How often do you see the sun rise? If you’re anything like me, then the answer is almost never. My ongoing struggle with insomnia means I’m much more of a night owl than a morning person, and even when I have to get up before dawn for an early train or flight, I’m always in too much of a rush to take any notice of what’s going on around me. But sunrise turned out to be one of the highlights of a magical minibreak at Elmley Nature Reserve in Kent earlier this month.
I first heard about Elmley from fellow blogger Hannah Bullivant and I’d wanted to visit ever since. So, I was very excited when Chris took my not-so-subtle hints (I sent him the link via email, with the subject line ‘BOOK THIS’) and arranged a three-day stay over my 35th birthday.
The drive there took seven hours (thank you M25), but oh my, was it worth it! Elmley was everything I’d hoped for and more. Set on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, it’s run by a farming family and encompasses 3,200 acres of wilderness. It’s home to all sorts of birds, insects, plants and animals, and it’s also the only nature reserve in the UK where you can stay overnight thanks to a small collection of bell tents and shepherd’s huts (hand-built by Plankbridge, who also created the Dorset hut that I visited back in May).
Some of the huts are traditional, others more contemporary with floor-to-ceiling glass looking out over the reserve. Ours, The Ferryman’s, was one of the latter, and I loved the simple tongue-and-groove walls, grey blankets, wire-basket pendant lights and copper fittings. The layout was certainly compact, but we had everything we needed: a kitchenette with a gas hob and oven, a full double bed, a bench seat (which can double as an extra bed for kids), a pull-out table, lots of hidden storage, an ensuite bathroom with a hot shower, and another shower outside. There were also a few added luxuries such as thick bathrobes, Bramley toiletries, and knitted hot-water bottles from Kent-based Romney Marsh Wools.
But the biggest treat was the stark but beautiful landscape all around us, with its silvery marshes, mirror-still pools and vast, open sky. A few factory chimneys are also visible on the horizon, but somehow they just add to the reserve’s raw beauty, and it was wonderful to see nature thriving within such close proximity of industry.
We spent most of our time outside, soaking up the sweeping views, the stillness and the glorious summer sunshine. We lounged around with books, we gazed at swans gliding silently across the water, and we watched herds of cattle drifting across the grassy plains. Come evening, we lingered over alfresco meals (we were feeling far too lazy to cook, but you can pre-order dinner hampers to be delivered to your hut) and then huddled around the firepit, toasting marshmallows as stars emerged overhead. On my birthday itself, we were joined by friends who live in Kent for a walk around the reserve, followed by cake on our terrace. And even on our last evening, when the heat gave way to thunderstorms, we left the bi-fold doors open and watched lightning streak across the sky over wine and Scrabble.
It’s the mornings that I’ll remember forever, though. We slept with the curtains open and awoke at around 5am each day to find the marshes bathed in a soft, rosy glow. We couldn’t resist flinging open the doors and snuggling back under the duvet with steaming mugs of coffee, listening to the reserve come to life around us and watching the rising sun slowly burning off the early-morning mist. Every now and then, we’d catch sight of a hare scampering through the undergrowth or a kestrel soaring high above.
Elmley truly is a special place – a relaxing, soul-restoring escape from daily life. As we left we both agreed that this wouldn’t be our only stay, and I’m already dreaming of returning in winter, when the landscape sparkles with frost and clouds of starlings dance in the sky. Time to drop some not-so-subtle hints about Christmas presents, perhaps…
Book a stay at Elmley here. Prices start from £85 per night.
Please note this is not a sponsored post, and we paid for our stay in full.
All photography by Abi Dare