SHORT FAMILY BREAK – THE ISLE OF SHEPPEY

“It’s not very good for women” insisted the elderly guy on the table next to us.

“Oh really, it seems great for us” we replied, unsure how where we were could be better for any one sex.

“Well its just full of men down there” he continued to explain.

“Oh, well there seems to be a few families on site” we confirmed, hiding the pattering of perplexing thoughts.

“Peter, you misheard them, they’re staying at the Nature Reserve not the Naturist beach.” interjected his friend.

And so here we were, out for a pub lunch, on day two of our short family break at Elmley Nature reserve, finding out about terrible nudist beaches that apparently didn’t have enough women to look at. Even Suki couldn’t hide her puzzled bemusement behind her pint and chips.

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I digress. As Londoners, nature to us may well include ten tiny little wooden peg headed noise mongers called the Pontipines, living in a night garden that may well be run by the National Trust. Rabbits with the same name as Peter the nude beach expert may well be backchatting little bunnies that wear breeches and brogues. We just can’t be sure what exists out there trapped in this concrete megalopolis.

Luckily we were lucky enough to randomly find out on Instagram about a cancelled booking in June at Elmley Nature Reserve. All the slots are practically blocked out red this summer and most of autumn, and I’ve just had a quick check right now but their peak season weekends are already fully booked next year which speaks volumes about how good this place is! This was to be our first trip away without the much-needed hands of family members and friends (as explained here), so a spur of the moment jaunt in a shepherds hut in the great outdoors was intrepidly bold. We rang ahead before making the plunge to see if the owners would recommend it for a family of four with one-year-old twins and they filled us with the confidence it was logistically doable in the available hut.

We drove, which is really the only way you can get there. As you approach, with depots dotting the flat horizon indicative of port links to Europe, you already feel like you’re out of England and cruising the French autoroutes. Swinging off the main road and through farms, from the entrance to the Nature Reserve we traversed ten minutes down a track towards our final destination. On this track alone, where you have to stay in your car to avoid disturbing anything, we saw buzzards, marsh harriers, and yellow-breasted wagtails and with spectacular clouds of butterflies following us we were already in a native paradise.

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Greeted by the owners we were shown to our home for two nights called the “saltbox”. Based on original “shephard huts” this had been redesigned by experts and brought right into the 21st century. Up the steps into the raised hut, the kitchen area was kitted out with a gas hob, prep space around a butlers sink, and cool box which, complimented with all the cutlery/crockery/vessels you’d need, you’re sorted for self catering. We even arranged for a Sainsbury’s online delivery to get here just after us so Bear Grylls island this isn’t. The slimline but perfect bathroom had it all and with hot water and better pressure than we have at home both the indoor and outdoor shower were luxurious. Details like vintage style filament light bulbs below factory lampshades, cast iron radiators, and reclaimed wood fittings meant this was an interior straight from the pages of any current trend magazine; the aura of aesthetic awesomeness was acutely apparent.

The bed, a plush kingsize affair with lush layers of bedding, pillows and cushions to sink into, was perfect. This list of well-finished fittings complimented by quality craftsmanship goes on but it’s the bi-fold glass wall that opens out onto the plains with unspoilt views for miles that trumps all. Watching the sunrise at the start of the day and watching owls swoop at night essentially gives 24 hour naturetainment in full HD.

We were provided a decent brand new bath tub for the twins and even ikea high highchairs which are easily the best out there. Sure the space was tight given the amount of stuff two babies need, but regardless we made it work no problem after finding our feet with the layout of the interior in a few minutes. Whilst Katie made the nest inside all nice I tried to stop the girls from cleaning each of the gravel chips immediately outside with the inside of their mouths. Like a game of pinball without flippers I lost this game spectacularly but they seem to have a great ability to already know that non edible things are for swilling rather than swallowing.

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So, like the great Rhianna lyrics this place is all about the Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk. As far as I can tell from maps there is approximately 6 kms of walking that can be done, and with kids, you’ll know that’s enough. With babbling babes strapped to us we were able to set off around the marshes via bird-watching hides on easy manmade paths. The tranquilty is tantamount to total silence save for the song of all sorts of feathered friends. Bliss really. Taking our time we made it back for girls dinner and several large drops of red wine for us. With Swallows and martins filling the skies around us catching their last insect meals this was a food feast for all involved.

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Following dinner, the great unwashed were bathed in the great outdoors which they loved. T’was all fun and games but we were nervous about the evening ahead and how they would sleep. We were trying out some koodi pop up travel cots which we can’t fault for their compactness both up and down. After a few jailbreak attempts and bouts of crying the girls did finally sleep but that left us with an issue of what to do ourselves given that we were sharing one room and that the sudden rainfall had dampened our spirits to stay outside. We settled for chilling out on the bed with several more drops of wine with a whispering technique low enough not to wake the girls, and as dusk approached we enjoyed watching owls scour the fields as well as a bit of cheeky laptop Netflix.

qThe night was tough though as Luna joined in with the frog song chorus of the calamitous cacophony coming from the pool beside us. The reverberating rib-ribbiting was nice until it scared the hell out of her :/ She needed much rocking and in the dark of the cramped unfamiliar territory it was testing. But we’ve been through worse; we have twins that were born two months early so nothing ever really pushes us to places we cant handle.

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We may have had less sleep that night than usual but when you wake up to verdant views in such a perfectly pretty place all is forgiven. Post milk guzzling the girls and I went to collect eggs from the chicken coop on the farm up the track. We returned empty handed after harrowing handfuls of fowl followed us around and scared me…and heres the proof! This second day was split with a pub jaunt, and with a handful of recommended good ones a short drive away, you’re sorted for pints, food and fermented grape juice if you wish. Otherwise the routine of walking split by meal times and nap times continued and a peaceful, tear free night was spent toasting marshmallows on a fire pit I scavenged below bushes for.

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This was our last short family break before Katie had to go back to work after maternity leave so we knew it had to be special. There’s no doubt in my minds we’ll be back here one day; being the only Nature Reserve in England that you can actually stay overnight in, this is a sumptuous British safari we fell in love with.

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