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Orford Ness, a former Cold War weapons testing site on the Suffolk coast between Felixstowe and Southwold, which inspired artists to host live gigs





A former Cold War weapons testing site will play host to an arts event from performers inspired by its landscape and story.

Orford Ness, on the coast between Felixstowe and Southwold, was used as a military test site during both world wars and into the nuclear age, before the Ministry of Defence sold it to the National Trust in 1993.

Since then it has been left to nature and is home to an plethora of wildlife, including nesting and wading birds, hares, Chinese water deer and precious vegetated shingle.

Orford Ness, a former cold war weapons testing site on the Suffolk coast between Felixstowe and Southwold, will host Ness Speaks on September 28 and 29. Picture: National Trust
Orford Ness, a former cold war weapons testing site on the Suffolk coast between Felixstowe and Southwold, will host Ness Speaks on September 28 and 29. Picture: National Trust

Author Robert Macfarlane and singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe both produced pieces inspired by the setting and will front a series of gigs called ‘Ness Speaks: Words and Music’ on September 28 and 29.

Macfarlane’s 2019 book Ness, illustrated by Radiohead artist Stanley Donwood, is set in and inspired by the Orford Ness’ landscape and history, which Thorpe to make an album, also called Ness, that is due to be released the day before the events start.

Macfarlane said: “Orford Ness has long been a place of transformation and mutation, so it makes perfect and exciting sense to me to see my own words about the site taken up and transfigured into music by Hayden Thorpe.

Robert Macfarlane wrote Ness in 2019 and will present it at Ness Speaks. Picture: Bryan Appleyard
Robert Macfarlane wrote Ness in 2019 and will present it at Ness Speaks. Picture: Bryan Appleyard
Hayden Thorpe was inspired by Macfarlane's book and produced his own album on the back of it. Picture: Eeva Rinne
Hayden Thorpe was inspired by Macfarlane's book and produced his own album on the back of it. Picture: Eeva Rinne

“He has created something deeply strange and wildly original: a nuclear epic, a desert-music dream vision. I can’t wait to hear it performed in full, in situ.”

The event at the National Trust site builds on previous artistic collaborations at Orford Ness.

In 2021, the National Trust teamed up with Artangel to produce Afterness, an exhibition which featured work by a collection of international artists.

Orford Ness inspired both Robert Macfarlane and Hayden Thorpe. Picture: National Trust
Orford Ness inspired both Robert Macfarlane and Hayden Thorpe. Picture: National Trust

Thorpe said: “Visiting Orford Ness with Robert Macfarlane is like being guided through his Graceland.

“The same life-force on Ness that possessed him to write his visionary book carried forward into me like an electrical current.

“Ness Speaks represents the sum total of our collective fever dream.”

Tickets for Ness Speaks cost £35. Picture: National Trust
Tickets for Ness Speaks cost £35. Picture: National Trust

Visitors can book a ticket and a ferry crossing for one of four timed performances across the weekend, and enjoy exploring a reduced visitor route.

Tickets cost £35 and will include the ferry crossing, performance and a self-guided walk.

Glen Pearce, Orford Ness property operations manager, said: “Ness Speaks will be a fusion of music, literature and art, all carried out in some of the most unique landscapes we have on the Suffolk coast.

“Orford Ness has inspired countless artists and writers across many different genres, and we’re delighted to bring so many of them together in the same space this September.”