A 9 mile walk from Slaughden Quay to Orfordness
This walk is an arduous ordeal across shingle but worthwhile to see the iconic Orfordeness lighthouse close-up. There are warning signs deterring visitors from straying beyond Slaughden but the large number of fishermen that dot the shoreline throughout demonstrates that public access is tolerated along the beach. This fascinating, stark and eerie landscape is really a sight to behold.
Slaughden Quay to Orfordness Walk - Essential Information
- Start point
- Slaughden QuayView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- End Point
- OrfordnessView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Total Walk distance
- 9 miles
- Walk difficulty
- Shingle throughout
- This is land owned by the National Trust. A local fisherman detailed that nothing prevents the public from wandering along the shore towards the lighthouse, although the official access status remains unknown. Notices warn of limited access but appear to allow access along the beach. I was told the signs were part of the deal set up between the National Trust and the fishermen.
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 10:30 to 14:30
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- Dry but menacing clouds with glimpses of sunshine
Orfordness is a spit of vegetated shingle and marshland and for 70 years was the base for secret military operations including testing of atomic bombs. These days it is under the jurisdiction of the National Trust and despite many signs warning of 'No Access' it is possible to navigate along the shingle all the way to the lighthouse.
The only way to return is to either walk through the old military complex and catch a ferry to Orford from where you will need to have prearranged transport or to retrace ones steps back up the shingle to Slaughden. A fascinating, stark and eerie landscape and a tough walk across the shingle but well worth it to get to the famous lighthouse before it is taken by the sea.
The walk was a little longer than anticipated. I had originally planned to explore around the old military installation but with the need to get back home for 3pm due to work commitments and the fact that there was limited light in the day we opted to return straight back and leave the military explorations for another time. Given enough time to explore, it may have been possible to walk some of the distance back on the river side of the spit. This could definitely not be done for the complete distance as the northern end the defences have been breached resulting in a constant flood across the marshes. It seems strange that there are so many signs erected by the National Trust declaring 'Strictly No Access' with the reason given as a fragile habitat for wildlife. Clearly there is not much flora or fauna or wildlife on the shingle track so I do not understand their logic. There are plenty of anglers virtually all the way down the spit to Orfordness so it is clear the warnings are not heeded. Indeed it was an old fisherman who informed me that the signs were added when the National Trust acquired the land and the fishermen wanted to retain the right to fish, so a compromise was brokered and the signs were erected to deter folk not 'in the know' from investigating the ness. It also seems strange that the warnings are towards the wildlife when the fact that this land was used for military exercises and it would be more appropriate to warn of any discarded ammunition which may still be live. Nonetheless it felt good to ignore the warnings and exercise ones right to roam. We did discover a strange battered spherical thing on the beach but it did not explode. Other curiosities were numerous washed up shoes, discarded concrete structure and a few well weathered bones, origin unknown but probably some deceased sea creature! This is a bleak and eerie landscape. There is nothing out here but shingle and marsh and derelict buildings so if you intend to spend a full day exploring it is wise to take food and water.
The start of 2016 saw a southerly wind where storms started causing damage and erosion to both the sea defence at Slaughden and the beach in front of the lighthouse, threatening its very existence. Facebook group Aldeburgh and Surrounding Images recorded the damage in pictures which are available at www.facebook.com/groups/Aldeburghimages/permalink/809463179165204/ whilst both BBC added an article of the threat to the Lighthouse titled Orfordness lighthouse 'perilously' close to falling into sea and the East Anglian Daily Times article declared On the brink of disaster
The most direct way to walk between Leiston and Saxmundham avoiding the main road
Follow the sea defence bank south of Slaughter. Soon you come to a locked gateway with a sign saying 'Strictly No Access'. It is clear from the many anglers that no-one appears to take notice of this. Continue onwards. When the path divides with another 'Strictly No Access' sign, continue on the track parallel to the beach. Yet another gateway bars progress and this one has barbed wire either side but it is possible to cgo down to the sea and walk around. From here follow the beach to the lighthouse or take a track that branches off to the right which will lead back to the beach just before the lighthouse.
Orfordness lighthouseView in OS Map | View in Google Map
There has been a lighthouse at Orfordness since 1634 when John Meldrum was granted a patent to build two temporary lights between Sizewell Bank and Aldeburgh Napes. The present building was designed by the architect William Wilkins and constructed in 1792 by Lord braybrooke. This was built further back than its predecessors. The revolving lens which floats on a trough of mercury dates from 1914. The lighthouse was converted to electric in 1959 and remote control switches added in 1964 which are operated from Harwich. The last live-in lighthouse keeper was in 1965. The lighthouse, which produced a flash every 5 seconds and could be seen for up to 25 miles around finally ceased to function on Thursday 27th June 2013 after Trinity House, who operated the lighthouse, recommended it for closure as with increasing technology on board vessels it is considered surplus to requirement. To cover for the lack of the light, Southwold lighthouse was upgraded with a more powerful beam .
The lighthouse gained a reputation for fooling an airbase into believing that a UFO landed in the distant Rendlesham Forest during the Christmas period of 1980. This was used as the main explanation during the early days of the investigation into the incident. Few would now support this explanation after considering the evidence and first hand witness accounts of what happened over the nights of incident.
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15