Saturday, 12 September 2015

ORFORD NESS – COBRA MIST

Another story in the series ‘Travels with my Architect’
Part II: Transmitters and Towers

Orford Ness is a shingle spit connected to the mainland at Aldeburgh. It stretches along the coast to Orford. The River Alde divides it from the mainland. This strange place was fashioned by long shore drift along this desolate coast.  

Walking towards the testing site
In the late 1960s another piece of hush-hush: An experimental Anglo-American military over-the-horizon radar known as Cobra Mist was built on the peninsula. Interestingly the Soviet Union is known to have developed what appears to be the first operational OTH system in 1949.  It is natural to suppose that the Cobra Mist site was site up to eves drop on the Soviets.

Trevor and I saw the high masts of Cobra Mist from every vantage point on this island.  These masts are like slim silver pencils, shimmering on a hot landscape. 

Apparently the radar experiments did not work and the place closed in 1973.

Sun, stones and secrets in Orford Ness
The map may not be the territory
In the 1980’s the site was re-used for the Orford Ness transmitting station. This powerful medium wave radio station - originally owned and run by the Foreign Office, then the BBC and, after privatization in the 1990s, a series of private companies; transmitting the BBC World Service in English around the clock to continental Europe until March 2011.

Cobra Mist has been abandoned since May 2012.


Orford Ness, owned by the National Trust is open to the public, though access is strictly controlled to protect the fragile habitats and due to a residual danger from the site's former use by the military. Access only available by the National Trust ferry from Orford Quay  -  a boat not to miss.