How to become a shoreline forager: John Wright unearths a natural bounty on the Scottish coastline

The author of the River Cottage Handbook 'Edible Seashore' has nearly 50 years' experience of foraging

There is something about a seashore foray that can raise the spirits of all but the most intractably morose individual. Paddling around in rock pools, and doing so with a purpose – to find food – is one of the most natural of activities, and it shows on people's faces.

Often the food comes in huge quantities, from seashore plants to seaweeds, from shrimps to lobsters. Adults become children again. Indeed, I've known hardhearted hedge-fund managers shed tears of joy, telling me that it was their best day out for years.

And so it is, as a forager with nearly 50 years' experience, that I run seashore forays. Most take place on the gentle coast of Dorset, but recently I have begun exploring the less tamed beaches of Scotland, in particular, near Dunbar. This is how they go…

5am

My tent is situated in paradise by the sea, nestling in soft grass beneath coastal pines, amid the occasional unwelcome pine cone. I'm asleep. My fellow forager, Monica Wilde, calls from the other tent, "John! Are you awake? What time is it?" My answers are, "Yes" and "Five o'clock." My life is ruled by tides, and we need an early start to catch the spring low – but five o'clock is always absurd. The light overnight rain has gone and the sun is making sterling efforts on our behalf, so I clamber inelegantly out of the tent, make preparations for the day, and linger over the essential breakfast beer.

8.30am

Three hours later – I said the five o'clock start was absurd – and armed with nothing more complicated than wellies, basket, bucket and knife, we take the mile-long path through woods to the car park to meet our 15 guests for the day.

9am

We set off back to the beach, but to another part, to make a triangle of our walk.

9.30am

After a mile of reasonably productive hedgerows (dandelion, burdock, beech leaves suitable for a "beech-leaf noyau" – a classic cocktail mixer made from gin, with sugar, brandy and the young leaves), we find ourselves not on the beach, but on the saltmarshes behind. Here is sea aster, a pleasantly succulent salad vegetable, but also, and much more of a revelation, sea arrowgrass, which tastes startlingly of coriander. The saltmarsh is a treacherous place, for it is criss-crossed with muddy channels that we all leap across, with variable success. However, here we find that favourite wild delectable, samphire. It is in season and almost fully grown, so we carefully cut some for our tea.

A lobster found in a fisherman's pot A lobster found in a fisherman's pot
9.50am

Past the saltmarsh we come to a sandy beach with dunes. A common plant in this habitat is sea rocket. I break off a leaf for everyone, telling them to start chewing when I say go. Their faces are a picture. Sea rocket is mild at first, but, like its cultivated cousins, becomes hot and peppery with chewing. It is, in effect, wild wasabi. Less of a challenge are the oraches that grow in profusion above the strandline. These are bitter raw, but cook to sweetness like their relative, spinach.

10.10am

The sand gives way to a broad tidal zone of rock and rock-pool, interspersed with cockle-rich sand. The rocks themselves sport vast colonies of mussels and winkles, a few of which find their way into our buckets. Then, at last, the rocky plain breaks into boulders and we come to the sea.

A sea urchin, whose roe is edible raw A sea urchin, whose roe is edible raw
10.30am

What excites me most are the seaweeds, and I enthuse about these disregarded treasures to my guests in the hope that I might inspire them to give weeds a chance. We have 700 species around our shores, none of which is poisonous, and 20 or so of which are common and good to eat. The British are not great seaweed-eaters, though we eat more than we think in processed foods, such as milkshakes, and as thickener in toothpaste. What keeps people from eating seaweeds? It is neither the taste nor difficulty in supply, it is simply that few of us have a clue as to what to do with them. But each has its own character and should be used in its own way.

10.40am

Our rocky shore is prolific, and we slip and slide dangerously on the fronds. Here are massive brown kelps – used like a bay leaf to add flavour; red fronds of dulse, which steam nicely to a cabbage-like texture and taste (not to mention an appealing suggestion of iodine) and make the best crisps in the world; the brown and bushy carragheen, which is used to set panna cotta; and the thin, transparent brown fronds of laver. Laver can be dried and toasted as a sprinkle for fishy dishes, or boiled (for a staggering 10 hours) to make laver bread – a Marmite-like substance much loved by the Welsh in oatcakes fried in bacon fat.

Kelp, useful as a flavour enhancer because of its natural glutamates Kelp, useful as a flavour enhancer because of its natural glutamates
11.40am

The walk back to our campsite brings a big surprise. I like to put out crab pots the day before a foray, but they are not easily transported on the flight we have taken to get to Scotland. However, lodged between two rocks we find a fisherman's lost pot containing two brown crabs, three velvet swimming crabs, a sea urchin and two lobsters. Magnanimous in our good fortune, we let the smallest of the catch go to fight another day and take the rest back with us.

1pm

Back at camp, the messy business begins of preparing what we have found. Although some beaches are polluted, it is not such a problem these days and I have no concerns. A quick phone call to the local Port Health Authority will reassure anyone who is nervous. Today's haul is a wonderful collection, though it's not really enough to feed us all. Being prepared is everything, and to add to our feast we had brought along mussel-and-herb sausage stew; smoked pollack-and-dulse tart served with our collected wild salad du jour; and, best of all, seaweed-and-elderflower pudding (which is much nicer than it sounds), served with sea-buckthorn syrup.

Seaweed-covered rocks beyond the sand dunes Seaweed-covered rocks beyond the sand dunes
3pm

Waking up some of our guests (I always bring booze to these events), we take a quick walk through the woods to find chickweed (an excellent pakora ingredient), sweet cicely – a northern wild specialty that tastes of aniseed – and a group of unseasonably early mushrooms known as Blushers.

4.30pm

It is time for our tired and slightly sunburnt guests say goodbye.

5pm

Pack up camp.

6.30pm

We take a final walk along the beach, chasing the leaping sand fleas, and I idly wonder whether these would make a good bisque. The setting sun catches the rust-coloured rocks, making them glow a brilliant red, contrasted by the greens and browns of the seaweeds atop them. And, I think, I have had one of my best days out for years.

John Wright is the author of the River Cottage Handbook 'Edible Seashore' (£14.99, Bloomsbury). For more about his foraging forays: wild-food.net. For more on Monica Wilde: monicawilde.com

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain