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Top 10 UK walks: Orford Ness, Suffolk

National Trust UK walk 3, best for history: once a top-secret military testing site, this rich nature reserve still bears signs of its darker past

Orford Ness is one of the most dynamic landforms on the UK coastline and the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe. A large proportion of the world’s rare coastal vegetated shingle is found here, which together with the marshland provides important habitats for a range of bird species, mammals and invertebrates. 

In 1915 the arrival of the Royal Flying Corps ushered in a 70-year period of secret military experimentation, mostly working on aerial warfare. Between 1935 and 1937 the first experimental work on radar was conducted on the Ness, and from 1953 tests on Britain’s atomic bombs. The best thing about this walk is the strangeness of the landscape: the juxtaposition of wild remoteness and fascinating but disturbing history. After a welcome chat about safety, visitors guide themselves through the site. Allow at least three hours, carry plenty to drink and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather.
Duncan Kent, visitor services warden, National Trust

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Michael Jackson’s Irish hideaway

Michael Jackson’s secret retreat in Ireland’s County Westmeath opens its doors to weekend guests. But is it a thriller?

Even in the context of the bizarre, twisted fairy tale of Michael Jackson’s life, the time he spent living in a converted cowshed in rural Ireland shortly before he died takes some believing. But in the summer of 2006, after his acquittal in the previous year’s court case, having left Neverland and spent some time in Bahrain, the King of Pop secretly arrived in County Westmeath with his children. Relieved he had found a sanctuary away from the paparazzi and enchanted by an area so rich in history, myth and folklore, Jackson ended up staying for the rest of the year.

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