Robert Smith MBE, harbour master at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, reveals why he decided to write a book detailing the history of this idyllic seaside town
I often hear Wells-next-the-Sea described as a beautiful, unspoiled seaside town; in many ways, it is. With its long, sweeping beach bordered by pine trees, its quaint cafés and shops without a chain store in sight, and the harbour at the hub of it all – with its fishing boats and children crabbing – it’s an idyllic picture. But it’s also fair to say that Wells has experienced its fair share of change.
I have always been drawn to water. As a small boy, the creeks and marshes in Wells were both my playground and my classroom. From the age of seven, I could often be seen racing down to the quay to mess around in a boat. As I grew older, my playground became the source of my livelihood as I joined my father and grandfather in their profession as longshoremen. The long days of hard physical work, sometimes in awful conditions, gave me a deep respect for the fishermen of Wells, which remains to this day. This, along with my time serving as a member of the Wells RNLI lifeboat crew and then as harbour master, has made me appreciate the power and unpredictability of the sea.
I am often asked what I love most about my job. There are many things that I enjoy, but my favourite is being out at sea, on my own, in the dead of the night, when everything is quiet and still. As I gently guide a visiting vessel into the port, with the moon and stars lighting the way and the lights of Wells blinking in the distance, I am often in awe of the beauty and peacefulness of my workplace.
About a year ago, when I was out giving a talk in a remote part of Norfolk, I was approached by an elderly lady, who said I was a natural storyteller and should write a book. From my pile of scribbles and notes, the book Crossing The Bar – Tales of Wells Harbour was formed with the help of local writer Zoe Dunford, and all profits from the book will go to Wells Harbour Maritime Trust and other local charities.