Elmley Nature Reserve is a 3,300-acre off-grid escape under an hour from London, with stylish shepherd’s huts and luxury log cabins looking out on a vast, wildlife-packed landscape. The ultra-cosy interiors feature cast-iron radiators, wood-burning stoves and ash-branch beds topped with Romney Marsh wool throws – but don’t forget to venture outdoors. And, the homey Kingshill Farmhouse has individually styled rooms and charmingly rustic communal spaces – plus it can be booked out exclusively for family or group trips. Trails lead from your door out across the wetlands, where barn owls glide over the reeds at dusk and flocks of birds swarm in the gigantic skies. It’s time to ditch digital and re-wild.
Get this when you book through us:
Staying in a hut or Farmhouse Room? You’ll get locally made cookies; if you've hired out the whole Farmhouse or a cottage you'll get a bottle of English sparkling wine
11am, check-in 3pm, but both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £160.00, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates include muesli for breakfast; for an extra cost, you can order cooked dishes to be delivered to your lodge. Kingshill Farmhouse guests will get a free 'Kentinental' breakfast tray delivered to their door each morning.
If you fancy a massage and would rather stay put in your own room, just ask.
At the hotel
Free WiFi in communal areas and in the Kingshill Farmhouse and Elmley Cottage. In rooms: Roberts digital radio (except for the huts), kettle, tea and coffee (individual rooms in the Farmhouse have a morning tea tray delivered instead), fire wood, Bramley bath products. There’s a projector and DVD player which can be used on request.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the cabins has bifold doors opening out onto goosebump-inducing views across the landscape. The Damson has the extra allure of an outdoor vintage bath tub – there’s also a hammock above the bed, if you’ve got a mini Smith in tow. And there's an array of lovely rooms to choose from in the Kingshill Farmhouse – we like the Elmley Room for its romantic four-poster, but the palette-perfect Pink, Blue and Yellow rooms are equally appealing.
There’s no spa, but the concierge can summon a massage therapist to the secluded treatment room, to get your aching muscles fighting fit for the next ramble.
BYO hairdryer – they’re not provided in the huts, but you'll find one in each room at the farmhouse and Elmley Cottage.
The Barn is wheelchair accessible, and there’s a ground-floor bedroom in the cottage, too.
All ages are welcome. Travel cots can be added to the Damson, the Ferryman, the Saltbox, Vanellus and Elmley Cottage. However, only 0–2 year olds and children aged 12 and over can stay in the Farmhouse, unless you've hired the whole place.
Babies and up
The cabins have handy kitchenettes as well as hanging hammocks, but larger families should go for Elmley Cottage or Kingshill Farmhouse for maximum personal space.
There’s the nature reserve of course, but on a rainy day there’s plenty to keep idle hands busy too – children’s books, board games, colouring books, and DVDs to play on the cinema-style projector screen in the barn.
You can order dishes for kids and grown-ups to your cabin, and a wide range of mealtime kit is available to borrow on request – including highchairs, bibs, beakers and cutlery.
Book a babysitter at least two weeks in advance – it costs £10 an hour, for a minimum of two hours.
No need to pack
A travel cot, baby bedlinen, a changing mat or a potty.
Some paths are shingle or grass, so bring a sturdy, off-road-ready buggy if possible – or prepare to carry your tyke in a sling.
Naturally. All fresh ingredients are seasonal and sourced from local farm shops, and meat is pasture-fed. Food waste and coffee granules are used for compost, there are water butts to collect rainwater and power comes from solar panels. Lodges are built from local and reclaimed wood and they’re well-insulated to reduce heat loss.
Guests can lunch, take tea and snack away throughout the day in the Linhay and the Barn – after-dark this becomes a more romantic rustic dining space (with socially distanced tables) where local produce shines in seasonal dishes. Picnics and flasks of soup can be sent out on request, and guests staying in the huts can order breakfast sandwiches and warming meals to their door.
The Barn and the Linhay are both set up as a café and bar which are loaded with drinks and snacks, including Curious craft beers, local damson gins, and Kent Crisps. If you're staying in the Farmhouse, evening sees the downstairs rooms are set up for drinking and – responsibly – socialising.
You’ll find the reserve on the south coast of the Isle of Sheppey, where the Thames Estuary opens out into the North Sea.
Elmley is just an hour from London City Airport, and a little more from Gatwick (Heathrow is around an hour and forty minutes away, if the M25 is kind to you). You can fly into London from just about anywhere in Europe, along with most international hubs around the world. An Uber from City Airport will cost around £70.
Take the one-hour train from London (Victoria or St Pancras) to Sittingbourne, which is eight miles from Elmley. From there, you can take a 20-minute taxi to the reserve.
Driving is the easiest way to get to and from Elmley, and it’s handy to have your own car for exploring the local area. Hire from the airport, or from a car rental company in central London.
Worth getting out of bed for
You don’t have to go far for a little wildlife watching – just draw the curtains and scan the marshes for hares, owls and birds of prey. Then pull on your wellies and follow endless paths through the wetland wilderness yourself. With you appetite well and truly worked up, order a home-cooked meal to your hut, or skip straight to dessert with toasted marshmallows around the firepit. Above all, give your screens a rest (there’s no WiFi anyway), and gaze at the stars instead.
Beyond the reserve itself, there’s plenty to explore. Go antique-hunting in the market town of Faversham, then drive out to the Brogdale Collections, home of the National Fruit Collection – take your pick from over 4,000 types of fruit, and sign up to classes in cider-making, basket-weaving and grafting. Think of a fairytale castle and it’ll probably look a lot like Leeds Castle (Maidstone), with stone turrets towering over the moat; there’s a mighty maze to tackle, and if you time your visit well you might catch a mediaeval jousting tournament, too. If you’re after seaside strolls and good old fashioned fish ‘n’ chips, set your sights on Whitstable; if July’s Whitstable Oyster Festival is on, even better. Minster Leas is a Blue Flag beach fit for a summer paddle or sprawl on the sand, while Shellness beach, on the eastern tip of Sheppey, is made entirely of – you guessed it – shells (fair warning, its other claim to fame is its tolerance for nudity). From Whitstable, take a slow-and-steady sailing barge along the Kent coast, passing Second World War forts, wind farms, and a bunch of birdlife on the way.
By all means, go to Deal Pier Kitchen for the unique location (on the end of the pier, with views over the water and back to the seafront), but the food deserves your attention too – especially the full English brunch of local sausages and organic eggs served on sourdough toast. Macknade (Selling Road) is a café crossed with a kitchen larder; sit in with platters of cheese and charcuterie, or pick up picnic supplies from the farm shop. For a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, get thee to The Lighthouse (50 The Strand); it’s an arts venue too, so check out the timetable for upcoming gigs. Fancy dinner: The Sportsman (Faversham Road) is a beloved gastropub drawing produce from the local area – so expect the likes of thornback ray fillet with brown butter and cockles, or salt-baked celeriac with Kentish apples.
Canterbury’s 19th-century city gaol has been converted into The Pound (1 Pound Lane), an upscale cocktail bar with Chapel Down English wines in the cellar, Curious beers on tap, and a waterside terrace overlooking the River Stour. Prison has never been so appealing…
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this rural escape on the Isle of Sheppey and unpacked their wellies and waxed jackets, a full account of their eco-friendly break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Elmley Nature Reserve in Kent…
These days, try as you might, it’s pretty difficult to really, really escape. Go to a desert island and someone will probably throw a beach towel down next to you; go to the top of a mountain and you can almost guarantee a queue of people waiting to take their version of ‘that shot’. It turns out, you don’t actually have to go that far to get away from it all. The Isle of Sheppey is basically in the Thames Estuary, and the hum (and convenience) of the M25 is only 40-odd miles away, but you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere that feels more distant from the Big Smoke. Here, on the protected Elmley Nature Reserve, the silence is only pierced by the occasional hoot of an owl, or by wildfowl splashing in the Swale. A small selection of shepherd’s huts and cabins (and a couple of cottages) are spaced out across the landscape, with fire pits under the stars and hot-water bottles tucked under snuggly wool blankets on the beds. If/when you venture outside, you can walk for miles and never come across another sapien. It’s the kind of place where the endless views are only matched by the ever-changing clouds overhead – the kind of place that everyone needs to visit… but please, not all at once.