The centre of town and daily life in Wells-next-the-Sea
At the very heart of Wells lies the Quay – the town’s centre of gravity and focus of activity. To the north lie the salt marshes and harbour, the beach and sea. To the south, the homes and businesses of Wells. Here you’ll find the fishing and pleasure boats, the shops and amusements. It’s the life and soul of Wells.
For all matters relating to the harbour, your first port of call should be the Harbour Office.
The Port and Harbour of Wells-next-the-Sea website provides extensive information for harbour users, including visiting and mooring, port facilities, care of the harbour environment, port safety, fishing out of Wells, and the work of Wells Harbour Commissioners.
There are currently eleven crabbers and three commercial angling vessels working out of Wells Harbour. In winter, when the crabs and lobsters hibernate, a small number of the crabbers fish for whelks. Musseling in and around the harbour is also on the increase.
Catches are sold locally in hotels and restaurants or processed at Cromer Crab Factory. Some of the crabs and lobsters are exported to Spain and Portugal after being sorted in the Wells Fishing Shed at the East End of the Quay.
Two of the fleet have their own outlets: the A. & M. Frary Shellfish Stall on the Quay and the Wells Crab House restaurant on Freeman Street.
The Albatros is a former Dutch cargo ship built in 1899 as a North Sea clipper, and now permanently moored alongside the Quay. One of the oldest sailing ships still afloat, The Albatros earns its keep as a bar, restaurant, music venue and B&B.
Captain Ton Brouwer dishes up authentic Dutch pancakes and other Dutch specialities, which can be enjoyed alfresco on deck with stunning views of the marshes and harbour, or in the cosy bar and restaurant below decks in the former cargo hold.
Explore Wells Harbour aboard the “Wells Ferry”, and experience the sights and sounds of the harbour, beach and salt marsh. Wells Harbour Tours operate every day from the end of March to the end of October, weather permitting.
Beach, marsh and harbour trips each last an hour or you can take a 30 minute mini trip. An hour long sunset tour is another option. The boat can also be privately chartered for special occasions.
All tours start and end on the main pontoon by Wells Harbour Office.
Wells Salt Marsh is an environmentally protected nature reserve, providing a unique habitat for a variety of birds and plants. Stretching over 11km (7mi) from Wells Harbour channel to Blakeney in the east, the salt marshes make up one of the richest and most extensive inter-tidal marsh areas in the country.
A succession of flowering, salt resistant plants bring changing colours throughout the summer, with Sea Pink followed by pale purple Sea-lavender. In late summer and early autumn the leaves of Samphire and Seablight contribute their own shades of pink and purple to the landscape.
The mudflats adjacent to the marshes attract wading birds including oystercatchers, knot, curlews and redshank. Brent and pink footed geese numbering in the thousands roost on the tidal sands to the east of the harbour mouth, passing overhead in great skeins at dawn and dusk.
Everyone should try their hand at crabbing at least once – for many people it’s the one thing that they most associate with childhood days at Wells. It’s easy, fun and kids love it. Visitors to Wells have been crabbing off the Quay for too long to remember, and it remains as popular a pastime as ever.
Instead of buying plastic lines and buckets that often end up in the Quay or in landfill, you can now hire re-usable metal buckets and eco-friendly tackle from the Gilly Hut. It’s better for the environment and for only £1 (with a £5 refundable deposit) it’s cheaper than buying your own crabbing kit.
Read more about Crabbing on Wells Quay.
The Lifeboat Horse stands on the harbour sand at the edge of the salt marsh, just across from the Quay. It’s fully visible at low tide, and partly submerged at high tide, appearing to swim through the waves.
Created by artist Rachael Long as a tribute to the horses that once pulled the town’s lifeboat more than two miles from the Quay to Holkham Gap, it’s made from steel bars and whisky barrels and anchored to the seabed using huge metal pins.
Originally commissioned for the Wells Heritage Art Trail in 2018, it was purchased in 2019 by the local community. The fundraising campaign, led by the Harbour Commissioners, raised the required £15,000 with contributions from local businesses, residents and even the local children donating their pocket money. It is now a permanent fixture in the harbour.
Read more about The Lifeboat Horse.
Wells-next-the-Sea was until recent times a manufacturing town, once supplying huge quantities of malt to Dutch and then London breweries, and an impressive feature of the harbour is the large granary building with its distinctive overhanging gantry.
Comprising five storeys and constructed of fletton brick, it was built in 1903/4 for local merchants F. & G. Smith, known at the time as the largest maltsters in East Anglia, for the princely sum of £3,280.
The cantilevered gantry allowed grain to be transferred between ships and the building without disrupting road traffic. The building ceased operating as a granary in 1990.
It was converted into luxury flats in 1998, receiving an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England for enhancing the Norfolk countryside.
Ask anyone what they most associate with Wells-next-the-Sea, and somewhere up there in the top three, possibly after the beach and crabbing, will be “Fish and chips on the Quay!”
The experience has remained unchanged for generations: Sitting on the harbour wall, fending off the seagulls, watching the crabbers and the fishing boats while tucking into cod and chips.
Established in 1957, the bright blue and white A & M Frary stall sells freshly caught shellfish direct from their own crab and lobster fishing boat. It’s open from March – November.
Contact: 07901 656608