A shepherd’s hut on a working farm deep in rural Kent provides a luxurious getaway with plenty of home comforts
At the top of the wooden steps I turn the key, hanging on a cute ring decorated by a pair of red Wellington boots, and push open the door and step inside. I can’t help exclaiming as I take in the cosy interior. On one side is a double bed topped by a wool throw, cushion and hot water bottle in its own toasty knitted cover. A miniature kitchen faces me and there’s a bottle of English wine waiting in the cooler. A door next to a wood-burning stove leads into a bathroom.
Further exploration of The Lookerer shepherd’s hut reveals shelves and a fridge filled with welcome basics – tea, coffee, milk, cereal, biscuits, bread, locally-produced butter and jam – and some fun unexpected extras including marshmallows to toast over the fire. Going back to the car to bring in the rest of luggage, which I pile on the handy trolley left at the gate, I get my first proper look at my next-door neighbours for the weekend. A few members of the herd of Romney ewes, or Kentish sheep, raise their heads and then resume the all-important task of grazing on the verdant pastures.
It’s a timeless pastoral scene and virtually unchanged from the one that would have been by watchful shepherds and farmers, including six generations of Kristina and Paul Boulden’s family who have lived and farmed on the Romney Marsh since 1882. The vista, including the prophetic and dramatic red sky at night that heralded the first evening, can now be shared by anyone booking a break at one of the two shepherds’ huts based on original 19th century designs and furnished with contemporary comforts.
Passionate about raising the profile of the county’s sheep, avoiding wool wastage and promoting the benefits of sustainable, natural wool, in addition to the two huts on the family farm, Kristina launched Romney Marsh Wools to sell high quality clothes, accessories and lifestyle products using wool from the 1,000-strong flock that are sheared on the farm. Some, such as the blanket and lanolin rich eco-friendly toiletries are inside the hut. The rest can be bought online and include a stylish and covetable country clothing collection which has been created by local design student Abi Lockwood-Morris and dress maker Mikki Southwick.
The huts are geared towards adult-only self-catering breaks; be it a romantic hideaway for couples, rural base for walkers or a chill-out getaway for solos. Whatever brings you to the huts, it’s impossible not to relax and slow down and we settled down and cracked open the bottle of Biddenden Ortega wine.
The glowing red sky of the previous night gives way to the predicted shepherd’s delight of the next day as I push open the curtains and look out across the field. It’s an idyllic sight as I enjoy my first cuppa of the day before cooking breakfast from a well-stocked box that I’d pre-ordered from Kristina. I can’t resist boiling an egg so I can eat it from the sheep egg cup.
Suitably fortified we head out, making our way past the fire pit and rustic chairs in the small fenced off area surrounding the hut. The Lookerer and Rumwold huts are available year-round and I’m staying in winter, but this would be a glorious place to sit on warm mornings and sunny evenings.
Visiting out of season adds an extra feeling of out-of-the-way wildness to the whole experience. The small country roads around the 3,000-acre farm at Aldington are virtually deserted as we drive through the pancake flat area that is part of the Romney Marsh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We follow the signs to Dungeness, the dramatic shingle headland that forms the southernmost point in Kent and is dotted with old boats that are high and dry on the pebbles, weather-beaten beach houses and the old and new lighthouse. All of this is set against the incongruous backdrop of Dungeness power station. It’s as desolate as it is dramatic and there are only a couple of other people in the pub where we stop for lunch.
The Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts also make a perfect nest for birdwatchers as this area is also home to the RSPB Dungeness reserve, set back from the sea with mile after mile of open shingle, freshwater pits, wet grassland and wildflower meadows. Each season brings different birds, and spring and autumn is the time to watch swallows, swifts and martins arrive and migrate.
Next day we head to Folkestone and visit the town museum where there are some really interesting exhibits charting the town’s urban and maritime past. Another atmospheric step back in time can be found down at the waterfront in the renovated rail-sea-rail harbour station that was saved after years of neglect. Once a main gateway to Europe, looking at the restored signs in English and French you can imagine the excitement of passengers as trains such as the Orient Express pulled out of the station.
But I’m more than content to head back to The Lookerer for another snug evening with the log fire burning and surrounded by sheep.
And if you want to get a permanent souvenir of a visit where better to look than the Romney Marsh Wools website.
When the new clothing range was launched Abi said:
“Having the opportunity to collaborate with Romney Marsh Wools to create a garment has been a blessing. I am passionate about the wool industry, having come from a family of animal farmers myself, where we also farm lots of sheep. There is so much wool wastage each year, which seems ridiculous seeing as it is such a valuable and useful source of material. Informing others on how we can use wool more is so important. My hope is that by creating clothing with RMW that we will help people realise the great resource that wool is – practically and fashionably.”
And when it’s time for Kristina to grow the clothing range, as she plans to do, she certainly doesn’t have to look further than my view from The Lookerer to source the raw material.
A two-night stay in the Lookerer Hut for two adults is priced from £272.50 with a minimum stay of two nights. A range of optional add-ons with local activity providers, including cycling, jeep safaris, photography workshops and felting classes, can be booked in advance and local produce breakfast boxes are available from £15 for two. For further information, prices and to book a stay, please call +44 (0)1227 903404 or visit Bloom Stays. For details on the Country Wear Collection and online shop, visit: https://romneymarshwools.co.uk
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs by Matilda Delves Photography and courtesy of Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts