Orford Ness Island features waymarked trails around the mixed landscape of saltmarsh, mudflat, brackish lagoons and rare protected vegetated shingle. The Ness is also an important site for breeding and migrating birds and incredibly popular with birdwatchers.
An interesting point in the history of the Ness is when it served as a military test site closed off to public access from 1913 until relatively recently in the mid-1980s. Visitors to Orford Ness today can view some of the test buildings and see remains of military activity as well as taking a tour of the iconic lighthouse (Trinity House).