How does this popular resort town cope over winter?
- Credit: Archant
It’s one of Britain’s most picturesque seaside resorts, and its streets are thronged with visitors in summer. But in winter, Wells-next-the-Sea can resemble a ghost town. Reporter STUART ANDERSON went to find out how the town keeps ticking in the colder months.
On any sunny summer's day Staithe Street is teeming with people weaving in and out of shops and cosy cafes.
At the water's edge, youngsters are eagerly dipping their nets hoping to come up with gilly crabs, while couples sit at the quayside with fish and chip suppers. Families are doing the mile-long trek along the ridge past clusters of bobbing fishing boats on their way to a sandy shore framed by pine woodland and colourful huts on stilts.
As one of our most picturesque towns, it's easy to see why Wells is so beloved by day-trippers and holidaymakers alike.
But how does the town survive without the crowds when school has resumed, the weather turns cold and the nights draw in?
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"It's dire," says Oliver Jarman, who tends bar at the Golden Fleece pub.
"In summer there are people everywhere but in winter you just get the occasional family with a holiday home.
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"A lot of local businesses do suffer, but they use the summer to bank the money for the winter.
"But if you're from here and you're trying to find a job at this time of year it can be very hard."
The team at the Wells Deli halves in size from six to three over winter, according to supervisor Natasha Tuffrey.
She says: "There is a significant difference between summer and winter - some days in winter you won't have more than 10 people in, so we reduce the staff to save a bit of money, and do things like deep cleaning."
Fellow supervisor Maxine Delane adds: "It ticks over but we do get a really massive drop off in January and February - but even then we can get caught out when a coach trip comes in.
"But it's also getting busier in summer because more people are holidaying in the UK rather than abroad."
MORE: 'A major strain on prices' - calls for tourist numbers to be cut in seaside townAnother shop employee who notices the difference is Mike Williams, who does two days a week at Crabpot Books in Staithe Street, owned by Ray Newell.
Mr Williams says although there is a winter lull, the colder seasons attracted a different kind of visitor.
He says: "We probably do a third of our profits in 10 weeks of the summer break. But the winter drop-off is not as severe as what some other places would see. This isn't Blackpool or Skegness, it's more diverse.
"Fifty per cent of people who come here from November to March are bird watchers or dog walkers, who are here for the natural history more than anything."
And the town's 'dog-friendliness' is clear to Geoff and Helen Lee.
The couple has been visiting Wells from their Nottingham home for years with their Dutch barge dogs Sasha and Izzy.
They're sitting on the quayside watching the parade of other visitors, practically all of them accompanied by their own four-legged-friends.
"It looks a bit like a dog show," Mr Lee says. "We've been coming twice a year for a long time.
"There are a lot of specialist, family shops, but where we're from everything is either and nail bar, charity shop, or the bookies. It must be difficult to keep out the bigger chains out but they do bring employment in."
Dr Marie Strong, county councillor for Wells, said the winter lull was, in a way, a welcome relief.
She said: "Visitors previously arrived in the summer months.
"However, gradually, the holiday season has extended - retired people preferring to come when children are back at school and more people taking short breaks throughout the year.
"And we now receive regular publicity in Sunday supplements encouraging new visitors.
"While visitors are welcomed there are those who will tell you it was appreciated when for a short spell Wells returned to being a small residential town - with places to park."
Tourism in Wells: It's slow evolution
Roger Arguile says the seasons have "evened out" a lot.
But the town councillor and coastal communities team member also claims that on a mid-week, rainy day in February: "I could fire a machine gun down Staithe Street and not hit anybody".
He says the town has changed a lot over the decades, with the tourism boom kick-started by the opening of Pinewoods Holiday Park about 60 years ago.
"When Pinewoods accounted for the bulk of tourism it meant that people only came during the summer, and the season was only about six weeks. But now the town is 30-40pc second homes and holiday homes, so people come and stay at different times of year."
Mr Arguile says that while there are more jobs in winter than there used to be, he wants to see the Maryland industrial estate brought into greater use and more affordable housing built to boost the year-round population and make it easier for locals to afford to live and work in the town.
'Absolutely gorgeous': Winter by the harbour
Liz and Arthur Howell, who own several shops including a butcher's and a baker's, say Wells is drawing ever more cold-weather visitors who were realising how wonderful the place was year-round.
Mr Howell, who was born 63 years ago in the room above the butcher's that's now his office, says: "We get a huge amount of dog walkers. more than we never used to. You see people down here on a frosty, crisp morning, sitting in The Crown after a nice long walk."
Mr Howell is chairman of a winter highlight that sees the town, however briefly, regain its summer bustle in the depths of winter.
Christmas Tide Festival at the start of Advent sees Father Christmas arrive by boat and the festive lights switch-on.
Mr Howell says: "It draws thousands - I think it's the only place where Santa is brought in on the water. When the lights start going on along the Quay it's absolutely gorgeous, it makes the harbour."
Mrs Howell adds: "People seem to love Wells as much now in the winter just as much as in the summer, and the harbour looks lovely in the autumn light."