Glamping at Elmley National Nature Reserve

I previously wrote about our stay at the Saltbox but I had so many photos from our stay that I thought I’d do a separate post to give a bit more of an idea of our time staying on Elmley National Nature Reserve.

Elmley is the only National Nature Reserve in England in which you can spend the night and we woke every morning in The Saltbox to the sunrise and to see the cows grazing in the distance.

The 3,200 acre reserve is located just on the Isle of Sheppey and is accessed via a two mile gravel road through the reserve, which means that it’s quiet and peaceful and the ideal place to get away from the city.

There are four bird hides on the reserve, all offering different views and wildlife viewing opportunities, the furthest of which is a 5.5 km walk from the farmyard. However, you really don’t need to sit in a hide in order to spot wildlife, just walking through the reserve is enough. Lapwings wheel lopsidedly through the skies and you can hear birds everywhere, even when you can’t see them. There were binoculars provided in the Saltbox and I had my DSLR with me. I don’t birdwatch or anything like that so I only had my general walkabout travel lens (18-200mm), I definitely recommend something longer if you have it to really get a close up of the wildlife.

As we were staying for a few days we decided to get out and about one day to visit a beach on the Isle of Sheppey that we’d read about in the pre-arrival information pack, Shellness beach.

Shellness beach is located down a track full of potholes – take it slow and you’ll be fine, my little rented Fiat 500 coped well, although your low slung sports car definitely wouldn’t. It’s remote for a reason, part of it is a naturist beach. On the day we visited it wasn’t particularly warm and so there weren’t many people there at all, let alone unclothed. The real appeal for our visit was not to feel the air on our bits, but rather to check out the shells. Shellness beach lives up to its name and is covered with thousands of shells.

We picked our way along the beach, stopping to examine the prettiest shells as we went.

Located at one end of the beach are a number of beach houses/huts in varying states of occupation. As we strolled towards them we came across a dead cormorant on the beach, now ordinarily that wouldn’t be great, I mean nothing dead is great but everything has to die eventually and somewhere. However, the thing that made this the stuff of nightmares was that halfway down its dead gullet was a dead fish. Clearly its eyes were too big for its stomach and the cormorant paid the ultimate price for it. Seriously traumatising, and oddly compelling, I posted a picture to my Twitter in case your morbid curiosity overcomes you. As we got closer to the huts they got a bit creepier and it with miles of empty beach, we started to feel more and more like we were in a horror film. The ramshackle huts, the desolation and approaching overcast skies had us totally convinced we were going to be murdered. We beat a hasty retreat back to the car and headed back to civilisation.

Our hasty retreat let us back to the mainland and The Three Tuns pub in Lower Halstow. We secured ourselves some comfy armchairs and settled down to get some lunch. As my boyfriend left his seat on the sofa to go and wash his hands after our morning at the beach, pub cat Fluff meandered over, jumped up onto the sofa and flopped down on my knee for a bit of a stroke and a fuss. My boyfriend came back to find he’d been well and truly replaced.

The food at the Three Tuns was great, we started with baked camembert served inside sourdough with chilli jam followed by a great dish of pork belly and sweet potato mash for me and smoked haddock with mashed potato, topped with a poached egg & mustard sauce.

We spent the remainder of our time just pottering about the reserve, animal spotting and sitting in bed watching the clouds and eating birthday cake (Colin the Caterpillar, of course).

These last few photos came from our final drive out of the reserve. The birds aren’t particularly scared of the cars that crawl by and so it was possible to get decent close ups with even my relatively short (in bird watching terms) zoom lens.

We also spotted a stoat, but he was far too fast for us to catch on camera. Either way, a lovely way to end our stay.

Before we crawled back through the Blackwall Tunnel into London again on Bank Holiday Monday, we diverted to Whitstable and between rain showers strolled along the front, ate fish and chips and bought books.

Whitstable is beautiful, although I’m not sure that May Day Bank Holiday was the time to go really as it was rather busy with people. One day we’ll definitely go back when it’s a bit quieter (and probably when there are fewer morris dancers.

All in all, not a bad time at all, despite the intermittent rain showers (and the dead cormorant of nightmares).

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