Elmley shepherd hut

Hitting the hut

Elmley. Not a bad view

Elmley. Not a bad view

They say a change is as good as a rest, but after changing jobs, houses and hundreds of nappies in the last six or so months, a rest was quite appealing for Mrs Phil and I.

As we approach our 10 year anniversary, we decided to take a few days away, but as we still quite like our children, we didn’t want to go too far in case we needed to get back. So, we decided to stick to Kent, but somewhere we hadn’t been.

I’m sure we’ll grow out of that at some point.

When looking around for places to go earlier in the year, we had considered Whitstable. There’s some converted fisherman’s huts on the front, but being where they are, they’re quite busy with people enjoying the beach, when we fancied something more chilled.

Bizarrely, we both – independently – found the shepherd huts on Elmley National Nature Reserve on the oft-maligned Isle of Sheppey.

Not too far away. Check

Middle of nowhere. Check

Quiet. Check.

Booked.

So, on Friday night, Mrs Phil picked me up from work and we crossed over to the Island – her first time, my fourth.

Homely Shepherd Hut

Homely Shepherd Hut

You arrive at the reserve along a winding small track, which, with wide open marshland all around, does feel like you’re entering a different world, albeit one framed by industrial sites back on the mainland, and further north in Sheerness.

We were shown to our hut by the cheerful owner Gareth – interesting fact, not only is Elmley the only privately-owned national nature reserve, but it’s the only one in the country where you can spend the night.

A quick tour of the facilities (open the front door, point at bed, cupboard and stove, open another door, point at toilet and shower) and we were left left to unpack.

We got settled in, and began the process of trying to unwind.

To be fair, it wasn’t hard with the surroundings.

We had a bite to eat and went for a stroll through the reserve.

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Not a bad spot to perch

It’s not the ideal time to visit if you want to see all the amazing wildlife there is there – Jan/Feb is when it’s teeming with migrating birds, and April/May is when it becomes lush and full of new spring life – but it was enough for us, though I was mildly disappointed we didn’t see any of the fabled owls.

Over the weekend we saw (and failed to take decent pictures of) new to me species like marsh harriers, hares and stoat, as well as dozens of others.

An hour or so later, we got back, brewed up, and had a glass of bubbles before settling in for a v cosy night – they’re better insulated than my house!

We left the curtains open so we could enjoy the sunrise, which didn’t disappoint:

Elmley shepherd hut

The view from the bed wasn’t too bad.

After a lazy brew or two in bed, I got cracking with a spot of breakfast, surrounded by darting swifts and curious chickens.

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

Fed, showered, and suitably attired, we set off to explore the area, and headed over the Swale crossing to visit Faversham – the market town of kings apparently.

We had a pleasant hour or so mooching around the town and market (stopping for a brew, of course), then headed along the coast for a mooch and some lunch.

As I’m a classy guy, I treated Mrs Phil to a chip butty on the beach – you can’t teach this level of romance, it’s just a gift I have.

Beach, butty, beautiful wife. That'll do.

Beach, butty, beautiful wife. That’ll do.

We headed back along the coach for some paddling at Seasalter, which was pleasantly warm, though a bit… nothing there.

This stretch of coast is noticeably calmer and has a more gentle slope into the water than down by us, so I’ve made a mental note that it’d be a good place for the kids to get used to being in the sea.

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Splash

We headed back onto the Island, and I showed her the sights of Minster Leas – the beach huts – and got her an ice cream and a drink at the Sweet Hut – possibly the longest wait I’ve ever had for a cup of tea.

We then headed back via Brambledown Farm Shop – a proper farm shop with feed, local fruit and veg, and not a deli counter in sight. My kinda place.

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Wine o’clock at The Ship Inn

After early start for sunrise, we had a chill before heading out for a meal back over the Swale at the Ship Inn, Conyer. Whilst you can see this from where we were staying, it was still a half hours journey to get around to it. Gareth had mentioned he was looking into setting up a ferry service as had been in place before the bridge was built, but it’s not there yet, so you have to rely on the car.

It was a thoroughly decent meal, good portion sizes, and pretty chilled atmosphere with the best company I could ask for. We were properly relaxing now, but after our early start, were both flagging, so after I had a brew, and she had her pudding, we headed back to chill at the hut.

The gates are locked at 7pm, but we had the combination, though I hadn’t realised there were a second (just bolted, not locked) set to go through, which have one of my favourite signs of all time.

Isla Nublar, or Isla Sheppey?

Isla Nublar, or Isla Sheppey?

I’m not sure what predators we were keeping out – presumably foxes/badgers – but in my mind it’s dinosaurs, or Arnie-style Predators.

Which is cool by me.

We got back, got the kettle on and sat just enjoying the peace and quiet of a beautiful sunset.

No TV, no distractions, just the two of us, somewhere beautiful.

Perfect.

We had a lazier start the next morning – still early compared to normal people, but when my alarm normally goes off at 5:25, you take anything after 6.

We slowly got ready at our own pace – breakfast, brews, packing and some more pics (including obligatory pose on tractor), before saying goodbye and heading home, via Macknade (good portion sizes for cinnamon toast, washed down with a decent brew).

Farmer Sutcliffe

Farmer Sutcliffe

All in all, a lovely little break, and we’d both love to go back again.

I’m thinking in winter, with the woodburner going.

And a lovely brew.

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