Travel Diaries // A Stay At Elmley Nature Reserve

A long, gentle stroll with nature, the warmth of spring sunshine through floor-to-ceiling windows, a quiet stillness, the contentment of time uninterrupted, and a flickering fire warming the cool spring evening: these were the highlights of a slow 24 hours on the Isle of Sheppy.

As is customary with aging into one's thirties, I've found myself longing for a quaint staycation over a heavy night on the town. One where Matt and I could completely switch off, disconnect from social media, retreat from the burdens of adult responsibilities, and reconnect with each other, with ourselves and with nature. I've found myself craving more cosy afternoons, cocooned in blankets, with the space and freedom to just be. This is how I wanted to celebrate my 32nd birthday and our eight year anniversary, so when I discovered Elmley Nature Reserve on Instagram I knew immediately this was the place to do just that. We booked an overnight stay, loaded the car with the essentials (hello vegan cheese, wine and extra blankets!) and off we went.

Shortly after crossing the bridge onto the Isle of Sheppy we arrived at the reserve gate and followed a long, winding gravel road up to the main barn, spying chickens, ducks, pigeons and hares on the way. After checking in we were shown to our hut - The Damson - which is comfortably small, just big enough for the two of us, and tucked away with its own private entrance. The only disturbance came from the resident ducks who popped by in the morning and were very welcome guests.

The hut is quite literally surrounded by nature. There's a full length window at the foot of the bed overlooking the reserve, with folding doors opening up to provide uninterrupted views. Waking up here was a dream. There's also an outdoor bath tub and fire pit, both ideal for unwinding and wildlife spotting year-round. I also love that the hut is kept warm, even throughout the winter months, thanks to the eco-wool insulation which is made from recycled plastic bottles. Talk about sustainable chic.

Although we'd been having a pretty grey and windy week, when we arrived at the reserve the spring sun was out on full display and so we grabbed the opportunity to slip into a relaxing, hot bath. We popped a bottle of champagne we'd been saving for a few years and toasted ourselves as we looked out over the reserve, catching occasional glimpses of wildlife passing our hut. I felt so completely and truly relaxed. We laid there until the water turned cold and the last of the champagne had been polished off, and then we made our way back inside the hut and into comfy pyjamasWe wrapped ourselves up in layers of blankets and sat in the stillness, with just the sound of the birds in the nearby trees and our own thoughts. It was bliss.

As the sun began to set, we finally uncoiled ourselves from the cosy nest we'd made, lit a fire, poured a glass of red wine, warmed some soup and spread butter across thick slices of farmhouse loaf. Enveloped in coats and blankets, the smell of smoke and roasted pepper soup, and the sound of a crackling fire and bird calls, we sat and talked until the sun went down. 

When the fire began to fizzle out and the temperature dropped, we headed back inside, closed the curtains and snuggled ourselves away for the evening. We slept well in the comfortable king-size bed, waking early, naturally, to the sound of the morning birdsong and a ray of light streaming in through a crack in the curtains. 

We drew the curtains, unfolded the doors and climbed back into bed with a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich to enjoy the view. The rising sun was so bright and so warm that we laid in bed wearing our sunglasses, feeling like we were on a beach holiday somewhere far hotter than the UK in March. We bathed in the peaceful quiet for a long while before finally peeling ourselves out of the bed and into the day.

We bundled up and headed out for a slow meander around the 3200 acre reserve. It's closed to the public on Tuesdays which meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves and wandered in near silence, with the exception of wildlife calls and our quiet chatter. The marshland was beautiful and peaceful, but also very wet and slippery so we were covered in splatters of mud when we returned to the office to check out.

On the drive back down the gravel road to the gate we said our goodbyes to Elmley. We were going to miss this haven that we'd called home for the night. We reminisced the entire drive home, already planning our summer return - except this time we'll stay for two nights so we can really sink into the calm and tranquility Elmley offers.

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