Kya’s life in the marshes of North Carolina in the 1950s in Where The Crawdads Sing might seem worlds away from our own day-to-day experiences in the UK in 2022, but fans can get a taste of marsh life in the heart of Kent.
To celebrate the release of the movie Where The Crawdads Sing, we got to experience life in the Kent marshes, in an unexpectedly tranquil setting in the Isle of Sheppey.
Just a short drive from London lies Elmley Nature Reserve, a vast 3,300 acre wilderness home to thousands of birds, owls and other wildlife.
To experience Kya’s life in the marsh, we stayed in one of the reserve’s custom-built shepherd’s huts to try out life off the grid.
Accommodation on site varies from a boutique hotel experience in the on-site farmhouse, to huts and cabins which range from those truly back to basics with wood-burning stoves to ones with more home comforts including oil-filled radiators and plug sockets to charge devices.
While there are 4G access in most spots throughout the reserve, the last thing visitors will want to do is surf the web when there’s so much nature to absorb right outside your floor-to-ceiling windows.
We stayed in The Saltbox, which offers stunning views over the marsh – channeling the opening scenes of Where The Crawdads Sing to a tee.
It is well-worth setting an alarm to catch the sunrise over the wild landscape as the Saltbox is perfectly positioned to view cattle grazing across the waterways and tiny wild hares bounding past your hut.
While Kya, born and raised in the marsh, is nothing short of an expert on the creatures great and small that live around her, for those of us more accustomed to city life there is the option to book a 4×4 tour with Elmley’s resident nature guide and engagement officer Abbie Burrows.
Abbie takes visitors around the reserve on a 43-year-old ex-army truck (boat tours are also available along the waterways) and can spot and identify rare birds faster than the rest of us could spot them.
Thanks to her eagle-eyes (no pun intended) and in-depth knowledge of the reserve, we were fortunate enough to see a rare red-footed falcon, usually spotted in Africa, much to the envy of the birdwatchers congregated on the reserve attempting to catch a glimpse.
Fans of the Delia Owens novel, and the 2022 film adaptation staring Daisy Edgar-Jones, will know Kya finds her fortune as an artist after honing her skills with nature drawings to wile away the hours on her own in the marsh.
We were able to experience the peace and mindfulness of losing yourself in a painting with local artist Heidi Schaffner, who guided us through an art class in which we painted seahorses and crawdads.
While many of us hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since leaving school (not counting slapping emulsion on walls), Heidi encouraged us to add our own style into our paintings – and learn that there’s no right or wrong way to express your vision.
Living off the grid for a few days, we were also taught how to build a fire and cook our own dinner from scratch thanks to Scott from Wild Classroom.
We were shown how to use a flint to set fire to a pimp – a bundle of twigs used as kindling to the uninitiated – before using organic produce sourced locally in Kent to create a one-pot speltotto (spelt risotto) with fennel flatbreads all made from scratch over roaring flames outdoors, as the marshlands were lit with the fiery colours of a stunning sunset over the flat landscape.
Our dinner was complemented with apple pancakes, also cooked over the fire, before the night was capped off with marshmallows toasted over the embers.
While cooking over fire is definitely an unforgettable experience, Elmley also offers private dining in the farmhouse, where we were treated to a southern-inspired dinner of mac and cheese and spicy prawns as starters, before a veritable feast of southern fried chicken, served with spiced green beans, bacon and creamed corn, finished off with a buttermilk caramel cake for dessert.
Although Elmley is only 40 miles from London, it offers an oasis of calm which will transport you back to Kya’s life in the 1950s in the movie, with perfectly uninterrupted peace on the reserve.
The cabins, although close enough to one another and the main farmhouse to offer a sense of security, are positioned to also allow for much needed privacy, with bushes and foliage blocking the view of one another to give visitors the feeling that they’ve got the wilderness all to themselves.
While there is the option to use your electronic devices in the huts, for a truly authentic experience you will want to avoid them where possible and soak in the atmosphere of this rare idyll in North Kent instead.
For the brave, there are also outdoor showers and bathtubs with some of the huts, however there are also indoor showers and toilets within the huts, complete with luxury toiletries and bathrobes to relax in.
Visitors can also come for day trips to hike and birdwatch, but there is nothing quite like waking up in the silence and stillness and watching the sun come up under Romney Marsh wool blankets for the perfect break from the daily grind.
Where The Crawdads Sing is available now to download & keep.
Enter to win your own Crawdads-inspired trip and signed merchandise here, and more information on Elmley Nature Reserve is available here. https://www.elmleynaturereserve.co.uk/
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