Historically Wells-next-the-Sea used to be one of the major ports in this area and boasted three shipyards in the 19th century. Reminders of its importance in exporting corn, barley and malt for the brewing industry are still evident today, with the distinctive sight of the large granary and its suspended gantry; today a much photographed landmark. For centuries, fishing was also an important industry for the town and today the waters are still fished by fisherman landing crab and other shellfish to be sold locally.
The town itself has one central street, Staithe Street, from which radiate a maze of narrow alleys and yards, full of quaint buildings and cottages, once the homes of those involved in the town’s industries. Today the buildings house many shops offering anything from bric-à-brac and souvenirs to clothes and local produce. Whilst the elegant Georgian houses on the tree-lined square known as The Buttlands, once occupied by merchants, are a further indication of the wealth of the port. More recently Wells has been made famous by the ITV series Kingdom, starring the actor Stephen Fry, doubling as the drama’s beach at the fictitious town of Market Shipborough.
In summer Wells attracts many tourists eager to enjoy the scenery and quieter pace of life of this area. At Pinewoods you can travel the one-mile journey to the harbour on the miniature steam train operated by Wells Harbour Railway, where you can watch the fishermen land their daily catch, try your hand at gillying to see how many crabs you can catch, or enjoy a taste of truly scrumptious local fish and chips.
A 100 year old Dutch clipper “The Albatros” is moored at the quay. The ship has been restored by it’s owner and now offers live music at the weekends and a novel location for a bite to eat, a far cry from it’s history of carrying cargo and as an environmental study centre for Greenpeace. The impressive old Victorian building, once the town’s lifeboat house, is now the Harbour Office.
The lifeboat station is now situated at the eastern end of Wells Beach close to the pinewoods. Here the golden sands stretch for miles to the west and continue to the east, but due to strong tidal changes, can be cut off by the tide.
The row of colourful beach huts and spectacular backdrop of sand dunes and pinewoods are the subject of many local artists’ and photographers’ work. On warm summer days the shallow tidal pools are perfect for discovering the many sea creatures brought in on the tide. The area forms part of a National Nature Reserve and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is renowned as a birdwatcher’s paradise.
For more information on the local area visit the Holkham website Local Guide