Stay Here: Elmley Shepherd’s HutsBy Olivia Forster
It’s something Londoners dream of: a place where they can swap the noise and dirt of the big city for a weekend of fresh air and bracing walks. However, we’ve become more discerning creatures, no longer tolerant of sleeping bags, leaky tents and midnight dashes to the toilet. Now we want good food, a cozy bed and, most importantly, a solid roof over our heads. Elmley Nature Reserve offers all of this and more, and could be just about the perfect break from city life.
Elmley: The Location
Elmley is located on the Isle of Sheppey, separated from the mainland by a whisker of the Thames estuary and just over 1 hour from London St Pancras, or a quick and easy car ride. It’s 3,000 acres of beautiful, rugged landscapes and feels like it’s straight from a piece of romantic literature.
Feeling a little out of place at the tiny Sittingbourne station halt, we were picked up by Georgina who runs the site with her husband Gareth and two beautiful young children. Crossing the bridge to the island, it felt as if we had left London along with the rest of the country behind us. Winding tracks through flat marshland took us into the heart of the reserve to Kingshill Farm. The unique thing about Elmley is that it’s the only National Nature Reserve in the country that you can stay in. No campsite or mobile homes in sight, just three bespoke shepherd’s huts carefully designed and looked after by Georgina and Gareth.
Elmley: The Accommodation
We were staying in Samphire, which Georgina promised had some of the most breath-taking views of the reserve. The huts don’t look one bit out of place in their wild surroundings, but inside they provide a warm comfortable space to nest in. Each hut has a good-sized double bed, an ensuite bathroom kitted out with Green & Spring products, and its own dinky log burning stove which keeps the hut toasty warm during even the coldest winter months (it also boils our whistling kettle for some much needed tea).
We also recommend the ‘Vannelus’ hut, which is slightly larger and has an almost Scandinavian feel about it. The winning point for this hut is the floor to ceiling window which makes that Elmley view even more irresistible. For bigger parties (and lots of weddings I am told!) there is the option to hire out the ‘Bell Tent Village’, pretty much the dream wedding we say.
Elmley: Things To Do
Walks are encouraged, and Georgina is on hand to guide even the most disoriented city dweller to the nearby hides (don’t worry folks, there’s a bird spotters guide in the hut) and we set off into the approaching evening. What will surprise you about Elmley is the never-ending flatness of the landscape, it seems to go on forever and with the pin-drop silence you really do feel in the middle of nowhere.
Weary walkers are rewarded with home-cooked dinners brought over from the farm in wicker picnic baskets. Comforting options such as chicken and leek pie and lamb tagine were on the menu when we were there, as well as a divine apple tart with fresh cream. Washed down with some white wine and a snuggle by the fire it feels like home, and even the slight wobble of the hut in the wind feels like it might be rocking you softly to sleep.
Although this might be a holiday, we seriously encourage you to wake up in time for sunrise, as it’s one of the most rewarding sights and unlike any dawn in the city. Lie in the comfort of your warm bed and throw open the windows to see it in all its glory. With the kettle boiling on the stove, mornings are made even more perfect with freshly made bacon or egg sandwiches and a fresh pot of coffee, left on your doorstep – absolute bliss.
There is plenty to do on the farm and across the reserve, from top-notch bird watching, walking and animal spotting to collecting eggs from the resident hens. For those who want a more sedate getaway, there is the option of a range of books and DVDs which can be watched in the barn, and there is even a holistic massage therapist on site who will ease those tense office-bound shoulders. If you have the car with you then there is much to explore: Whitstable, Canterbury and the artsy town of Margate are all just a short drive away (with loads good pubs for a pit stop).
Elmley is total mini-break perfection, and is right on London’s doorstep. If you dream of an adventure in the countryside, and some much needed smartphone silence – then we could recommend nowhere better. Now grab some wellies and get going!
Elmley Nature Reserve Shepherd’s Huts, Kingshill Farm, Sheerness, Kent, ME12 3RW. Huts start from £75 per night (2 night minimum stay) – bookings can be made by telephone: 07786 333331 or online, here.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Douglas and Robert Canis