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Kent’s Coolest stay? North Vat, Dungeness

Where do you go when you want to stay local but need a TOTAL change of scene? Muddy has the answer! Britain’s only desert was the perfect family getaway with buckets of coastal cool...

THE BRIEF

Firstly we need to let you in on one of Kent’s best kept secrets – the brilliant Bloom Stays – a friendly holiday letting agency specialising in memorable holiday homes in Kent.

Run by friends and founders, Rowena and Nicky, Bloom Stays offers a hand-picked selection of local and luxurious self-catering accommodation to suit every holiday break away. They can help you find your city break in Canterbury or a foodie weekend by the sea in Folkestone.

So, after 18 months of very little travel and an unhealthy amount of time divided between my desk and my dishwasher, I got in touch with them for a suggestion for a family weekend away.

It had to accommodate 2 adults, 2 teens, a dog and be within an hour’s drive. Plus it had to feel completely different. And, boy, did they deliver… Introducing award-winning contemporary home, North Vat, settled on the unique shingle beach at Dungeness.

THE LOCATION

If you haven’t visited Dungeness before, you’ve no doubt heard of it. Dungeness lies on a headland on the south part of Romney Marsh. It is formed largely of a shingle beach and lies between New Romney, Lydd and Camber.

This vast expanse of shingle has an almost surreal quality and you can imagine it as the perfect setting for a binge-boxset drama. The otherwise flat and bleak landscape is punctuated by a series of quirky houses, a Lifeboat centre, two lighthouses and the hulking form of the Dungeness nuclear power station.

The Lifeboat building at Dungeness

There are many quirky things about Dungeness, not least the environment. It is one of the most unique habitats in Britain and is technically classified as a desert. Despite this it is home to a wealth of wildlife including 600 species of plant and any number of rare insects.

Not surprisingly you’ll spot lots of symbols of the town’s fishing and maritime inheritance, both past and present.

THE LOWDOWN

North Vat sits right in the Dungeness Estate an area that enjoys protection as a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. The property itself is new to the holiday rental market – so you’re first in the know!

Once a fisherman’s cottage, North Vat blends the heritage of the past with a very modern update.

Mixing the traditional black timber with rather futuristic floor to ceiling glass – all done by architectural practice Rodic Davidson – the end result is a house that fits a setting so magical and other-worldly.

THE VIBE

The interiors at North Vat are wonderfully minimalist. A welcome change from our busy family home and a truly tranquil space.

You’ll find everything you need tidied away behind pop-out cupboards and drawers. It took us a while to find the dishwasher (we played a family game of ‘Find it for a Fiver’ – *spoiler alert* – it’s below the oven)!

One of the downstairs bedrooms

There are three double bedrooms, two of which are downstairs with blinds and doors, where our children slept.

My teens much prefered having their own rooms and wouldn’t have been keen on sharing a bed, so this set up is perfect for a family of four (or more if they are prepared to share a bed).

Upstairs Master Bedroom

We were upstairs in the open-plan mezzanine Master Bedroom. It’s very much about the views – there are no blinds – but I’d packed my eyemask and slept like a log!

It has its own en-suite wet room, with overhead shower, WC and sink.

THE FACILITIES

North Vat can sleep up to 6 in total with 1 reception, 3 bedrooms, 1 en-suite, plus a wet room, enclosed shingle beach garden and off street parking for a couple of cars. The house is over two floors, with the majority of rooms on the lower level.

We had varied weather during our stay – rain and sun and the house was perfect for either. Perfectly cosy for colder days – there’s electric underfloor heating throughout, a Log burning stove and large screen TV (for the kids/teens – you’ll be too busy looking at the view.

On warmer days you get 360-degree spectacular views from the many picture windows or throw open the glass doors and sit in the dog-friendly, enclosed garden (pictured above) right on the beach.

A word of warning if you are taking a dog or little ones. There is a lot of glass and it has the wonderful effect of bringing the outside in – so much so that it creates an optical illusion.

However the thoughtful owners have gone to great lengths to think of everything. There are actually dinosaur shaped pads (this is probably not the technical name but you know what I mean) that you can stick onto the glass to solve this issue. We found them in the kids drawer (where the games are).

They are stick on /peel off so they don’t have to be there all the time and the idea is that the children stick them on themselves so they know where they are and where the glass is. Worth doing if you have a dog too – as we found it advisable with Woody, our Lab. As I said, the owners really have thought of everything.

On the subject of dogs, Woody could not have loved his stay any more. The owners have thoughtfully provided a whole draw of goodies for your four-legged friend, from bowls to blankets and treats to toys.

Here I am sitting by the window and enjoying the view of the miniature steam-engine passing by in the distance (more on this below).

For us the weekend was a total change of scene in every way and a wonderfully luxurious – but simple and pared-back – escape from the chaos and jumble of every day life. Both in terms of the setting and the property.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Well, if you like seafood, you’re in the right place! On the Friday night we just grabbed fish and chips at the local shop in Lydd and it was delicious.

On the Saturday we met some friends for a dog walk along the beach to the Snack Shack (head off in the direction of the lighthouse and you can’t miss it). Everything here is understated – but don’t be fooled – the food is exceptional.

We had their version of fish fingers in baps – pictured above with the Fried Potatoes which you can get on the side – the best I’ve ever tasted and my kids loved it too. My vegan friend said the Greek Salad was so flavoursome, below.

All the fish is caught by their own boats, fishing from the beach here at Dungeness. The food is freshly cooked to take away (or eat on the benches provided) depending on the day’s catch.

And if you fancy heading further afield during your stay then there’s loads of options for food in Rye. Like our family-favourite, Hoof, below.

KID-FRIENDLY?

Yes, definitely, and perfect for older children especially. My kids liked the cool contemporary architecture of the place and while the internet Wifi is slow – 1mb – if you’re just staying for the weekend that’s part of the escapism.

If you have younger kids that are happy to sleep in the (darker) rooms downstairs when you are upstais and you put the sticky bits on the glass then this could easily suit little ones too (although they might love the touch-open drawers a little too much!) But hey, there’s actually a drawer with games and bits for kids too, so that’s all good!

OUT & ABOUT

As you walk around the area you’ll notice how the strict planning laws have forced design ingenuity in the properties.

One of Dungeness’s best known sights is Prospect Cottage, pictured above, former home of the film director Derek Jarman who created a unique wild garden before his death in 1994.

Angling is popular here, but really your best bet is walking. The two lighthouses make a good point to aim for. And one of them is open for visitors to climb up at certain times of year (although check in advance as it was closed due to Covid when we visited).

If you’re looking for a day trip – and especially if you have kiddies in tow – you won’t want to miss the miniature passenger-carrying steam engine and coaches of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway. It rattles along towards the surrounding towns, like Hythe, and back again and is a fun day out. It gets busy – so book ahead.

THE COST: Prices to stay at North Vat start from £858 if you’re going mid-week out of season. But for weekends it’ll be more like £1,200 (that’s for up to 6 people for 2 nights). Check here for latest prices and availability.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: quiet escapes for two – or a weekend away with friends (although I wouldn’t describe this as a party house – it’s all about tranquility). For us it was the perfect family-of-four getaway with our 13 and 14 year old. North Vat is a wide-screen oasis of calm and beauty and a memorable, original stay.

Not for: anyone who can’t sleep without curtains! Definitely not for you if you don’t like the idea of staying near a power-station – some call this area bleak, but those in-the-know see that as part of the coastal cool.

Book your stay here: bloomstays.com/property/north-vat

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