Getting up close & personal with nature

Last month, my husband and I packed up the car and headed for the wilds of Kent; we were off to Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey.  “Elmley is an internationally important fresh water grazing marsh wetland renowned for significant populations of over-wintering and breeding birds, and also hare, watervoles, rare invertebrates and flora”.

It looked glorious, and I was all set for a few days of cosy, with books, slippers and warm jumpers all stashed in my bag, along with some art supplies and camera.

I was born in Kent, but had never visited this part of it. Yet, from what I had read it was an area rich in wildlife where bird lovers in particular flock throughout the year to see the huge variety that frequent the land here.

We were staying in Elmley’s Saltbox hut and the description on the website reads “with windows for walls, wake up to sunrise and wilderness views.  Lie in bed looking out of the fully glazed end, and keep warm with thick woollen Romney Marsh wool throws, hot water bottles and a vintage cast iron radiator.”  That was it, I was there, this was my ultimate hygge heaven!

En route you cross the bridge over to the Isle of Sheppey, past factories and chimneys – a stark contrast to the tranquility of the reserve.  Yet, the huts at Elmley have been cleverly positioned and landscaped so that you forget the industry that lies close by.

The Saltbox did not disappoint.  As soon as we arrived, before unpacking anything, I had to check it all out.Now, we are seasoned campers, so are used to getting our tent set up, cooking outside, and walking to the toilet and shower blocks.  So, when I discovered that the Saltbox had it’s own bathroom, with hot shower and beautiful Green and Spring toiletries provided…plus a kitchen…with marshmallows…I was so happy.

Although it’s compact, there is amble space under the bed to store luggage, and everything you could need is all there.  In fact, as well as the basics, we also had a couple of bird watching books to peruse, binoculars, and I had also reserved their telescope for one night.  This was wonderful, as we could sit outside the hut, glass of wine in hand, and observe all the wildlife in view, far and wide.

I couldn’t believe the view we had at the end of our bed. I think I jumped straight on it when we got inside…there were blankets and hot water bottles, big sumptuous cushions.  I was all set for watching the sun go down, good book in hand.

What’s even more magical about this place is that it is the only nature reserve in the UK where you are permitted to stay overnight.  It felt like such a privilege to be able to sleep amongst this landscape.

We got the firepit on the go (wood is provided) and had ourselves a delicious BBQ.  We did have chilly winds for the two days we were there, so I didn’t sit outside for long (the bed and that view were calling me!).  But, before I went inside we were treated to the sound of a cuckoo right next to the hut, and a little field mouse that came to visit.

We decided to sleep with the curtains open so we could watch the sunrise in the morning.  Although fairly cloudy on the second day, it was wonderful to be woken by the early morning light.  I’m not an early riser, but it’s worth it sometimes to see the world awaken slowly, and we did the same.

There are four bird watching hides at Elmley, and we had planned to walk to the furthest, Spitend Hide that was 5km from the hut.  We wanted to explore the reserve, and the wildlife, get some good exercise, plus also discover what was in the promised box at the end of our walk (apparently it contained some blankets and goodies to fuel walkers for the return journey)!

I am not great at identifying birds, although Alan (my husband) has more knowledge of wildlife than me.  So, we would stop at various points along our walk watching and pointing as magnificent birds flew across our path, swam in the marshes, tottered along the banks, squawked as they passed by.  All different colours and sizes.  It was fascinating.  I was eagerly watching out for some hares, but sadly missed them, although Alan spotted a few. Cows grazed across the land, and we paused a few times to observe the young calves frolicking in the fields, whilst their elders just seemed to be following them around, trying to keep up.  It was amusing to watch how they interact.

The walk was a challenge, particularly as there was a strong wind that day, but it was worth it to have the opportunity to take in as much of the reserve as we could.

I was relieved to get back to my hygge haven though, and kick off the boots, rest my aching feet with a hot shower, and enjoy a delicious home-cooked beef stew for dinner that was hand delivered to our hut in a lovely hamper (with pud!).  My sister and nieces who are seven and four came to visit us from nearby in Kent for a few hours.

We sat by the fire and toasted marshmallows, climbed the hill beside our hut (or the ‘mountain’ as my nieces called it), and wandered to the closest hide so the girls could explore a little of the reserve.

They were in their element, and it was just so wonderful to share this experience with them.  They ran, they sang (the ‘hills are alive’ up their mountain), they did a bit of bird watching through the binoculars, and when the light went, we all got cosy and drank tea and chatted until it was time for them to head home.

I love being an auntie, my nieces are just the best fun. They haven’t been camping before, and I so enjoy sharing these times with them.

I didn’t go camping properly until I was in my 30s, and have since grown to love it.  There is such a freedom in just heading off to a beautiful part of the UK, setting up camp and being amongst rolling hills or close to the coast. Waking up in the middle of it all, unzipping the tent to see the sun rise and hear the birds.  I encourage my sister and her family to come with us some day, so it was great to have this time together on this visit.  I think that if you haven’t camped before – it’s worth giving somewhere like Elmley a try.   It is more luxurious than sleeping in a tent for sure, but it allows you to get into the heart of mother nature and stay in a truly beautiful place.

This slideshow by Robert Canis really sums up the beauty of Elmley through the seasons.

Thank you to Georgina and Gareth, for all the work they do to conserve this area, and their team of wonderful staff who made our stay such a pleasure.  I was so impressed with all the attention to detail in the hut, that made it so cosy and quaint.  We would love to come back one day!

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