Wells braced for another 'absolutely crazy' summer of staycations

Wells quay bathed in afternoon sunshine. Picture: Ian Burt

Wells is one of Norfolk's most popular places for a staycation - Credit: Archant

With the school holidays on the horizon, businesses in Wells are braced for another busy season as scores of tourists get set to flock to the north Norfolk coast. 

Despite a recent rise in coronavirus cases, it's fair to say there is a feeling of normality surrounding this summer after two years of disruption. 

Focus on Wells Next The Sea. Pictured: Wells Quay.
PHOTO: IAN BURT
COPY:Sally Withey
FOR:EDP Norfolk

Wells is one of Norfolk's most popular places for a staycation - Credit: IAN BURT

Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers have already been flocking to airports in pursuit of some sunshine, desperate to make up for a period when breaks abroad were almost impossible. 

But what the return to habits of old mean for the resurgent Great British staycation? 

While many families are jetting off again, Chris Walsingham, co-owner of Blue Skies in Wells, believes a huge number are still choosing to remain closer to home. 

Owner Chris Walsingham inside the recycled beach hut people can sleep in at the Blue Skies Campsite.

Chris Walsingham, one of the owners of Blue Skies campsite. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The campsite, based in Stiffkey Road, is already fully booked for Wells Carnival week from July 29 to August 7, while the rest of the summer is filling up fast. 

Plenty of time is, therefore, being dedicated to making a series of planned improvements to facilities at the park.

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“We are looking very busy - there is little difference from last year,” said Mr Walsingham, who runs Blue Skies alongside fellow owner Patrick Weston. 

“There is still an appreciation from people wanting to stay local and that group which loves to camp, rather than sit in an airport for a couple of days.

Blue Skies Campsite owners, Chris Walsingham, left, and Patrck Weston, with their recycled beach hut

Chris Walsingham (left) and Patrck Weston, owners of Blue Skies Campsite in Wells - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“From when we started seven years ago, the demand has got bigger and busier every year. Looking at this year, we are set to be on par with 2021.

“Right now, on the weekends we could sell out the site another two or three times with the interest.”

With a very real possibility of flight delays and staff strikes as Brits travel overseas, Mr Walsingham believes travellers are still being put off by a number of factors.

Blue Skies is on the Stiffkey Road, next to the Wells and Walsingham light Railway. Picture: Chris B

Blue Skies Campsite is based in Stiffkey Road, Wells - Credit: Archant

“When you see all this stuff on the news, it must have an effect on people," he added.

“And I think that is having an impact on the number of bookings we are getting."

Quayside restaurant Sands also looks set to experience a hectic summer.

Being named as one of the best places to eat by the seaside in the UK should certainly help. 

Sands Restaurant in Wells has been named one of the best in the country

Sands Restaurant in Wells was recently named as one of the best places to eat by the seaside in the UK - Credit: Matthew Usher

Cara Green, who runs the business alongside Christopher Brown, said there isn’t a single day this summer which hasn’t already got a booking, with the popular window tables overlooking the quay getting booked up at least three weeks in advance. 

Nevertheless, Mrs Green admitted she was worried about what the summer might hold if she is not able to address crippling staff shortages.

Catering and hospitality is just one of many industries which is currently struggling to recruit the necessary number of employees. 

“I'm getting a little nervous about the summer as I am very short-staffed compared to the number of bookings we are receiving,” she said.

Co-owner of the Sculthorpe Aviator in Fakenham, Cara Green. Picture: Cara Green

Cara Green, co-owner of Sands Restaurant in Wells - Credit: Cara Green

“I think this summer will be like all the other summers we have been through recently: absolutely crazy.

“There isn't a single day on which there isn't a booking but, unless we gain some staff soon, we may have to make the very difficult decision to close for one day each week.

“If staff shortages are sorted then I am really looking forward to it.

"I love the buzz of being busy and seeing our regular summer customers again, alongside new customers.”

The popularity of Wells' famous beach huts remains clear for all to see, with rentals booming last summer.

One of the beach huts on Wells beach. Picture: Danielle Booden

One of the many beach huts in Wells - Credit: Danielle Booden

Rental firm, The Happy Huts, was among those to see a huge jump in demand, and director Jodie Granger-Brown revealed the boom had continued into 2022 - with all 17 huts fully booked until September.

“We have been blown away by the bookings this summer,” she said 

“With foreign travel back on the cards we were worried that uptake wouldn’t be as strong, but actually the huts are more popular than ever.

She added: "During the pandemic, UK beach days saw such an increase in popularity.

One of the beach huts on Wells beach. Picture: Danielle Booden

One of the iconic beach huts in Wells - Credit: Danielle Booden

"Now, I’d say people are desperate to get their hands on huts more than ever. Due to the popularity, we are feeling really confident ahead of the summer."

So sought-after are the iconic seaside structures that Ms Granger-Brown and colleagues are considering expanding. 

"We are looking into the prospect of taking on some more beach huts to manage," she said. 

“There are 208 huts on Wells beach, so 17 is actually a tiny percentage. We would love to get a few more on the books for families to enjoy.”