Orford Castle is still standing, more than eight centuries since it’s construction, a short distance from the North Sea. Through the Bigod connection, it is a twin of Framlingham Castle, although that has decayed further. Consequently, Orford is much easier to visit on a wet day although an east wind is more troublesome. The view from the roof, of Orford Ness, the church tower, the Ore and the sea is quite breathtaking. There are up to six levels and spiral stone staircases.
It was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II to defend royal power against the threat of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who had castles in Thetford, Bungay, Walton and Framlingham, also following Henry’s first quarrel with Becket. At the same time, he reinforced four other castles, including Scarborough. The village seems to have grown, in the eighty years since the Domesday Book, into a port. The curtain walls of the castle had flanking towers built upon them, an idea that may have originated in Byzantium and was used later in Dover.
1173-4 saw a rebellion by Bigod together with the Earl of Leicester and the “Young King” but Bigod notably landed at Walton and not Orford. It failed and Bigod’s castles were all demolished, Framlingham being rebuilt. In 1215, Hugh de Burgh was given responsibility for the castle although it briefly fell into the hands of Prince Louis. The Bigods recaptured it twice in the Baronial Wars but Henry III took it back. Two more revolts were seen off and the castle sold to Robert of Ufford in 1336, created Earl of Suffolk, and remained in private hands.
The de la Poles held it as part of the Manor of Sudbourne. At the very end of the Tudor period, Sir Michael Stanhope removed the towers and walls and his grandson-in-law, Viscount Hereford, was a Parliamentarian, saving Orford from the worst of the Civil War vandalism that affected other strongholds. It finally left the Manor in 1918 and was given to the Orford Town Trust in 1928, being opened to the public and structurally reinforced. A radar operation post was added during the Second World War, in the spirit of Henry II although for external defence. English Heritage have been the proprietors since 1984 and there is a museum in the Upper Hall. Two naval cannons date from the Napoleonic Wars.
In over eight hundred years, Orford Castle has been a defensive structure against the enemy, both within and without, and has survived consistently. A bus from Ipswich via Woodbridge runs every other hour, except on Sundays, passing Sutton Hoo and stopping about two minutes from the entrance.