Romney Marsh – sheep and shepherds

Romney Marsh sheep. Credit: Matilda Delves Photography

Jeannine Williamson stays down on the farm in a secluded shepherd’s hut on the Romney Marshes

As we wind our way along the narrow rural lanes on a darkening winter afternoon it seems fitting that as the sun dips over the horizon the twilight sky is shot through with a kaleidoscope of scarlet, magenta and crimson streaks.

It would have doubtless earned the approval of “the lookerer”. He was the Romney Marsh shepherd after whom our accommodation for the next two nights was named and who once kept a diligent watch over the lambing field where we now push open a wooden gate and a pathway across the grass.

The unbroken vista of Kent meadowland stretching into the shadowy distance before us remains unchanged since his day and those of his predecessors. However, any bygone similarity ends as we climb the wooden steps, open the door and enter the shepherd’s hut already warmed by a small electric fire.

In recent years ‘glamping’ and ‘staycation’ – whatever you might think of the words – have entered the vocabulary. All manner of yurts, log cabins and tree houses have sprung up in the countryside offering the chance to experience nature and the great outdoors without some of the hard-core elements associated with camping.

However, as I enter The Lookerer, which shares the field with its twin Rumwold, it’s hard to imagine anything else so authentic in terms of both the accommodation and the setting.

The two self-catering huts are based on original 19th century designs, albeit shepherds of the day would be amazed at how the once practical and frugal interiors have been reimagined. It’s like walking into a bucolic Tardis designed for modern-day time travellers and the details incorporated into the accommodation are remarkable.

Designed for year-round use, there’s a toasty log burner with everything you need to fire it up, two-ring electric hob, fridge, all manner of pans, crockery and cutlery, table, chairs and a bathroom with a super-efficient shower, heated towel rail and proper flushing loo. And that’s besides all the thoughtful fun touches such as a faux lantern, fairy lights across one of the windows and dinky egg cups shaped like miniature buckets.

The latter were ready to be filled with the contents of our pre-ordered breakfast box, which can also be made up for vegetarians. There are many complimentary basics too, including tea, coffee, milk, cereal, bread, jam, biscuits and even marshmallows to toast over the outdoor fire pit in summer. I couldn’t think of anything more you’d need. The first thing we opened was the chilled bottle of locally produced Biddenden Ortega white wine!

Akin to the bucket of wood next to the stove, that night we slept like logs on the bed strewn with a blanket and cushion, woollen of course. There was a hot water bottle, also in its own woolly jumper, but we were so warm we didn’t need it.

In the light of the next day (with no foreboding red sky) we are able to take in the full extent of our surroundings on the 3,000-acre farm at Aldington which is part of the Romney Marsh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Kristina Boulden, who runs the shepherds’ huts, and her husband Paul have a 1,000-strong herd of indigenous Romney ewes, also known as Kentish sheep. Across the pancake flat marshland we can see many of them in the next field. Sometimes also graze on the pasture next to the huts; hence the little fenced off areas to keep any ovine curiosity at bay.

The family has lived and farmed on the marsh since 1882 so it’s no surprise Kristina and Paul are passionate about what they do, which is reflected in the thought that’s gone into the huts.

In 2008 they also founded Romney Marsh Wools to promote the sustainability and versatility of their ‘home-grown’ product.

The lovely home items in the huts, and range of bathroom toiletries made with lanolin, have recently been complemented by a new clothing collection created in partnership with local designers.

The huts are a perfect base for anyone who wants to relax, unwind and really get away from it all in a sparsely populated swathe of countryside where you’ll see more sheep than people.

Kristina has teamed up with other small local business to offer bookable extras such as a bike hire, a jeep tour, photography and felting workshops. Walkers have endless opportunities on the doorstep and for birdwatchers there’s RSPB Dungeness, the society’s oldest reserve (a pair of binoculars are available to borrow in the huts).

Flanked by the sea, Romney Marsh was dubbed The Fifth Continent after 19th century author Thomas Ingoldsby, the nom de plume of cleric Richard Barham, wrote his The Ingoldsby Legends: “The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.”  

We deliberately chose to visit in winter, but it’s a dramatic, wild and atmospheric landscape at any time of the year with some unusual things to see. One day we tracked down the so-called “sound mirrors” or “listening ears” built between 1920 and 1930, before the advent of radar, to detect approaching enemy aircraft. Three of the concrete structures can be seen on the RSPB reserve.

Another morning we strolled around Folkestone’s colourful Creative Quarter, home to galleries and quirky individual shops, before calling at the restored rail-sea-rail harbour station which was once the start of many grand tours of the continent and exotic journeys on the Orient Express.

Back on the farm we rekindled the stove and had another snug night in The Lookerer. We were oblivious to the stormy weather which had blown itself out by the morning as we waved farewell to our numerous neighbours who also seemed oblivious to the elements with their own inbuilt woolly protection.

Whatever time of year you visit these delightful huts you’re guaranteed a place to stay with a difference and a real breath of fresh air.

Jeannine was a guest of Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts. There is a minimum two-night stay per booking. Local produce breakfast boxes are available from £15 extra per booking. A range of optional add-ons with local activity providers and artisans are also available.

For more details, prices and to book a stay call 01227 903 404 or visit Bloom Stays.

For information on the new Country Wear Collection and other items visit Romney Marsh Wools.


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Jeannine Williamson

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