In spite of it’s name, the town is actually situated a good mile from open water. That said, in Tudor times it did enjoy a much easier access to the sea and was one of the great ports of Eastern England.
The name dates back to the Domesday Book (1086) where it was recorded as Guella. It is derived from the hundreds of wells in the area, some rising through the sand. ‘next-the-Sea’ was added in the early nineteenth century to distinguish it from other places in Norfolk with the same name. It was shortened to Wells-on-Sea when the railways arrived in 1857 but the council reinstated the former name in 1956.
Sadly, the railway line westward to Kings Lynn no longer exists. It was never reinstated after being damaged in the 1953 East Coast Floods. The line to Norwich via Fakenham, Dereham and Wymondham was a victim of the Beeching Axe in the 1960s. However, the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway now uses part of the old track bed for it’s 10.25 inch gauge railway and the Mid Norfolk Railway operates on the Dereham to Wymondham section.
It is undoubtedly one of the most attractive towns on the North Norfolk coast and is still a commercially viable port – the only commercial port on the North Norfolk coast. It is visited by 10,000 holiday maker at the height of the season swamping the resident population of 3,000.
The town features many narrow lanes sheltered from the offshore winds which are worth exploring. It has several very distinct areas. The first, known as The Buttlands, is a broad, rectangular, lime tree lined green surrounded by very fine Georgian houses, earlier cottages and Victorian houses. It has been called The Buttlands since the days when it was used for archery practice.
To the South and East of The Buttlands is the town centre with its narrow lanes and the site of the old station. North of The Buttlands is the main commercial area. Here you will find Staithe Street where you can browse some interesting shops. At the Northern end of Staithe Street stands the quay with numerous amusement arcades. The distinctive landmark along the seafront is The Granary with it’s loading gantry which was built in 1903-1906. It has now been converted into luxury flats, most of which have magnificent views of the harbour and beautiful sunsets.
At the quay you will find the ‘beach mile’, a long straight road leading to the beach which is part of the Holkham Estate. It is a vast sandy beach, lined with colourful beach huts, stretching to Burnham Overy Staithe. Some of the huts are available for private hire. The tide recedes so far that it seems to stretch as far as the horizon.
Behind the beach huts are sand dunes and tall pine trees, all of which form part of thr sea defences which are so important to Wells and the rest of the coast. Tucked behind the dunes is Abrahams Bosom, a safe haven for ships, which is now cut off from the sea and has been transformed into a boating lake.
As well as a variety of accommodation to choose from, there really is something in Wells to satisfy every holiday requirement. For traditional holidays there is the beach, miniature railway, amusement arcades, candy floss and crabbing. For a relaxing break there are scenic walks, antique fairs, birdwatching and sightseeing. For a more energetic holiday there is boating, sailing, swimming, wind surfing and water skiing. But, there is one annual event appealing to everybody which is the oldest and most traditional. That event is the Wells Carnival which is held every year in July/August.