Elmley Nature Reserve

Elmley National Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey: review

Enjoy a true foodie escape in a hut on this family-owned nature reserve on the Kent coast, with hot dinners delivered in hampers and afternoon tea served in the cosy barn

Looking for unusual places to stay in Kent? Want a foodie cabin to stay in? Read our review or check out our favourite cosy cabins in the UK here.

Advertisement

Elmley in a nutshell

Back-to-nature luxury; privately owned Elmley, on Kent’s Isle of Sheppey, sells itself as the only nature reserve in the UK where you can stay overnight. 


The vibe

Local wildlife includes long-eared owls but there’s scope for romance as well as wildlife-watching. Choose from bijou hand-crafted shepherd’s huts, a five-bedroom cottage or a newly refurbished six-bedroom farmhouse; you’ll find the accommodation unashamedly luxurious and the chance to soak up some peace – and vermillion sunsets – invigorating.

Elmley Nature Reserve
Samphire hut looking over to Kingshill farmhouse

Which hut should I book at Elmley?

If seclusion is priority, book vintage-styled Samphire, the most remote hut, with a wood-burner and sweeping vistas across the marsh. Vanellus is plugged into the mains (and comes with an electric radiator) but our favourite is the slightly larger Saltbox, a custom-built cabin whose front wall is fully glazed so you can drool over sunsets while snuggled under Romney Marsh woollen throws. There’s a separate kitchenette with a dining/lounge area too (huts and houses are thoughtfully provided with marshmallows for you to toast over your firepit). For families and groups, we also loved the cottage and the 18th-century farmhouse.

Elmley Nature Reserve
Samphire Hut

The food and drink

Cook for yourself (on anything from a firepit to a portable gas stove) or give yourself a break and order meals to be brought to your hut in a wicker hamper. There are two choices for breakfast, lunch and supper, with many of the ingredients sourced from small local businesses and the Macknade farmshop in Faversham. Breakfast Bircher muesli is made with local apples and Duskins apple juice, and we loved our supper pie of pasture-fed Kentish beef, followed by a zesty lemon tart. But the highlight was a spicy lunchtime dal, made by local business, Wasted Kitchen, from unwanted vegetables. 

Another don’t-miss is afternoon tea, which you eat in the site’s vast vaulted barn, on comfy sofas set with cosy throws and hot-water-bottles. Cakes are also made by Wasted Kitchen (we loved the fragrant orange and almond cake, made with oranges and spices left over after making spiced damson shrub). There’s an honesty bar for later, too – help yourself to Kentish wines from the Chapeldown or Simpsons estates, ales from Ashford’s Curious Brewery or Tenterden’s Old Dairy Brewery or gins made by Wasted Kitchen’s sister brand Coxy’s.

Elmley Nature Reserve
Supper of pasture-fed Kentish beef with vegetables

What else can foodies do in Kent?

Within a 40-minute drive you have two of Kent’s finest foodhalls: Macknade, in Faversham, and The Goods Shed, in Canterbury, both with top-notch cafe-restaurants showcasing Kentish produce. At the Goods Shed be sure to linger at the stall of Cheesemakers of Canterbury to taste their unpasteurised cow’s-milk Ashmore. For a treat, lunch at the Michelin-starred Sportsman at Seasalter or at one of the many places to eat in Whitstable or Margate. Alternatively head to sedate Broadstairs for a Morelli’s gelato on the beach followed by a meal at tiny, newly Michelin-starred Stark.


Is it family friendly?

Yes. Kids will love the wildlife, the space and the tractors and extra beds can be installed in the huts on request (if you have a larger family – or are travelling with another family – the cottage or farmhouse are your best bet). In summer, canvas bell tents are available too.


olive tip

Elmley occasionally hooks up with local chefs to run pop-ups, so keep your eyes on the website to see what’s coming up.


Elmley National Nature Reserve, Minster on Sea, Isle of Sheppey

Words and pictures by Clare Hargreaves

Advertisement

Follow Clare on social media @larderloutUK