Review: Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey, Kent
Unplug, relax and revel in nature with a night or two at Kingshill Farmhouse or in a well-equipped cabin on the family-owned Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent
Relax and revel in nature
It’s not easy unplugging from the noise and hubbub of the swirling world around us these days. Real serenity is hard to come by. But I can truthfully say I’ve experienced it, and, over a month later, just casting my mind back to that weekend in January, I can almost feel myself transported to the warm and welcoming Kingshill Farmhouse, standing like a beacon in the remote and windswept marshlands of Elmley Nature Reserve.
Take a tour of Kingshill Farmhouse here
What is and who owns Elmley Nature Reserve?
Elmley is a family-owned 3,300 acre nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey, where you can stay overnight either in the beautifully renovated and thoughtfully extended 17th-century farmhouse, in the cottage which sleeps 10, or in one of eight cleverly and comfortably fitted-out huts and cabins dotted around the reserve. They all have power and running water, and some even have outside rolltop baths so you can enjoy a starlit soak after a day’s birdwatching. Philip and Corrine Merricks began transforming the intensively farmed land into an area of international significance 40 years ago. In 1991 Elmley was designated a National Nature Reserve by Natural England, the only family-owned and managed farm in the UK to have this status. Today Elmley is managed by the Merricks' daughter Georgina and her husband Gareth.
Why stay at Kingshill Farmhouse?
One of the key USPs of Kingshill Farmhouse is that, from the moment you walk through the front door, pull your boots off and hang up your coat and scarf in the entrance, you feel just like you’re at home, albeit in our case the home we imagine we live in. You can sit in one of the three snug sitting rooms, make yourself a cup of tea or order something stronger from the friendly staff, and relax with a book or magazine, before heading through to the dining room for a delicious, hearty meal using local ingredients.
Drawn to the beautiful interiors of the farmhouse, luxuriously designed by Francesca Rowan Plowden, my family and I spent two blissful nights in The Lookout and The Nest on the top floor. The two rooms are connected with their own private hallway and to stay here feels like you have your own exclusive apartment.
Painted in a restful off-white shade, and dressed with a mixture of antiques and bespoke furniture, with sheepskin rugs and plenty of pure wool throws, not to mention the incredible views, this brace of rooms is wonderfully spacious and cosseting for a family of four. At night, you’ll be lulled by the soporific sound of the wind whistling down the chimney – the only noise you’ll hear in this otherworldly place. In the morning, a basket containing tea or coffee and fresh milk is delivered to your door, to set you up before you wander downstairs to breakfast.
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Breakfast is enjoyed in the bright kitchen, where flaky croissants and granola and yogurt are served at the large farmhouse table with a glorious backdrop of the reserve viewed through floor-to-ceiling windows. As we dined handsomely on baked eggs, spinach and bacon, we were entertained by a comical group of partridge bustling around in the shrubs and bushes.
Nature at Elmley Nature Reserve
During the day you are free to explore the reserve – there are four hides so remember to take your binoculars. On our visit we witnessed boxing hares, a sleeping little owl (with the help of the reserve’s in-house nature guide), grey plover, lapwing, wigeon, dunlin, shelduck and marsh harriers.
When is the best time to visit Elmley Nature Reserve?
Every season offers its own special atmosphere - in spring one of the most dramatic sights is swooping displays of lapwing over the marsh. Over 40 species of birds breed and raise young at Elmley. Lapwing, redshank, and grebes are some of the species that can be seen with their chicks. And you may be lucky enough to spot some boxing hares like we did, with their leverets in March and April.
In summer, spot swallows, martins and yellow wagtail, butterflies and rare bees, dragonflies and damselflies.
In autumn, look forward to migrants such as whimbrel and green sandpiper, who stop at Elmley for a few weeks on their way to Africa. Barn owls often breed late in the boxes provided across Elmley Nature Reserve and their owlets can be seen and heard crying for food. Meanwhile as the days shorten, waders and wildfowl return from north-east Europe and the Arctic.
In winter, tens of thousands of lapwing, golden plover, teal and widgeon are common. Dunlin dart across the pools. Marsh harrier can be seen harrying unsuspecting wildfowl. Sparrowhawks and peregrine create a commotion among the flocks. Short eared owls fly low over patches of rough grassland each afternoon hunting for small mammals to feast on.
How much does it cost to stay at Elmley Nature Reserve?
Stays in The Lookout from £210 for two people, including breakfast.
The cabins sleep from two and cost from £175 per night.
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