Experience the delights of preserved railways
The below article was written pre lockdown. Please check directly with venues before visiting given the current circumstances. Please also note that not all stations are currently being served
When visiting North Norfolk, a trip on the world's smallest public railway between Wells and Walsingham Light Railway (WWLR) is such a treat. Although the railway journey is only 30 minutes each way, you can make it a day trip by taking the time to explore both Wells and Walsingham.
If you are visiting the WWLR by car, it may make sense to start your journey in Walsingham where there is free parking. If you have the time and inclination whilst in Walsingham, you can visit the famous Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham. Visitors from all over the world assemble there daily to attend the mass and walk in the peaceful gardens surrounding it. Walsingham village itself has some interesting shops including an antiques centre, various arts and crafts shops and some selling religious artefacts linked with the Walsingham Shrine. There are some wonderful timber framed buildings and two medieval churches as well as a tea room, hotel and a museum containing a Georgian courthouse which includes a cell where prisoners used to await the magistrate. The Walsingham Farm Shop offers a mouth-watering selection of treats including ripe Norfolk strawberries, a range of freshly baked pies made with locally sourced ingredients along with some of Norfolk's finest cheeses. This is a must if you fancy taking a seaside picnic to enjoy when you arrive at Wells next the Sea after your train journey.
Before embarking on your WWLR journey, check the railway timetable on the website. The line operates from 7th March until 1st November, but the times can be subject to change so it's wise to double check. The website advises that you arrive at least 10 minutes before the train's departure time because trains depart punctually and you need to allow time for buying your ticket. Dogs travel free of charge and are welcomed if there is room for them. Wheelchair and pushchairs can also be accommodated although wheel chair users must be able to transfer themselves to a carriage seat for the journey.
You will find Walsingham Station on the Egmere Road (postcode NR22 6BT). If you plan to begin your journey there, bear in mind that this station has no facilities.
The line itself is a tiny narrow gauge railway (10 ¼ in (260mm) gauge line) which offers a nostalgic steam train journey in little open or closed carriages between the Walsingham and Wells next the Sea. Children and adults alike will be charmed by the soothing half hour train journey trundling through the stunning countryside, whistling and halting briefly at each minor crossing and junction.
The track is lined with wild flowers and grasses, attracting an abundance of bees, butterflies and other small insects. You may also come across partridges and pheasants zigzagging chaotically alongside the train, sometimes straying onto the line. If you're lucky you may also spot a bird of prey hovering over some unfortunate small mammal. As well as the wildlife, you will pass through old stations and under and over bridges. If you have enough time, there are two request stops along the line. The first is at Wighton and a second at Warham where there are two large medieval churches. However, if you have any questions about stop off points, your journey or the train itself, the WWLR team seem happy to help and keen to share their knowledge.
On arrival at Wells next the Sea, you will see a delightful restored signal box which has been turned into a café and browsing is welcomed at a second hand bookshop sited within an old railway carriage. If you have time, it's only a leisurely 20 minute stroll to Wells next the Sea town centre and quayside.
Wells town centre itself has a decidedly seaside feel to it with narrow lanes of mainly independent shops including souvenir and gift shops, art galleries and bookshops. When it comes to eating out in Wells, you are spoilt for choice. At the time of writing, The Crab House and Café 24 are the top ranked eateries on Trip Advisor. They both offer high quality, reasonably priced dishes including fresh, locally sourced seafood. The Crown Hotel Wells does a delicious afternoon tea in a nice setting as well as a decadent tasting menu. For a real seaside experience, you can have fish and chips on the quayside or buy shelf fish from A&M Frary Shellfish Stall. Naming just a few eateries feels unfair though because there are lots of wonderful places. I usually find a place that looks nice and then check it out on Trip Advisor and the Food Standards Agency website to help me make my decision.
At the quayside and harbour, you can watch the crabbing and fishing vessels coming and going, unloading their catches to deliver to local restaurants. If you have young children, they may enjoy crabbing off the quayside where you can hire eco-friendly buckets and tackle from The Gilly Hut. You can also take a one hour boat trip which includes a tour of the harbour, beach and salt marsh. If you have time before your return train journey, you can walk to the beach (approximately a mile from the town centre) along the beach road from the quay.