Elmley Nature Reserve

Isle of Sheppey, Kent, United Kingdom Book from Book from £105 per night

A wild and wonderful nature reserve near London, with big skies, birdlife & a secret beach: stay in shepherds huts, bell tents, B&B rooms or a farmhouse for 10-14
Magical Elmley Nature Reserve forms a large portion of the low-lying Isle of Sheppey, which lies off Kent's north coast. These wild 3,200 acres are home to one of the largest bird reserves in England - including lapwings, marsh harriers, and plentiful waterfowl in the reed beds - as well a being working farm where cattle and sheep graze the salt-marsh. And uniquely, it's the only National Nature Reserve in England you can overnight in.

This spectacular land is family-owned, and Georgina and Gareth skilfully combine the farm, nature and visitors to harmonious effect. Stay in a peaceful and stunningly renovated 18th-century farmhouse bedroom; or - if you book early - a very special and cosy shepherds hut. These are spaced along a ridge to maximise the vast skyscape, and come with private outdoor seating, a firepit and shower bathrooms; some sleep 4. Or get even closer to nature in a traditional bell tent: set in meadows and woodland, they sleep up to 5. Larger family parties or groups of friends can book Elmley Cottage, which has 5 bedrooms, a sociable open-plan ground floor and picture windows overlooking the reserve. Or take the whole of Kingshill Farmhouse, with 6 vibrant bedrooms, a superb kitchen and large garden.

We woke to phenomenal sunrises, ordered picnic baskets, walked the breadth of the reserve, saw hares boxing and owls hunting at dusk, toasted marshmallows round the firepit, and absolutely loved it. And now that there's a secret beach for wild swims, we simply have to return to check it out.

Information provided by Elmley Nature Reserve on 10/09/2020.

Cleaning and hygiene
We have enhanced cleaning and hygiene protocols for accommodation changeovers and shared areas. This includes following strict hand washing guidance and having hand sanitiser and hand washing facilities available.

Common areas
Each accommodation has private cooking & eating facilities, huts and houses have private bathrooms and there are plenty of loos and showers for bell tent guests. All our accommodation is well spaced in nature to allow you to come and unwind amongst the wildlife. With 3,300 acres to explore social distancing is what we do best!

Food and drink
We have developed a gorgeous new food and drinks menu with local suppliers, including luscious summer salads, cocktails and coffees - all of which can be safely delivered to your accommodation.

Self check-in and check-out (you may not see our team in person, but they will be there throughout your stay and can be contacted at all times by telephone). Check in and out times have changed slightly to 4pm and 10am, so the accommodation can be aerated before our staff enter and to allow a good airing between guests. You are very welcome to enjoy the Reserve before and after your stay, and tea, coffee and cake will be available!

Our team abide by social distancing at all times and we will ask all guests to do the same.

Guests must observe government regulations around larger gatherings, such as the 2-household rule or 6-person rule - or whatever is in force at the time of stay.


  • Those vast skies, the quality of light, that sense of space, so much wildlife! And you're just 1hr15mins from London St Pancras
  • A wide range of accommodation options, ranging from tents to super-stylish houses, and sleeping from 2 to 14
  • Be catered for or self-cater: all meals can be delivered to your door; the huts have kitchenettes or a camp kitchen, and the houses have well-equipped kitchens
  • Photographers and Instagrammers will be in heaven, as will couples seeking to recharge and relax, and families looking to re-wild
  • We loved the thoughtful details: Romney Marsh woollen blankets, an excellent in-hut guide, high quality linens, afternoon tea, games and an honesty bar in the barn


  • You'll need to book ahead for summer stays
  • In inclement weather the shepherds huts could feel small; but you can retreat to the cavernous central barn
  • As this is a nature reserve, walkers and birders will be around, and no dogs are permitted on site
  • The bell tents have shared showers and loos, and no electricity (but lanterns, cosy rugs & hot water bottles)
  • Samphire and Little Owl don't have sockets (lights are powered by solar panels). You can charge up devices in the barn

Best time to go

This is an all-year round destination for lovers of the Great Outdoors. In winter there's a brilliant bleak beauty and tens of thousands of birds wheeling above your head. Spring sees nesting birds, peeping chicks and leverets bouncing all over the place as the salt marsh starts to boom with life. In summer water levels fall and the grasses and reeds grow tall. In autumn expect migratory birds and fantastic skies.

Our top tips

If you walk to the furthest bird hide (Spitend 5.5km one way) you'll find a secret hamper filled with blankets and goodies. There's no need to bring binoculars and bird guides as all the huts and houses have them already.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • B&B, Glamping + House Rentals
  • 17
  • Self-catering or meals on request
  • All ages welcome (in Kingshill: babes and over 12s only)
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
Room: Farmhouse


The main Kingshill Farmhouse, stunningly renovated in a bold bohemian scheme, has six knock-out bedrooms: four ensuite on the first floor plus two in the attic sharing a bathroom (these can combine as a family suite). The ground floor has a library with games, a cosy snug, a drawing room complete with chandelier, and a breakfast room extension with dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows for those amazing eastern views. If you book the whole house, you get free use of the excellent modern kitchen.

Another option for groups is two-storey five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage, more recently refurbished in soft retro colours. It has big picture windows overlooking the Reserve for excellent birding, and a convivial open-plan ground floor with full kitchen. There's a useful utility room and four bedrooms can be doubles or twins as preferred.

To get closer to nature, book one of the beautifully conceived shepherds huts, strung along a low ridge for maximum big sky views across salt marshes and water courses. Vintage-styled Samphire (where we stayed) and Little Owl are the most bijou; next up is rustic Vanellus. The three largest custom-built wooden huts (Damson, Saltbox and Ferryman's) come with outdoor baths or shower. All six have ensuite shower bathrooms, private outside seating beside willow screens or trees and a firepit.

In summer, you can sleep in a traditional bell tent. Set in pretty meadows and woodland, they are spacious (5m wide), tall enough to stand, and surprisingly comfy. Think rugs, proper beds with soft duvets and pillows, and space for 2-3 kids' beds. Each tent has basic cooking and eating equipment, and use of (shared) hot showers, loos and a lovely fire pit with hay-bale seating. You can charge devices, or take shelter, in the barn if needed.

Features include:

  • Barbecue
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Firepit
  • Hob or stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries


If, like us, your idea of a relaxing break doesn't involve cooking, then pre-order meals which are created in-house in the kitchen beside the Barn. Breakfast baskets are delivered to your door with your choice of bacon, egg, avocado, halloumi and tomato sandwiches plus freshly ground coffee or tea. Packed lunches are either vegetable soup or vegetable quiche and salad, fruit and juice, and can be delivered early if you're heading out.

Supper consists of two courses from a daily changing set menu (dietary requirements catered for) which you are given advance notice of; we really enjoyed chicken pie followed by apple crumble and custard which we ate in the Barn for a change of scene. Pleasingly, Elmley make a real effort to use local produce.

If cooking is preferred, there are supermarkets in Sittingbourne, and both Elmley Cottage and Kingshill Farmhouse have well-equipped kitchens. The largest huts have galley kitchenettes, while Samphire and Little Owl share a camp kitchen which has solar-powered cool boxes and basic cooking facilities. End your evening with marshmallows around your firepit.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Barbecue
  • Breakfast
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Hob or stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Explore the Reserve on foot. There are bird hides to help you get closer to wildlife - we counted 50 bird species in two days including the iconic lapwing - and you will definitely see hares too. Gareth can also take you on a private tour of Elmley
  • Lovely Whitstable, famed for its oysters and independent boutiques, is 25 minutes' drive away
  • Kent has plenty of beaches to discover, including wild Blue Flag beaches on the Isle of Sheppey and sandy Botany Bay
  • Leeds Castle is 25 minutes' drive
  • Walk the North Downs Way for long views, picturesque villages and country pubs
  • Book a treatment or a massage
  • Sit out by your hut or cottage by the fire pit for an evening, toast marshmallows, and revel in those big skies

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Well being
  • Wildlife


This is a terrific place to come with children of all ages as there is plenty of space to run around and the flexible accommodation set-up means that all shapes and size of family can be made comfortable here. We came with our two primary school-agers and they loved it. That said, there are lots of open ponds and streams, so you will have to keep a careful eye on toddlers, and if in shepherds huts space inside is at a premium. The barn is available in the event of wet weather, and offers films, afternoon tea and board games.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The best huts for families are Saltbox, Damson and Ferrymans as they can take two young children apiece (the seat turns into a bed and there's also a hammock across the bed). You can also book a bell tent in the summer months to be pitched beside any of the huts for extra capacity/children. For a more traditional B&B experience, the Lookout and its adjoining Nest - at the top of Kingshill Farmhouse - sleeps 4, with a shared bathroom. Large families or family parties should book five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage or six-bedroomed Kingshill Farmhouse.

Baby equipment:

  • Stair gates
  • Baby bath
  • Kids DVDs
  • Kids books / toys

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

If you opt for meals delivered to your door, special requests and flexible mealtimes are easily catered for with a little notice. You are asked for your preferences. We enjoyed fruit crumble and chicken pie for dinner one night, and the breakfast sandwiches went down a treat. The kids liked having picnic baskets of food to delve into

Kids Activities on site:

  • Masses of space to run around
  • Walled garden for football plus a play tractor and a swing
  • Wildlife spotting
  • Games in the barn
  • Pond dipping

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Two blue flag beaches just a few miles away
  • Port Lympne Wildlife Park
  • Chatham Dockyards
  • Kent Life farm and heritage centre
  • Leeds Castle

Families Should Know:

Open water in ponds. Some of the shepherd huts are a little distance to the main barn. There is a mobile signal on property but note that some of the shepherd huts are off-grid and have no sockets to plug in devices


  • Airport: 1hr15m (London Gatwick)
  • Hospital: 30 minutes (Medway Maritime Hospital)
  • Shops: 10 minutes (supermarket)
Kid Friendly: Saltbox


Elmley Nature Reserve is on the Isle of Sheppey, which connects to the Thames Estuary, on the north coast of Kent in the south-east of England.

By Air:
Fly to Gatwick and pick up a hire car.

By Train:
The Javelin service on the Channel Tunnel high-speed line goes from London St Pancras to Sittingbourne railway station. From the railway station it's easy to pick up a taxi to take you 20 minutes to Elmley. Recommended.

By Car:
You won't need a car if you're just staying on the reserve, however, if you want to explore the region and travel to Whitstable or beyond you will probably need a car (or book taxis) to do so.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.

More on getting to the UK and getting around


  • London Gatwick 90.0 km LGW


  • Beach 9.0 km
  • Shops 6.0 km
  • Restaurant 6.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 3 independent reviews from i-escape guests


The room we stayed in was cosy and clean, with everything provided that you'd need for your stay. Everyone was extremely friendly and on hand to help, but the huts still felt very private. The views from the bed were beautiful; owls, rabbits and pheasants were all spotted wondering past the room and the hides along the reserve walks are also great places to watch the birds from. It was a very relaxing stay to enjoy the beautiful outdoors in comfort.


Loved the amazing views and peacefulness of the site. Very special


The staff were super helpful and accommodating with no request being too small. The hut was just wonderful, really well designed and kitted out with enough bird books to ensure we were able to identify all the birds we saw. Watching the birds from the huge window in our cosy bed was just pure luxury. Coming in November I was worried we would be cold inside but in fact we were lovely and warm so I would consider these huts ideal for any time of year. The location is stunning and super easy to get to from London which was a huge bonus for us. An experience we will not forget and will return next year for sure


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