25th – 27th March 2022
As a Christmas present for Grit, who decided she didn’t want anymore “stuff”, I purchased a day trip on a Mussel Flat Boat with the Coastal Exploration Company. The slightly devious part was to choose to take up the voucher on the weekend which just happens to be my birthday – clever wheeze, or what!
The other “clever” bit was choosing a day that was warmed from dawn to dusk by spring sunshine with a gentle north-easterly breeze. There was no “cleverness” involved here, it was a sheer fluke.
We booked Friday and Saturday night to stay at Mill Farm Campsite which is a ten minute walk into the pretty seaside town of “Wells” – pronounced “Wales” – I’ll be coming to that.
The site was perfect. A field on a farm with space for about 20 camper vans or tents. Some spots had electrical hook ups. There were toilets and showers and a little shed with hot water to wash your dishes. It was clean and tidy but not too prim. We had a friendly welcome and were left to ourselves. It cost £20 per night with a hook up.
In the morning we walked into town and found a nearby field to “take the edge off” Tilman with some ball throwing. We then strolled to East Quay to meet Nick who was to be our “Skipper” and guide for the day. I used “quotation marks” wrapped around Skipper not because he wasn’t a real Skipper, far from it, he was a very fine one, but because he was also a knowledgeable guide to the wildlife and served up a formidable spread for lunch.
As the weather was looking good, I decided to take along my wetsuit and managed to have a little swim while the coffee was being brewed. The coffee was brought to Britain under sail and I believe even the apple juice was sailed around Norfolk under wind power. The food was locally made and there was plenty of it.
As there were just two of us and our dog, Tilman, we selected the mussel flat boat from their little fleet. As it happed, this was a good choice. Although they look like a traditional clinker fishing boat, in fact the garboard is fastened to a large flat panel so they are very stable and draw very little water. Even with a draft of a few inches we went aground a few times. That said, Nick knew where to find all the deepest parts of the channels and we only grounded on the rising tide.
As a sailing boat, the mussel flats break all the rules. They have no centreboard or keel, nor any lee boards. They also don’t have a tiller! These craft are strictly down-wind machines. The loose footed main allows gybing to be carried out without fear of fracturing the skulls of the crew with an unnecessary wooden spar. When travelling up-wind, the sculling oar is used, coupled the judicious use of the local tidal streams.
We were on neaps with a perfect return breeze. Sometimes they venture out when it might blow a hooley and battling against a spring tide with a sculling oar would prove somewhat taxing. They stow away a secret weapon – a Torqeedo electric outboard motor which can silently get them out of trouble, but strictly only when needed.
After saying our goodbyes, having returned under sail and moored up bang on time, we went for a mooch around the local chandlery. Grit wanted to buy some warm socks. We found some Guy Cotten ones reinforced with Kevlar for about £8.00 a pair. It seemed such a bargain we bought four pairs!
On paying, I complemented the cheery man behind the desk: “Lovely shop” I said and he replied “Yes, it’s the best Chandlers in Wales”. Which I found really amusing and wished I had come up with a cracking witticism like that when I ran Arthur Beale’s Chandlers in London. Then it slowly dawned on me that he had actually said “Best Chandler in Wells” which was marginally less funny, but almost certainly true.
After a siesta back at the van, we finished the day with a meal in the Golden Fleece, a dog friendly bistro pub on the seafront, which was washed down by a pint of Nelsons in the Crown. Talking of the local lad Nelson, the Victory was a truly amazing ship, not only does it still exist in Portsmouth but it continues to bring forth ample timber to keep hundreds of businesses in trade. Everywhere we went were lampstands, door stops, table decorations all made from the Victory’s timbers. A couple of the artefacts almost looked plausible.
On Sunday we went for a walk to try to find the sea. The entrance to Wells from the sea looks potentially tricky. The fact that there were three lifeboats moored up and two lifeboat houses didn’t help dispel my worrisome thoughts.
As we walked along the mile stretch to the beach, we saw the buoys wind around torturously. They are probably moved each season to match the channel. This is not a port to try at night! However, with a helpful Harbour Master on the working VHF Channel, it would be a rewarding place to visit in a small yacht when the wind is from the south.
At the end of a pleasant mile walk we found a ginormous car park – the lazy sods! A little stroll through some pine woods and over a dune and we were presented with a broad sweeping sandy beach just lacking one thing, the sea. Great for football, quoits, dogs, volleyball etc but not so good for a swim!
It’s probably a different scene at high water but I suspect still a struggle to get in a serious swim. Perfect for children though, they would need to be particularly stupid to drown here.
We had a coffee and a sandwich outside the beach café and dove back to town. Smiles all round!
Mill Farm Campsite 01328 710226 or 07538 098480
Coastal Exploration Company https://coastalexplorationcompany.co.uk/