Elmley Nature Reserve

UK England South East England Kent Isle of Sheppy

Unbeatable views and wildlife on the only farmer owned and managed National Nature Reserve in the UK

Elmley Nature Reserve is a painter’s paradise. From your perch on a bank of raised ground in the middle of the marshland, eyes wander across swathes of meadow grasses, catching every colour of the morning sun. In the distance, yachts glide slowly up the Swale channel, their movement silent and serene, while the foreground is a peppering of geese and wildfowl, who frolic in the reed beds that front an endless mass of tidal streams and marshland. For the more amateur hand it's little short of a nightmare... To capture it seems simply impossible.

Thankfully, from inside one of the reserve’s six handcrafted shepherd's huts, the windows do the work for you; 'Little Owl' and 'Samphire' have pretty picture windows, 'Vanellus' has a long, floor-to-ceiling glass panel, while 'The Ferryman’s', 'The Saltbox' and 'The Damson' have a vast pane as an entire end wall of each hut. They seriously let the outside in, achieving a sense of true abandonment in the middle of the wetland landscape, while a lovingly decorated interior and deep cosy beds still ensure that cosy, hide-away feel. Be you painter, shepherd, or hapless London-escapee, you'll feel at home here.

Nestled on the edge of a quaint Victorian farm, Elmley’s secluded glamping site is a rare and wonderful thing. Despite being a National Nature Reserve, an SSSI, a Special Protected Area for birds and a Ramsar site (wetlands of world importance), it’s all still owned and run by the central family farm, under the current tenure of Georgina and Gareth Fulton. The result is not only a reserve with board-walks, bird-hides and informative visitor signage, but also a strikingly diverse business, both with it’s continued farming (expect to slalom through cows as you drive the two mile entrance) and the glamping accommodation itself, unusually privileged to be permitted on such an important landscape. There are a small number of rules as a result – you can’t go right down to the waters edge, you must stick to the marked footpaths and public visitors are also welcome on the reserve by day – but such protection of the wildlife is precisely what makes the place so special. To stay here is to immerse yourself in the natural environment.

The accommodation, though, is far from an afterthought. Located loosely around the central farm buildings, the six shepherd's huts have their own private patches and all the wares inside to feel wonderfully self-sufficient All come complete with piping hot, gas-powered, en-suite showers and flushing toilets, while The Ferryman’s and The Saltbox have outside showers, too. The Damson, meanwhile, is the cream of the crop, with a gorgeous outside vintage bath tub, where you can sit and steam as you watch the geese fly home to roost.

Within easy walking distance of the huts, a tall Victorian pitch-pine barn houses a communal space with board games, comfy sofas, honesty bar, tea, coffee and freshly baked cake. You could chill here all day if the weather is bad. After all, it's up to you to discover what sort of holiday you are after. Watch for wading birds in one of the hides and cycle through the historic local villages, or go on a wildlife safari tour with Gareth across the reserve in his 4x4. Alternatively, simply hide yourself away, enclosed in the romantic setting of your hut as you watch the sun rise through the dawn mist and drift off to sleep to the sound of barn owls hooting softly across the marshes.

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