An “All-Encompassing” Stay at Elmley Nature Reserve, An Hour from London

Tucked away on an island just 50 miles south of London is Elmley Nature Reserve, a 3200-acre expanse of marshland on the low-lying Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Nine years ago, Georgina and Gareth Fulton took over the reserve from Georgina’s father. He had managed the estate for decades, transforming what was once intensive farmland into an internationally important wetland site that attracts 12,000 visitors a year, most of whom come in winter when the shallow scrapes and ponds are filled with rare migratory birds.

Wishing to broaden the appeal of the reserve, the Fultons invested in a handful of secluded shepherds’ huts, giving visitors the opportunity to stay overnight on the reserve and become fully immersed in the languorous rhythm of the landscape. At the same time, they converted the cavernous, mid-19th century grain store at the centre of the site into a communal event and dining space. A few years later, the neighboring derelict Victorian farmhouse was meticulously restored. Today, Elmley retains that end-of-the-world atmosphere, albeit—quite literally—with added creature comforts.

Let’s take a tour.

the expansive landscape of elmley nature reserve, the uk’s only nat 14
Above: The expansive landscape of Elmley Nature Reserve, the UK’s only nature reserve you can spend the night on.

the landscape, which is riddled with human made waterways, attracts rare endang 15
Above: The landscape, which is riddled with human-made waterways, attracts rare endangered species, including breeding wading birds such as avocets, owls, marsh harriers, hares, water voles, and dragonflies.

The main hub at Elmley—the café, barn and farmhouse—is at the end of a two-mile track. As you approach, the industry on the shores of the river Swale recedes and unfamiliar shapes appear both on land and in the sky. It’s not unusual to spot the resident barn owl gliding between fence posts, alert hares hunkered in the grass, and lapwings bouncing around on the breeze.