Elmley Nature Reserve

Isle of Sheppey, Kent, United Kingdom
Book from Book from £130 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 cottage for 4-10

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. You've a wonderful choice of places to stay. Book a room in the peaceful and stunningly renovated 18th-century Kingshill Farmhouse, which comes with sumptuous bedrooms, hearty ‘Kentinental’ breakfasts, and large garden. 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. Couples may prefer to stay in 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 a family of 4. You can get even closer to nature in a traditional bell tent: set in meadows and woodland, they sleep up to 4.

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.


  • 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: there's a restaurant in the Barn; meals can be delivered to your door; the huts have kitchenettes or a camp kitchen, while the cottage has a well-equipped kitchen; the romantic and rustic Linhay (created in a former agricultural building) hosts lunches, snacks and more formal suppers
  • Heavenly for photographers and Instagrammers, couples seeking to recharge and relax, 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 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, but lanterns, cosy rugs & hot water bottles. Woodland bell tents have sockets for lights and phone charging while Sapling and Meadow are power free
  • Samphire and Little Owl don't have sockets (lights are powered by solar panels). 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
  • Nature Reserve
  • 16 cabins, 5 rooms, 2 houses for 4-10
  • Restaurant. Self-catering in huts and tents w/ meals on request
  • All ages welcome (in Kingshill: over 10s 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 knock-out B&B bedrooms: four ensuite on the first floor plus a two-bedroom family suite in the attic sharing a bathroom. 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, kids aged 2-12 can be included; only babies and teens are permitted for B&B bookings. Either way, you get breakfast and housekeeping included and a host available in the evening for drinks.

Another option for larger parties is two-storey five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage, 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. The layout works well for a couple or small family too, and the cottage can be booked at a reduced occupancy rate during the winter months.

To get closer to nature, book one of the beautifully conceived shepherds huts and cabins, 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. The two newest cabins (The Roost and Martha's Hut) have waterfall showers and outside baths; Martha's Hut has side glazing to maximise those views. All 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 coir matting, thick rugs, proper beds with soft duvets and pillows, and space for 2 kids' beds. Each tent comes with a charcoal barbecue and gas stove, lanterns, a kettle, tea and proper coffee and mugs, plus outdoor seating. There are individual cabin showers and toilets in a shared block and shared camp kitchen a short walk away plus a lovely fire pit with hay-bale seating. You can charge devices, or take shelter, in the barn if needed.

Features include:

  • Firepit
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries


If, like us, your idea of a relaxing break doesn't involve cooking, then make a beeline for the restaurant in the Barn for seasonal and local cookery, enjoyed under twinkling lights on summer evenings. There are sundowner cocktails and a good wine list to sample too. In winter months service moves to the Farmhouse dining room for an intimate supper club feel.

Breakfast hampers can be delivered to your cottage, shepherd hut or bell tent with your choice of bacon, egg, avocado, halloumi and tomato sandwiches plus freshly ground coffee or tea. Order a picnic – perhaps vegetable quiche and salad, fruit and juice – or buy savoury snacks or cakes from the cafe for heading out to the reserve for the day.

If staying in Kingshill Farmhouse, a 'Kentinental' breakfast is included in the rates; lunches and snacks are available 9-5 in the smaller Linhay and larger Barn, which become an evening dining space. The Farmhouse's ground floor becomes an informal bar in the evenings; guests enjoy waited service of a curated selection of drinks and bar snacks. If more informal meals are preferred, family-style suppers can be delivered instead. For whole house hire meals can be served formally in the dining room if guests want to dine privately (for a surcharge).

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. For those in the bell tents, there's a shared camp kitchen and you can hire a BBQ kit with cooking equipment, falconware crockery and charcoal, rather than having to bring it with you. End your evening with marshmallows around your firepit.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Barbecue
  • Breakfast
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Hob or stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • 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
  • Sign up for a group wildlife tour with in-house nature guide, Abbie. Either on foot (max 5) or in a safari truck
  • 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


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). The Roost has a double sofa bed, while Martha's Hut has a small double pullout, so both can also take two kids. Book a bell tent in the summer months to be pitched beside any of the huts for extra capacity/children, or the woodland or meadow tents can house a family of four in comfort. Larger families or family parties should book five-bedroomed Elmley Cottage; smaller families can book it too as the layout works for both. Note that only babies and over 10s are permitted in Kingshill Farmhouse if booking on a B&B basis; all ages allowed if booking the whole house (note also that the Lookout and its adjoining Nest - at the top of Kingshill Farmhouse - sleep 4, with a shared bathroom)

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

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, and only the Woodland Bell Tents have electricity


  • 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

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Based on 4 independent reviews from i-escape guests


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