Cobra Mist was part of an over the horizon radar system used to monitor Soviet (and possibly Chinese) activities during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The system had noise problems and was decommissioned in 1973. The BBC World Service now transmits from the site.
Even if we entertain the notion that no extraterrestrial spacecraft is concealed at Orford Ness, the area is still of curiosity to ufologists. During the 1970s, two men (one the son of a former worker for Cobra Mist) watched a pair of lights hovering close to the surface of the sea. As they approached to get a better look, the lights darted off at incredible speed. More recently, witnesses have seen strange lights at night swimming around under the water.
The lighthouse on Orford Ness has been named (blamed?) as responsible for the Bentwaters UFO sighting by Holt et al in December 1981, their alien craft nothing more than the lighthouse beam passing through the tree line of Rendlesham Forest that stands a few miles away.
Some have reported that electrical equipment malfunctions on Orford Ness; batteries quickly drain, computer monitors flicker before failing, and cameras refuse to work until back on the mainland. If this is the case, then we were fortunate – all our video and still camera equipment worked fine throughout our visit.
Many of the buildings on the island remain closed for visitors. Glass litters the floors, rusting metal juts out from all angles, and lead paint peels from the walls. Guard rails have gone, leaving sharp drops into yawning hollows partially filled with decaying waste from the last sixty years.
While much of the inner workings of the pagodas have been removed, the artefacts that remain hanging from the wall take on the form of Christian icons. Man-sized crucifixes stand high and rust, and although the contemporary Ark of the Covenant has been removed, the casing of an A-Bomb is still on display.
We have our UFOs and we have our cryptozoological surprises, but are there haunting entities on Orford Ness? The environmental ambience is strong enough to suggest so, but actual reports are sparse. The lack of reports could be caused by the many years of top secret activity here, and that now the area is an Site of Special Scientific Interest, visitors are few. While a few ghost stories have dribbled out recently, most of these tend to be quite vague, only hinting at strange presences felt in the derelict buildings or the lighthouse.
Before we know it, our time has run out and we return to the mainland. My morning on the remote shingle spit, albeit brief, reinforces my belief that Orford Ness stands firm as one of the true fortean places in Suffolk.
Darren Shaun Mann, May 2007. All photographs by the author.
Note: Orford Ness is only accessible via foot ferry; some places are not accessible at certain times of the year, while access to other areas are restricted to guided tours only. It is recommended to contact the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve on 01394 450900 before visiting.
Bord, Janet and Colin. Mysterious Britain
Dixon, Geoffrey M. Folktales and Legends of East Anglia
Fortean Times, Issue 56 www.nationaltrust.org.uk