Some more photographs of Orford and Orford Ness. When we were wandering through Orford Ness, looking at the splayed wires across the shingle evoked stretched nerves on a giant tortured body, an image that could be interpreted ecologically: many have described the earth as a living body to be cared for, or which is being harmed. Fragments of Jackie Kay’s poem ‘Body o’ Land’ (From her wonderful collection ‘Fiere’), kept appearing in my mind on the Ness: ‘Her eyes are the colour of Loch Ness…I saw her there, lying underwater for an aige…like a seal, like a selkie’.
People see odd things at Orford Ness. Conspiracy theorists speak of outsiders that were once captured and investigated to death, even as migrant birds are now given the utmost care. Some have seen UFOS. Some think Nazis, after a failed invasion that was hushed up, were killed and buried secretly beneath the shingle. And in the twelfth century, records state that a merman was captured there.
Orford Ness is a nature reserve that used to be a military site for testing ballistics. It is littered with bomb cases welded in explosions, eggs that are the hope of fragile Little Terns, deafening pebbles, unexploded ordnance. Inside the Bomb Ballistics building, described as ‘the nerve centre’ of the military operation, a map shows what could either be a bomb or a flicking mermaid tail disappearing into the sea.
In the mid twelfth century local fisherman described catching a merman in their nets. Rather than exhibiting human features from the waist up and a fish tail from the waist down, the Wild Man of Orford was completely human shaped but covered in scales. He was taken to Orford castle, where the inhabitants experimented on him with the strongest materials they had: transubstantiated bread and wine, emetics, purgatives. When they took him out to sea to display his ability to swim he escaped, leaving a frayed rope end trailing after him. In some stories, he was never seen again, though some people say he waits to grab unwary children from Orford quay. In others, he swam right back to the fishermen a few months later and this time their maltreatment killed him.
Now bare, Orford castle was requisitioned by the military at one point; they installed radar equipment on its roof. Imagine a wild man today hooded, the application of flammable liquids, electricity, bombs. Wires splay all over the shingle, like nerves stretched and pulled, ropes frayed and letting free.
Covered in washedup items, the tide line makes half hearted demands on the body. A single broken shoe, a saw handle with no blade, one earpiece from a set of headphones. But in the streams near the beach there are hundreds of frogs, happy on both land and water. Their skins are seamless, no sharp line cuts them in two.