With its white-painted, red-roofed houses, atmospheric marshes and characterful quay, Wells-next-the-sea is a family-friendly gem that’s both charming and surprising.
One surprise is that, despite its name, silting has left Wells a mile from the waves. Leaving the Stearmans Yard car park you thus have a choice: strike out for the sea along Beach Road or first explore the town. If opting for the latter, continue along The Quay to admire The Albatross, a Dutch sailing barge from 1899.
There’s no missing Wells’s huge granary, constructed in 1903 and now luxury flats. Wells was a major port in Tudor times and the export of grain, together with shipbuilding, helped to fuel its later development. Along with fishing, malting was another important industry: in the mid-19th century, Wells had some
40 inns and public houses. Watch out for the relics of Wells’s development.
Follow the sign marked ‘East Quay only’, then the track marked ‘Norfolk Coastal Path (Stiffkey 3 ¼ miles)’. A short walk along the sea defence bank offers spectacular views of the estuary before a footpath turns inland down a steep grass bank. Continue around the field and into Northfield Lane.
Turn left on reaching the main road, cross into Station Road, then turn left along High Street. The shop fronts of this quiet residential street hark back to the time when grocers, butchers and bakers all plied their trade here, as well as in picturesque Staithe Street (where Wells’s cafés and irresistibly browseable shops are now concentrated – well worth a detour).
High Street broadens out on to Church Plain, where the church of St Nicholas awaits: the original building, constructed in 1460, burned down in 1879 following a lightning strike. Kids will be enthralled by a huge wooden chest dated 1635 that was dragged from the fire: inside were parish records reaching back to 1547. The impressive medieval eagle lectern, which legend tells survived Cromwell’s attacks, was also rescued.
All the way to the sea
Leave the church and cross the churchyard to follow the path that runs between the burial ground and a field. On reaching Polka Road, turn right, then right along the main road. Continue until you reach the path for pretty Plummers Hill (not signposted) on the right.
At the top is the Buttlands,
an unexpected, truly impressive tree-ringed green, overlooked by imposing Georgian houses. Leave the Buttlands via Clubbs Lane and Tunns Yard. Turn left at the quay then right on to the tarmac path beside Beach Road.
Now’s the time to let little ‘uns off the leash for a sprint up to the lifeboat house and, beyond, the sea: the sandy beach, backed by dunes and pine trees, is an enchanting reward.
HOW TO GET THERE
Wells is 32 miles north-west of Norwich on the north Norfolk coast. By road, follow the A1067 from Norwich. The Coasthopper bus between King’s Lynn and Cromer calls at Wells; the nearest railway station, Sheringham (17 miles), is also served by the Coasthopper service.
FIND OUT MORE
Wells Crab House Café
38 Freeman Street, Wells
Try Cromer’s famous crabs at this family-friendly restaurant.
Arch House B&B
50 Mill Road, Wells NR23 1DB
This large and family-friendly B&B is just a short walk from the quay.
Fakenham Rd, Fakenham
Popular nature and bird reserve.
OS Explorer 251
Grid reference: TF 916 438