Wells-next-the-Sea is located in the centre of the North Norfolk coast and lies roughly equidistant between Hunstanton to the west and Cromer to the east. Formerly called Wells-on-Sea but known to its inhabitants and people in the surrounding area simply as Wells.
Wells is unusual in being a port which is not at the mouth of a river like Kings Lynn or Yarmouth, the name Wells-next-the-Sea derives from “welles” or springs that provided a supply of fresh water for the town.
This area of the North Norfolk coast has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is famous for its scenery, architecture, beaches, harbours, marshes and the wildlife that live and migrate here. Wells-next-the-Sea is the ideal place to come at any time of the year, it provides a great base for walking, bird watching, romantic getaways, quiet breaks or fun filled family outings.
As a result, Wells-next-the-Sea has become a popular holiday destination with many properties in the town offering Bed and Breakfast accommodation, self-catering holiday cottages as well as the hotels and guest houses featured in this guide. Nearer the beach lies the Pinewoods Holiday Park which caters for visitors wanting to stay in caravans, tents and log cabins.
During the quieter winter months the population of Wells is around 2500 but this increases during the summer season to around 12000, one of the main attractions in the town during the summer is the annual Wells Carnival which provides a week packed with Family entertainment culminating with the Carnival Parade attracting visitors from all over the country.
Around the Quay
The town of Wells-next-the-Sea is actually about one mile from the North Sea and lies to the south of the picturesque harbour , this area is typical of many seaside towns with the Fish and Chip shops, amusement arcades, restaurants and pubs, cafes and shops.
The harbour itself , known as the Quay, has fishing boats, pleasure craft and a North Sea Clipper – the ‘Albatros’ a former sailing barge which now offers real ale and Dutch pancakes on board. Along the edge of the Quay during the summer you will often find children fishing for small (non-edible) crabs, this pastime is called “Gillying” .
At the east end of the Quay is the most iconic and photographed building in Wells – the Granary with the overhead gantry designed to enable grain to be loaded onto ships– originally built in 1903 it has now been converted into luxury flats, some of which can be rented out as self-catering holiday accommodation with some of the best views in Wells overlooking the Quay and the marshes to the lifeboat house in the distance.
From the Quay, the main shopping area of the town is on Staithe Street which has everything you might need during your stay, a butchers, bakers, newsagents, greengrocer, confectionary, chemist, clothing and shoe shops, hairdressers, in fact all the essentials and more. Wells-next-the-Sea also has a good selection of places to eat, from sandwich bars and Deli to fast food, pub grub, restaurants and inns. Also in Staithe Street is the Tourist Information Centre and the Maltings.
The Maltings is another of Wells’ iconic buildings where, as the name suggests, locally grown barley would be malted and used as one of the main ingredients in the brewing industry. It is now used as a Community Centre and Arts Centre with regular events taking place including its own Cinema.
At the southern end of Staithe Street you will find Barclays Bank with the only cash points in Wells, and right at the heart of the town lies the Buttlands, a large lime tree lined open grassed area surrounded by Victorian and Georgian houses plus the Crown Hotel and the Globe Inn where you can eat and drink alfresco and watch the world go by. This area is the main location for the annual Carnival as well as other fetes and craft fairs.
Many of the buildings in the centre of Wells-next-the-Sea and along with what was formerly the main commercial area – High Street - can be traced back to their origins as shops, Public Houses and lodging houses when Wells was the most important and thriving commercial and fishing port on this part of the Norfolk coast.
At the southern end of the High Street is St Nicholas Church, the parish church of Wells-next-the-Sea, which was burnt down after being struck by lightning in 1879 and was rebuilt - this time incorporating a lightning conductor on the tower. The church yard also contains the grave of John Fryer who was born in Wells-next-the-Sea in 1753, and is buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas, he was Master of the infamous ship the Bounty.
The Beach and Pinewoods.
To the north of the Quay along the Flood Defence wall – a raised bank to protect the town against North Sea storm surges similar to those experienced in 1953 and 1978, is a mile long walk to the beach and the pinewoods passing the Harbour Office, a children’s’ playing field including “The Bounty” – an adventure play ship, the town football pitch, a pitch and putt golf course and a caravan site. Alternatively, you could travel to the beach on the miniature railway or by car and park by the boating lake known as Abrahams Bosom.
At the eastern end of the beach is the RNLI Lifeboat house, this is often open to visitors during the summer and currently houses a Mersey class lifeboat – the ‘Doris M. Mann of Ampthill’ named after the lady who left a substantial legacy to the RNLI in her will. To the south of the lifeboat house is the “Outer Harbour”, this is a “temporary” construction whose purpose is to service the vessels used in the construction of the offshore windfarms around the North Norfolk coast.
Walk westward along the beach and you will see brightly painted beach huts in front of sand dunes and pine trees. The pinewoods (mainly Corsican pine trees) were planted to protect the reclaimed farmland to the south from wind blown sand and also to help consolidate the dunes to help with flood protection. Past the last beach hut and onward for another mile or so and you will reach Holkham beach, one of the most spectacular in Britain and used as a film location in several movies and TV series. The pinewoods and most of the beach is dog friendly and a perfect way to combine exercise and enjoyment.
Holkham Hall is owned by the Earl of Leicester and is one of the most majestic stately homes in England it is surrounded by farmland and a Deer park and has a large lake in front of the hall. The Hall and grounds are open to the public during the summer. Please check their web site www.holkham.co.uk for details.
Rail travel to Wells-next-the-Sea
Until 1963 there was a Railway Station in Wells, The station master’s house, ticket office and waiting rooms are now a Pottery and second hand book shop – Burnham pottery. Along part of the old railway track runs a narrow gauge railway from Wells to Walsingham, trains run a daily timetable during the summer months. The station is situated just outside the town with car parking just off the A149 coast road. For more information visit their web site www.wellswalsinghamrailway.co.uk