You’d be a priggish snob not to enjoy the honest pleasures of Wells-next-the-Sea. It’s deep water estuary and closeness to the beach caused a Victorian boom in tourism. Historically the proximity to the beach, and the branch line (1850s-Beeching), were the reason the tourists came here and avoided the rest of this stretch of coast.
Up on this part of the coast a “beach house” frequently means closest to the sea. It’s often a half hour walk – no vehicles allowed – before the tidal mud gives way to the vast sandy beaches. If the tide is out it might be another ten minutes stroll over wet sand that’s been runnelled by the fast receding tide; like corduroy. With a little knowledge you can soon spot the tell-tale blow holes of the Razor Clams that have dug their way down into the sand. Bring table salt and a thick gardening glove – the salt makes them appear, then it’s a tug-of-war. The stakes are much higher for the clams.
At Wells, you can drive almost to the beach, or take the miniature steam train from the town-proper to the beach. Either way is it a short walk over a dune, that’s there permanently now it’s been colonised by grasses and pine trees; then through the line of famous beach huts on stilts onto miles and miles of clean whitish sand. Until quite recently the Burnhams and Brancasters were the playground of the obsessed dingy sailor and Black Labrador walker. Now all those charming unspoilt cottages have been thoroughly Farrow and Balled, or done-over in top-to-toe Cath Kidston.
Up here, if you want to sit in a fish and chip shop, and smell the fat and the vinegar and see the sea, then you need to go to Wells. There are two chippies on the front, both as good as each other. Walk out their front doors, cross the road, sidestep the parked cars and you’ll bump into the small children and competitive parents leaning over the harbour wall catching crabs. Buckets and buckets of crabs.
My children would consider it unthinkable to be in Wells at lunch time and not have fish and chips inside, recovering from the wind and rain. Chips eaten with fingers can only help speed up the cold finger’s recovery. The frying all takes place towards the back of the shop, at the front it’s Formica tables and plastic chairs, If you want a drink, grab cans and bottles from the glass fronted fridge. It is nothing like a restaurant. It has the used, utilitarian chic of a good caff. The fish was perfect with a light thin batter and no sign of grease, the chips a little underdone for my taste – I like mine brown. There are those classic wooden chip forks if want some. Gherkins and onions in lieu of a salad.
We had two fish and chips and one sausage and chips. It was sufficient for three hungry children and two peckish adults (we were both still full from the hearty breakfast). We asked for ketchup, “25p a sachet, £1 for a bottle.” I asked how big the bottle was, it was a small but not miniature one. “Think we’d best start with one bottle – thanks. See how we get on.”
My only two niggles are the polystyrene containers they use – wouldn’t we all prefer it wrapped in paper. And the ketchup was Daddies – my family all like Heinz. Small grumbles really.
Two fish and chips and one sausage and chips, £14.20 (ex. Ketchup)
French’s Fish and Chips, 14 The Quay,Wells-next-the-Sea,NR23 1AH