Elmley Nature Reserve

Sheerness, Kent, United Kingdom Book from Book from £95 per night

Shepherds huts (for 2-4) and two stylish houses (for 10-14) on a wild and wonderful Nature Reserve, just an hour from London
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 - its lapwing population is internationally significant, reed beds and water courses hold waterfowl and waders, marsh harriers float overhead - as well a working farm (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 took over the reins a few years ago, skilfully combining the farm, nature and visitors to harmonious effect. Stay in romantic shepherds huts, all six spaced along a ridge to maximise the vast skyscape, which come with private outdoor seating, a firepit and shower bathrooms. Larger family parties or groups of friends can book Elmley Cottage which has five bedrooms, a sociable open-plan ground floor and picture windows overlooking the reserve. Or the stunningly renovated 18th-century Kingshill Farmhouse which has six 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.

Highs

  • Those vast skies, the quality of light, that sense of space, so much wildlife! And you're just 1hr15mins from London St Pancras
  • Beautifully realised shepherds huts and stylishly renovated cottage and farmhouse
  • 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
  • The details: Romney Marsh woollen blankets, the excellent in-hut guide, the high quality linen, the afternoon tea, games and honesty bar in the Barn

Lows

  • You'll need to book ahead for popular times of year
  • In inclement weather the shepherds huts could feel small; there is the cavernous central Barn to retreat to however
  • As this is a nature reserve, walkers and birders will be around and about during opening hours
  • Samphire and Little Owl don't have sockets (lights are powered by solar panels). You can charge up devices in the barn
  • As this is a Nature Reserve no dogs are permitted on site

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...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • Boutique Shepherds Huts and House Rentals
  • 17
  • Self-catering or meals on request
  • All ages welcome
  • 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

Rooms

Elmley began welcoming overnight guests in 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.

For larger groups, book two-storey five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage 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.

Stunning Kingshill Farmhouse, completely 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 which can combine as a family suite). The ground floor has a modern kitchen and breakfast room extension with dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows for those amazing eastern views, and a library with games, a cosy snug plus a drawing room complete with chandelier.

Features include:

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

Eating

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 an 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 (complimentary) 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
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • 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

Kids

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. Both five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage and six-bedroomed Kingshill Farmhouse are perfect for large families or family parties. If coming on a B&B basis in Kingshill Farmhouse you will need to book the top-floor two-bedroomed Family Suite.

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

Distances:

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

Location

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

Airports:

  • London Gatwick 90.0 km LGW

Other:

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

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
10/10
Value
10/10
Overall

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