Two Norfolk spots make the Sunday Times' 'best places to live' list

The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, with boats basking in beautiful sunshine. Picture: DE

The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, with boats basking in beautiful sunshine. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk's only city and a popular seaside town have made this year's Sunday Times 'best places to live' list. 

The newspaper has included eight spots in the East of England among its 101 list of lovely places across the country, including Norwich and Wells-next-the-Sea. 

Judges described Norwich as a vibrant and youthful city where the average age was just 34. 

They praised the city's cycle network, strong craft beer offering, shops and theatres. 

Norwich Market and Norwich Castle Museum. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norwich Market and Norwich Castle Museum. The city has been named one of the best places to live in England's east. - Credit: ANTONY KELLY

Sir Denis Lasdun's ziggurats at the University of East Anglia.

Ziggurats at the University of East Anglia. Norwich has been praised as a youthful city with a strong educational offering. - Credit: Bill Smith

Judges said: “Norwich is one of our favourite small cities. It’s beautiful and historic but also young, lively and environmentally friendly. The market and independent shops in its compact city centre offer an experience that’s hard to replicate online, so it should be well placed to thrive after the pandemic.”

Vaughan Thomas, the city's lord mayor, said: "Norwich is not lost in a huge urban sprawl that some other cities are - you can manage it on foot. And it's still got retail and culture, two universities, two cathedrals.

The new Lord Mayor of Norwich, Vaughan Thomas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Lord Mayor of Norwich, Vaughan Thomas. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

"It's safe and secure and a great place to bring up families. When students come here to study, the tend to stay." 

The list's judges said Wells took pride of place on the north Norfolk coast and said the town was "more down to earth than Burnham Market or Blakeney".

Staithe Street in Wells-nex-the-Sea is lined with charming, independent shops. Picture: Stuart Ander

Staithe Street in Wells-next-the-Sea is lined with charming, independent shops. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

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They said: "This seaside town combines convenience with a perfect location beside one of Britain’s best beaches. [It has] golden sands, creeks and marshes bathed in ethereal light, endless horizons and wondrous wildlife." 

Dr Marie Strong, county councillor for Wells division and a resident since the 1970s, said the community was what made Wells such a special place. 

Marie Strong, Liberal Democrat candidate for Wells. Pic: Liberal Democrats.

Marie Strong, county councillor for Wells division. - Credit: Liberal Democrats

She said: "We couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I do enjoy it in the summer months and seeing families with their children and dogs come and enjoying Wells, and it's also good in the more peaceful times." 

The list named Woodbridge in Suffolk the 'best' spot to live in the East of England, and other places included were Dedham Vale, Ely, Epping, Saffron Walden and the Shotley Peninsula.

Helen Davies, The Times and Sunday Times property editor, said: “Our focus for this year has been community, countryside and convenience. It hasn’t been a year for big cities or small villages. Instead it is small towns that have shone: big enough to have everything you need within walking distance and small enough for everyone to feel connected."  

What The Times said of its eight favourite places in the East:

1. Woodbridge was described as having an artsy, creative community, a vibrant high street and a selection of independent shops, from impeccably tasteful homewares stores such as Vanil and Pascale, to an artisan wine shop (Saltpeter Wines) and Homespun, which sells clothes made from the finest Mongolian cashmere. It has a lively community, with a market, a Christmas fair and a Spirit of Place festival planned for the summer. Cultural offerings include Gallery East and Artspace Woodbridge, and the Riverside and Seckford theatres. 

Average house price: £360,000 

Average rental: £850 pcm 

2. Dedham Vale was described by judges as “immaculate” and “timeless”. Villages such as Stoke by Nayland, Nayland and Dedham were praised for their extensive network of footpaths and cycling routes, plus golf, fishing and watersports. There are  fine-dining spots and gastropubs, including the Angel Inn and the Crown, the Swan Inn in Stratford St Mary, the Sun Inn, Milsoms, Le Talbooth, and the Old Bakery Café. Good local shops include Park Street Stores in Stoke by Nayland, IH Kerridge butcher in Nayland, which has queues out of the door on Saturday mornings. Hall Farm in Stratford St Mary has a beautiful farm shop. 

Judges said: “The immaculate, timeless villages of Constable Country are an ideal base for young families looking for country living within reach of work in Ipswich, Colchester or the City of London.” 

Average house price: £335,000 

Average rental: £800 pcm 

3. Ely was selected for its friendliness and historic atmosphere. Judges said: “We love Ely for its magnificent cathedral, and for the sense of community to be found in its market square, where nearly every day is market day and there’s excellent coffee available at the sociable Silver Oak coffee truck. Best of all, it’s cheaper and friendlier than overheated Cambridge, just a short train ride away."

Other highlights include the gourmet bagels from the Bagel Bar and the kindness shown by the Ely Scrub Hub’s 100-plus volunteers, who have been sewing PPE for NHS workers 

Average house price: £300,000 

Average rental: £800 pcm 

4. In Epping, the forest was praised as one of the country’s greatest open spaces. Judges said: “There has been no more magical place within sight of London to take your daily exercise than the ancient forest. There’s also the convenience of the Tube and a hard-working community, where groups such as Epping in Bloom do everything they can to keep their town looking beautiful.”  

Average house price: £525,000 

Average rental: £1,250 pcm 

5. Norwich was applauded for its vibrant city centre and forward-looking, youthful population: the average age is just 34. The council hands out its own eco awards to schools and businesses, has invested heavily in a cycle network and was behind one of the best sustainable social housing developments in the country. It has a strong craft beer offering with the Plasterers Arms, the Brewery Tap and the Fat Cat, thriving independent shops and three theatres, as well as Cinema City and Norwich Arts Centre.   

Judges said: “Norwich is one of our favourite small cities. It’s beautiful and historic but also young, lively and environmentally friendly.  The market and independent shops in its compact city centre offer an experience that’s hard to replicate online, so it should be well placed to thrive after the pandemic.” 

Average house price: £238,000 

Average rental: £1,250 pcm 

6. Saffron Walden makes the list for its award-winning market, gorgeous historic houses, wealth of clubs and societies and excellent schools: Saffron Walden County High and Farlingaye High are both rated outstanding by Ofsted. There’s culture aplenty. The Fry art gallery (soon to be extended) features standout Essex artists such as Michael Ayrton, John Aldridge and Grayson Perry. Saffron Screen, a not for profit community cinema, has offered online screenings through lockdowns, and state-of-the-art concert venue Saffron Hall has enlisted world-class artists to curate a set of free musical resources for primary schools.

Average house price: £450,000 

Average rental: £850 pcm 

7. Part of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), The Shotley Peninsula was described by judges as “a slice of prime Suffolk countryside where you can enjoy laid-back village life and Swallows and Amazons-style fun in the water”. Their favourite things include the local produce at the brilliant Suffolk Food Hall and the views from riverside pubs such as the Butt & Oyster in Pin Mill. Pin Mill was described as the prettiest village, but Stutton, Tattingstone and Holbrook, which has two pubs and a village shop, are equally admired.  

Average house price: £275,000 

Average rental: £795 pcm 

8. Wells-next-the-Sea takes pride of place on the beautiful North Norfolk coast this year. Judges said it was "more down to earth than Burnham Market or Blakeney, this seaside town combines convenience with a perfect location beside one of Britain’s best beaches” and praised its “golden sands, creeks and marshes bathed in ethereal light, endless horizons and wondrous wildlife”.  

Wells Maltings arts centre has been putting on virtual  quizzes and organising town treasure trails to amuse youngsters while the value of a Co-op and petrol station meet practical needs. 

Average house price: £450,000 

Average rental: £975 pcm 

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