Orfordness lighthouse (Not Orford Ness, as is the name of the spit it is located on) is a 30 metre high tower, painted white with 2 red bands. The tower was built in 1793 as one of a pair of range lights and it was the last of several light towers to be built on the site. The tower owes it's design to William Wilkins, who was also responsible for the design of happisburgh lighthouse and many of it's similarities.
Up until the construction of this lighthouse, every time the low light of the range was damaged or destroyed by the sea, the rear light was made the front light, and another was built further back as the new higher light and in 1887, the last front-range light on the spit was flooded and almost completely destroyed, making it structurally unsafe - the keepers escaped and abandoned the lighthouse, which amazingly stood for a whole year before collapsing.
The foundations of the last low lighthouse remain visible at low tide.
The lighthouse is 2 miles from the village of orford, but requires a short boat trip and a long walk to get to. At the top of the tower there is a huge 4 ton rotating lens, (which replaced an earlier fixed lens) dating from 1914 - it makes one full rotation every 15 seconds, flashing once every 5 seconds, casting a beam of light visible for about 25 nautical miles on a clear night. Lower down the tower, there are separate red and green sector lights which also date from the alterations to the tower in 1914. Prior to 1914, coloured sectors were shown from the lantern room using coloured shades in front of the light and this meant that the shaded areas would have shared the same characteristic of the main light. Since then, a red light - visible for 14 nautical miles - has shone north to mark the Sizewell Bank. A red and green light shine south, the green light shines over hollesley bay, for 14 nautical miles and the red shines over whiting hook and whiting bank visible for 15 nautical miles.
Around 2010 it has been found that whiting bank had shifted and instead of re-positioning the lenses, Trinity House have installed a projector which now shines the red light over the new position of the sand bank - This can be seen mounted in front of one of the sector light windows.
Between 1913 and 1983 the ness was used by the MOD for military purposes, and public access was strictly forbidden - Bombs were dropped and machine guns were fired nearby, but the lighthouse came out unscathed. Now the lighthouse is at threat again, but now of falling into the sea due to the rapid erosion on this coast. The lighthouse is to be discontinued permanently on June 28th 2013 and the light at Southwold underwent alterations in preparation for this between October and December 2012, to increase range and change the light's character.
It is likely that the tower at Orford Ness will fall into the sea within the next 10 years and it can not be saved due to disputes between National Heritage, National Trust, Trinity House and the fact it is a listed building, which means it can not be split apart to move elsewhere.
The lighthouse is not normally open to the public, although it is was opened once a year for several years leading up to 2012, with another trip planned in 2013. The spit itself is opened regularly in the summer by the National Trust.