The Globe, Wells next the Sea
Review date: May 2014
Need a break but don’t want the trouble of travelling too far? Lesley Rawlinson enjoys a new treat that’s just two hours away, desk to door
When you live in a county as beautiful and as relaxed as Suffolk, laid back weekends are not too tricky to come by. A coastal walk, a pub lunch or a bit of retail therapy – we’re pretty spoiled for choice. Yet sometimes, just sometimes, being away from the familiar and the lures of tried and trusted routines is what’s called for. However I’m also a great believer that a weekend away is not a great treat if it involves a lengthy or difficult journey. I want to be able to sneak off in the middle of a Friday afternoon and be safely installed at my destination, preferably with a glass of dry white in my hand, by the time others are starting the Friday night commute. So, what’s the solution?
Over the years friends and family have often mentioned Wells-Next-The Sea but I’d never been. A pretty, historic seaside resort on the North Norfolk Coast it’s not a large town by any means but with a long sweeping beach, gentle harbour filled with small fishing boats plus the shops on Staithe Street with not a chain store in sight, it has a calm and friendly air. Just along the coast is fashionable Burnham Market, and of course the Pensthorpe nature reserve (regular location for BBC TV’s Spring/Autumn Watch) is just down the road. Right on the Norfolk Coast path, Wells is perfect for walkers and if stately homes are your cup of tea there’s Holkham Hall on the doorstep and Sandringham just a short drive away.
Above and beyond all of these rather enticing reasons to visit there was another rather appealing motive. The Globe Inn, perfectly positioned overlooking a pretty Georgian square, has recently been bought and refurbished by Antonia & Stephen Bournes, former owners of Southwold Pier. Stephen explained “We’d lived in France for a number of years and had intended to settle back in Norfolk when we returned, but the right thing just wasn’t available. So we looked to Suffolk which we loved equally and have been there ever since. The chance to take on The Globe came just a the right time for us and now we’re able to live and work between the two counties, getting really involved with the tourist industry that we’re so passionate about growing”. I think Stephen’s right – if you love Suffolk it’s hard not to love Norfolk too. They share so many of the same assets; great local food and drink producers, stunning scenery with abundant wildlife and of course very friendly people too.
Our chance to head for Wells-Next-The-Sea came at the end of, not just a particularly busy week but, a very busy month or more. As we pressed ‘send’ on the final emails, powered down the laptops and slipped away from our desks at 3.30pm we felt positively truant. From where we’re based the most direct route to north Norfolk was to head west to Bury along the A14 and then north through Thetford Forest until switching to the A1065 to Swaffham and beyond. It’s when you travel along the forest road and ultimately the winding stretch from Swaffham to the coast, that the beauty of the two counties merges and the feeling of escape becomes a reality.
We’d reserved a dog friendly room (three of the seven rooms at The Globe welcome dogs) so that Darcy, our beloved Golden Retriever, could come away with us and with journey time just two hours from desk to door she was comfortable without a stop. On arrival the green at the centre of the square where the inn is positioned was a welcome site as she stretched her legs with a quick run before we checked in.
It’s impossible to draw comparisons when you’ve not seen a building in its former state but the fresh, airy coastal theme that’s prevalent throughout The Globe gives an immediate impression that significant new life has been breathed into this place. Entry from the square takes visitors straight to the open plan bar, complete with plenty of newspapers and magazines (and even board games for a rainy afternoon) and the kind of space where you could happily ‘settle in’. Beyond the bar is a large restaurant for a slightly more formal feel and the courtyard beyond will be a perfect ‘outdoor room’ for al fresco dining.
Our room overlooked the leafy square. Each room has its own individual identity but still along the broadly natural / coastal theme and as I chatted to one of the friendly house-keeping team she explained the impact the refurbishment has already had. “The changes our new owners have made have really made such a difference” she said. “This hallway was dark and not really very inviting when you showed visitors their rooms but now I’m so proud of what we have to offer. I can’t wait to show people round and everyone loves what we have now”.
With plenty of evening still ahead of us we decided to go out and explore and return later for our evening meal. Taking directions from another well informed member of staff we headed to the quay via Staithe Street and although we were after shop hours there was the chance for a little window shopping with plans to return in the morning for a further look around. At the quay we headed out towards the beach along the Norfolk Coastal path and from here we could take in the truly breath taking beauty of this stretch of the harbour. It was low tide revealing the myriad of channels that are only apparent when the waters retreat and while I’m not much of a bird watcher my far better informed husband spotted a cormorant fishing for its supper among countless other species swooping and dipping along the bank.
With all (eight) legs duly stretched we wandered back towards The Globe but before leaving the quayside couldn’t resist stopping for a spot of refreshment at The Albatros – a bar, restaurant and music venue moored in the harbour. A sailing ship built in 1899 The Albatros is of a design also known as a North Sea Klipper and she is one of the oldest sailing ships still afloat. Darcy only just managed to negotiate the entry gantry so as there was still some sun on deck we thought best to make the most of it rather than taking her below. “I was made to be beside the water” my husband commented as we sat listening to the gentle lap of the estuary against the ship – relaxing indeed.
Back at The Globe, refreshed and hungry it was time to see what the menu had to offer. Although there were plenty of inviting starters to choose from – not least the trio of smoked seafood that caught my eye – we decided to dive straight in with main courses. ‘Local fare with flare’ was our take on the menu so I chose straight forward fish & chips. The tasty haddock fillet - served in a very light Woodforde’s beer batter - was accompanied by really good hand cut chips and also came with my husband’s char-grilled Briston beef steak which he thoroughly enjoyed. We conned ourselves into believing that our evening stroll had earned us a pud each – so Adrian ordered some of the delightful Mrs Temple’s local cheeses while I indulged in a totally unnecessary but ever so delicious caramelised lemon and mascarpone tart with raspberry sorbet, an inspired combination.
Darcy was happy to retire to our room – perhaps she’d remembered that there was a special doggy welcome treat bag, as well as a plush dog bed for her to try out, she loves a bit of pampering. There were lots of other lovely touches in the room, not least a variety of Clipper teas and real coffee bags – a bonus if you’re a coffee lover like me who doesn’t enjoy the instant variety.
Next morning we didn’t need to check out of our room until 11am so plenty of time for a walk and a return visit to Staithe Street before packing up and heading home - first though a good breakfast. Served in the restaurant there was once again a great deal of local influence on the menu, including Lowestoft kippers. My plate of eggs Benedict and my husband’s full English were both absolutely top notch and perfectly set us up for the day ahead.
Leaving the restaurant I spotted a sign – New Toilets. ‘Surprising’ I thought – to be actively advertising your loos in this way, must be something to shout about, so I investigated. Wow – I can’t recall when I’ve ever thought it necessary to mention the facilities in a review like this but crikey, The Globe has really gone to town. Making the most of the arched cellar ceilings the new toilets have been built into the cellar space below the bar. As you descend the stairs the area still used as a working cellar features on view through glass panelling and, while I can only comment on the Ladies, the treatment of the space – gleaming floor to ceiling mirrors, contemporary fittings and clever lighting certainly has quite a dazzling impact. Bravo!
With commitments back at home later that day we sadly had to leave this north Norfolk idyll far sooner than we’d have liked. I can see at as a haven, a bolt hole mid-winter for long coastal dog walks and cosy evenings but first, with the summer ahead, I’d like to think we’ll get back before the season is out, to simply stay, relax and enjoy.