Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts
Proving that rural escapism can have a side order of laid back luxe, Samantha Ready dons her wellies, heads for the farm and discovers a whole new side to the ‘Marsh…
The excitement at heading not a million miles from iKHQ’s Ashford base to the outskirts of the Romney Marsh was palpable. Partly as this would prove to be Mr Ready and I’s first staycation in what seemed like forever, but predominantly because of the intrigue of experiencing our first working-farm, wifi-free, shepherds hut stay.
The brain-child of the Boulden family; husband Paul is the 6th generation to farm the 3,500 acres on the edge of Aldington, wife Kristina (as well as working hands-on on the farm, being mum to two girls and a rather excitable new lamb named Bubbles that leaps the pen to follow her around the farm) is the powerhouse behind the award-winning Romney Marsh Wools – which creates everything from blankets and hats to skincare and gifts, all lovingly crafted from the wool of their beloved flock, which includes over 1000 Romney Sheep and some Merinos; the idea for the Romney Marsh Shepherds Hut was sparked by numerous requests to experience life on the farm firsthand – it proved to be ingenious.
Regardless of the time of year you visit, you’ll be in for a treat; uninterrupted views, magnificent sunsets, rolling Kentish countryside, and a true sense of being at one with nature; an experience that begins as soon as you cross the bridge into the farm grounds to be met with an enthusiastic chorus of ‘baas’ and a friendly welcome by Kristina.
Now, this may be a working farm, but the peak of immaculate glitter-polished nails; as Kristina adeptly lifted her surrogate lamb, opened our key safe, handed over the helpful wagon that aids the movement of your belongings from car to hut, and opened the gate to the field; was the first glimpse that this is back to nature with more than a hint of luxe – and I loved it already.
Bespokely built by local craftsman Julian, from Elham Valley Shepherds Huts to original 1900’s plans, our hut, ‘Rumwold’, is one of two available; both cleverly positioned to afford privacy and those exceptional views of the Marsh and its sunsets. From its location to its finish, the facilities to the add ons, the Bouldens really have thought of everything…
And, as tiny rural boltholes go, it is deceptively spacious!
With the homely, rustic charm of a country cottage combined with a unique quaint facade, the hut’s central double doors opened to reveal a double bed built upon cupboard space – perfect for storing your overnight bags – to the left; a built in kitchen front and centre, with traditional butler sink, two ring hob, kettle, toaster, mini fridge, and even a nespresso machine – perfect for making a brew from the complimentary tea, coffee and milk (all local!) provided on arrival – there’s even a space-saving fold up table cleverly hung on the wall. Opting for the breakfast box add-on meant we arrived to a mini fridge bursting with local sausages, bacon, farmhouse butter, and eggs, as well as a jar of granola so good that Mr Ready contemplated packing it to bring home. Whilst to the right was the perfect ensuite; full power shower, wc and sink, with, of course, complimentary Romney Marsh Wools lanolin toiletries.
Even though there was a distinct nip in the early spring air we were instantly warm and cosy thanks to the Romney snuggles. Made with their own sheep fleeces, the bed had sheepskins, blankets and even a hot water bottle – it was that inviting I promptly had my first afternoon nap since Christmas! The log burner can also be fired up for instant warmth inside, whilst the outside fire pit offers the perfect spot for snuggled stargazing and summer bbqs alike – a joke about toasting marshmallows was met with childlike delight as we spotted a glass jar of them on the top kitchen shelf… for those needing any reassurance, they really have thought of everything!
From the simple touches of a locally painted picture, a vintage-esq DAB radio and some tiny strung fairy lights, to the crook shaped curtain poles and eco-friendly washing up liquid – there is attention to every littl
e detail, and an air of hospitable welcome that would be envied in any 5* establishment. And this extends to the carefully chosen extra food offerings too.
As well as the breakfast box, guests can also pre-order a picnic hamper, BBQ box or ‘finish-at-the-hut’ dinner prepared by the incredible Kentish Home Feasts. With her renowned London and Kentish event caterers, The Flavour Kitchen, forced into a lockdown hiatus, an undeterred Siobhan Bailey decided to bring her sumptuous, nutritious, delicious, freshly cooked meals to local homes, and thus Kentish Home Feasts was born. Based just 15 minutes from the huts, the seasonal menus are inspired by global travels yet bursting with ingredients sourced from local suppliers and farm shops.
And feast is an absolutely apt description of the delivery we received fresh on night one!
All beautifully presented in recyclable packaging, we had the delights of the duo of pork: local pork scotch quails egg and potted ham hock and pistachio terrine – served straight from box to plate; and the scallops with Iberico ham, white bean puree and baby spinach; pre-seared, it was a case of following the simple, step-by-step instructions to complete cooking before devouring! Next, the most delicious rack of lamb (sorry Jeff!) with red wine jus, fondant potatoes and glazed baby vegetables; again all with step-by-step instructions adapted for the hut’s two ring hob. Before finally unveiling a heaving skillet of chocolate fudge brownie served with hot fudge sauce and fresh local cream and strawberries, yes it was as good as it sounds! And, as if that were not enough, we had the pleasure of sampling a bottle of Pinot Gris 2019 from the single-estate Heppington Vineyard too – discovering another Kentish must-try tipple.
Now, whilst you could just wrap yourself in a fleece, feast to oblivion and watch the clouds roll by, the huts are not only luxuriously perfect, they are geographically so too – that great combo of being far enough away from civilisation to escape, yet close enough to have lots to do.
Being on a working farm there is always something going on. Our stay was timed to perfection for not just a self-catered staycation but for lambing season too. Not only did we have the prospect of waking in wonder to find another new arrival in the field outside (which we did, twice!), it also offered us the unique opportunity to help feed the newborn lambs too! Apologies to Kristina who made the whole process of delivering warm milk to premmie twin Jeff, escape artist Bubbles, Pinky, and Perky a lot easier than it proved to be for Mr R and I (and the kids who came to “help”) – despite dire efforts the experience was truly memorable.
But of course that’s not all there is to do here.
Recognised as being quite like nowhere else in the county, Romney Marsh offers a host of activities and excursions across a varied landscape of rolling fields, quaint villages, bird reserves, coastline, and even it’s own desert! Working with a host of locally-based, hand-picked partners, Kristina and Paul are able to recommend a whole host of things to do to pimp your staycation package and make the most of your trip. From felt-making to photography, art lessons to cycle hire, there really is something for everyone, and for us
it was a jeep safari that piqued our interest!
Met bright and early by the effervescent Jack in his Mitsabishi Warrior with Big Wheels – one of four vehicles including an 11-seat Land Rover that will once again drive in convoy across the Marsh as soon as permitted – we were set to embark on an unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable adventure, just as soon as I could get my little legs 3ft off the ground!
Having launched Channel Bike Hire 7 years ago (the by-product of his own health kick, a garden full of bikes and a desire to share the joy of cycling in the Marsh!), it was the forced closure of the roads into Camber Sands (thank you lockdown busloads of covidiots) leading to the inability to physically get his bikes to waiting hirers trapped in the exclusion zone, that led to the lightbulb moment of offering guided jeep safaris… now, like us, you can now enjoy a half-or full-day tour that can include: giant wind turbines talks; the largest solar farm in the county; medieval churches with secret keys; RSPB nature reserves; the UK’s only desert; photo opps with the newest farmshop’s resident bull; hidden beaches; and lunch at local favourite The Bell Inn; if you’re lucky it might even include discovering the local best kept secret – Fredi’s legendary gyros! – all to the background of Jack’s contagious enthusiasm, affable charm, country-lane ‘Jack-nav’, and unsurpassed local knowledge! He seemed bemused why so many leave the tour knackered, well aside from being fed from morning until evening (I think we may still be full now…!), the ample fresh air, opportunities for walks, and even a secret swim, the day will leave you ready for another restful shepherds hut slumber!
But our night wasn’t over just yet. As patiently waiting at our hut was a box full of yet more delicious (and of course Kentish!) wine, this time to be sophisticatedly supped during a tutored wine tasting by none other than the award-winning Wine Tours of Kent. Another bourne-out-of-lockdown-necessity, Wine Tours of Kent’s virtual wine tasting is actually the perfect partner for an evening of hut wine drinking! The knowledge of Charlie knew no bounds, whilst the option of rewinding, pausing (for a top up!) and listening again at leisure offers wine novices and aficionados alike the chance to boost their knowledge and their taste buds; in our case happily tasting our way through Biddenden’s Ortega, Wayfarer’s Pilgrims Way Pinot Gris and Woodchurch’s Classic Curvée; before settling in for one last relaxing night under the stars…
insideKENT were guests of Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts (www.romneymarshshepherdshuts.co.uk). Based near Aldington on the Romney Marsh, a two-night stay in the Rumwold Hut for two adults sharing is priced from £166 per person based on travel between 1 June and 22 September 2021. There is a minimum two night stay per booking so the cost is from £332 for two adults overall. To book, visit www.kentandsussexcottages.co.uk and search ‘Rumwold’ or call 01580 720 770.
Channel Bike Hire runs Marsh Jeep Safaris. A half-day tour including lunch at a locals’ favourite eatery is priced from £50 per person. Tours take place on the Romney Marsh and around Dungeness in Kent. For more information and details of how to book, visit www.channelbikehire.com.
Wine Tours of Kent offer guests the opportunity to explore some of Kent’s finest vineyards and wine producers and brewers too on a guided tour with tutored wine tastings and a country pub lunch. Tours are priced from £93 per person. Virtual tours are also available from £75 per person with wine samples delivered directly to the huts. For more information, visit www.winetoursofkent.co.uk.
Kentish Home Feasts supplies three-course gourmet meals to guests staying at Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts. Prices start from £30 per person. Visit www.theflavourkitchen.co.uk and follow on Facebook, www.facebook.com/kentishhomefeast and Instagram @the_flavour_kitchen for menu releases and ordering options.