On the rare occasion that I have the chance to book a night away, I never think to look a mere 30-minute drive from our house. Living in Kent we’re always spoilt by the close proximity of the countryside and coast, but picky as I am, I tend to find stylish stays a little wanting.
And yet. A stay at Elmley Nature Reserve has been at the very top of my list for the longest time. I would hold on to it like a mantra, the idea of escaping and disappearing out into the yonder of its wilderness at times when life was getting a bit too much. Nothing but great swathes of open sky and marshes. What greater feeling than to steal yourself away in total seclusion and get back to basics?! So it was a wonderful surprise to receive the gift of a stay for my birthday from my sister and parents, who clearly know me too well.
A completely off-grid experience in every sense of the word, Kingshill is a family run working farm which generates its own electricity. Nestled in the bosom of a 3,200-acre estate on an island in the Thames, you couldn’t get any further away from the hustle and bustle of things even with Sheppey a stone’s throw away. An ideal spot to take in the wildlife across Elmley, the farm is host to a cluster of self-contained shepherd’s huts, designed and built by Plankbridge.
Set further back from the other huts on the reserve in a space entirely all its own, we arrived at Vanellus. Oozing with modern rustic style with all mod-cons, I felt the tension lift instantly. With an irresistibly comfy kingsize bed looking out at a floor to ceiling view out of the marshes, you surrender yourself to the surroundings. The first thing that hits you is the sound, a symphony of marshland birds and lowing cattle across the field. It almost lulls you to sleep. Though that may be a challenge with views like this. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of staring here. It’s impossible not to. Had the morning been clearer the following day we’d have woken early to watch the sunrise. But there’s always another time.
Every square inch of the hut has been carefully considered – this is tiny house living but not a way that feels cramped or lacking. A sweet little dresser made from an old railway wagon creates a kitchen, folding chairs and a table give you a dining area when you need it and there’s a fully functioning en-suite shower and toilet too. Hidden inside a small cupboard, we found a gas burner for making coffee with a larger hob out back for cooking meals alfresco and my favourite touch, a mini fridge which we stocked up with strawberries and prosecco.
With a home cooked dinner being delivered to our hut later, we headed out to explore the reserve. There are miles of walking to be done with more time, taking you out to the Spitend Hide if you’ve got the determination to make the three-mile hike. The team at Elmley even keep a code protected treat box stocked with gin to celebrate when you reach the point, but it was enough for us to find the first hide and watch the avocets for a while. Maybe next time.
I took my sketchbook with the hope of getting some practice in (I did) and loved being able to concentrate on just drawing for a while. During our stay, we spotted a number of peewits, goldfinches, falcons, egrets and hares. At sunset, as we sat watching the sky turn to candy pink by the firepit, a barn owl swooped past. I mean, wow.
If this doesn’t make you want to book a visit now, I don’t know what will. And if you’d just like to soak up the atmosphere and walk the reserve, you can access the trails between 9am – 5pm (closed on Tuesdays). Elmley, we will be back, perhaps for a cozy winter stay.
Elmley Nature Reserve, Elmley, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, ME12 3RW.