Needless to say, after a very long walk on the previous day, I slept well and rose late at Danny’s and Sue’s house. It was a relaxed and full family Saturday morning. The chickens needed tending, the dogs brushing, a tennis lesson or two, a friend round to play and chats over cups of tea. I even managed to write a web post! Danny offered to give me a lift to Elmley National Nature Reserve, where I would meet my next hosts Georgina and Gareth, as he had a tennis lesson scheduled off island. Though disappointed not to be walking, I had already experienced about 200 metres of Lower Rd heading to Laurie’s the day I arrived on Sheppey and I didn’t relish the thought of doing it again. It’s definitely not pedestrian friendly.
In planning my arrival, I mentioned to Georgina that I intended to walk into Elmley from the gate. This quickly changed, however, as Gi explained the sensitivity of nesting birds on the road into the site. There are a number of signs asking visitors to stay in their vehicles, and I was happy to observe this.
The grazing cows around the water at the bottom of the slope near Gareth’s and Georgina’s house was an idyllic welcoming view for a visit to this magical place. The family had returned the day before from a short break, so they were exceptionally generous to agree to my visit. Eleni was readjusting to normal sleeping hours, always disrupted after a flight. Gareth and Gi are always kept busy with the management of Elmley, and they had much to catch up on after their break, having taken over the running of Elmley, a 3000 acre fresh water grazing marsh reserve, in 2013. Elmley is the only privately own and maintained National Nature Reserve in the UK.
None of this busy return had any bearing on their hospitable welcome. After a cuppa (Yorkshire Tea!) and a chat about the layout of the Nature Reserve, I went for an evening walk, first west past the Victorian School on the way to the ‘Turkey Brick and Cement Works’. Elmley’s website describes it:
Visitors to Elmley are often enchanted by the ruins of the Old School House. This is the most clear reminder of the legacy of the Victorian village at Elmley. The village grew up to house the workers at the Victorian ‘Turkey Brick and Cement Works’ and at its height was home to over 200 people.
Enchanted I was. Breathtaken, too, by the feeling of lives having been lived here and the present peace and solitude of the fields around the Cement Works. The contrast in views 180º apart looking West toward Industry and East toward home was remarkable from the Elmley Hills.
One hour in and I knew Elmley NNR was a special place. Making my way back to the paths leading to the first of four Hides, I met Colin, who had come over from Essex to visit Elmley. While we talked he spotted a marsh harrier. Colin told me he started birdwatching as a boy, taking it up again in 2000, as a resolution to do something positive. The rarest bird he has seen was a sociable plover.
There is a memorial bench not far from Wellmarsh, the first of the hides at Elmley. I sat for a while and imagined Gi’s and Gareth’s gorgeous Eleni growing up here, with this place as her playground. It reminded me of my own long summers on the Amherst Shore in Nova Scotia, with woods, streams and fields to explore. These places are so valuable and important. Elmley can be supported through a Friends of Elmley yearly membership.
On returning, I passed the beautiful old farmhouse that used to house the RSPB offices. I was welcomed back with another cuppa, and shelled peas and broadbeans for the fritatta that we would have for dinner while we talked. Delicious after a wander, or after anything, really! Gareth took me to close up the mains gate for the evening, stopping the car to explain the complex drainage management required to keep Elmley in perfect grazing marsh condition. It took awhile, because we also stopped to look at different birds, cropping techniques, and close predation fences. So much involved. The work that all the Elmley team are doing to keep this habitat safe and accessible is commendable. I have another favourite place in Kent. I’ll definitely be back to stay in one of their wonderful new Shepherd’s Huts, too.
I couldn’t sleep in the morning, and it wasn’t the bed, which was supremely comfortable. Nor was it my hosts’ very young daughter waking, a thing which I remembered with nostalgia, as I didn’t have to leave my bed because of it! It was being in this beautiful place and knowing I had the really special privilege of an opportunity to walk to Spitend, the furthest point of Elmley, at sunrise. I was too excited to sleep!
One week earlier, on the first day of Walk Swale Medway and just before arriving at Conyer to stay with Gerry, I’d sat on the bank opposite looking at Elmley with the sailing painter who did my sketch and wondered about Sheppey. What a delight it turned out to be!
It was chilly after sitting in the Spitend hide, gazing toward home in solitude, so getting walking again was welcome, as was my hood and hat arrangement! Calves gambolled on the opposite banks. There was a moment of magic when I watched a lark ascend. It was my second, the first on walking to Whitstable weeks before.
I just watched a lark ascend here. Full throated, suspended, suspended, suspended, suspended, and down into the grass ahead next to the path. Then a pair took off and circled me, the one chasing behind the other and with every dip up, a little trill. Incredibly moving.
Go to Elmley. You will love it. And you won’t want to leave.
Just outside Gi's and Gareth's, beautiful Elmley's grazed marshes
Elmley National Nature Reserve, Looking over the old Turkey Brick and Cement Works
Elmley, looking West
Elmley, looking East and home
Mr F, get online and sign up!
My favourite kind of light
Glimpse of home
Margaret's and Tony's bench
The nearest hide, Wellmarsh
If I had to dream up a house in a place, it would be this one.
It really is the best.
To Spitend hide
Spitend, first seen a week earlier from the bank opposite
My sartorial credibility takes another hit
The Barn at Elmley, a stunning venue for any celebration
The view from inside the Barn at Elmley, beautiful light any time of year
The Linhay, behind the barn
Georgina, Eleni, and Gareth, at the heart of Elmley's dedicated team
Roses in the garden and the Sheppey Crossing