I was due to run a DofE course for the Sea Cadets in Brecon last August but sadly it got cancelled at the last moment due to a lack of funding. Thankfully though my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival heard about that and invited me down to a Coastal Hunter Gatherer course he was running that weekend.
This was an excellent course, I learned a lot and would recommend it to anyone wanting to know how to live comfortably on the coast. It is not an easy course as you really have to work for your dinner but well worth the time.
Fraser runs the course on the Dorset coast and in the nearby local woodlands. I really liked the fact we could forage and fish on the coast during the day but retire to the woods in the evening. Kind of reassuring for an old bushcrafter like me.
The spot I managed to secure for my hammock turned out to have a magical view out over the Dorset countryside. There are not many spots suitable for hammocks but Fraser does have a large army tent that some of the students slept in.
After breakfast we headed out for the coast. On the walk out to the rock pools Fraser explained how to watch the local sea birds to spot the locations of possible shoals of fish.
I had missed the first day of the course when they had put out nets and lobster pots in the rock pools (we were in an area well away from any local fishery nursery area, the closed season had passed and all the nets used were of a legal size).
Overnight about 9 or 10 fish (a mixture of Wrasse, Mullet and Sea Bass) had been caught in the two nets they had put out. I have put a link to two videos at the end of the post showing the fish being pulled from the nets.
Fraser then showed all the students how to de-scale, gut and bleed out all the fish we had caught. I don’t think he was too impressed with our efforts at de-scaling the fish 🙂
We experimented with trying to catch shrimps by throwing the offal from the fish into a rock pool to attract them. What really got them interested though was the blood on our hands. If you were quick you could just flick them out of the water.
I was taught previously by Fraser just to bite the back of the shrimp for a quick snack. Not for the squeamish but tasty all the same.
Jennifer had fun out in the sea collecting sea weed for the pot. We had fun just sitting there watching her as on quite a few occasions she nearly went under. Sea weed is best harvested from the sea as you will get less sand trapped in the leaves, making the preparation process for the pot later easier to do.
The limpets were harvested using a stone: walk quietly, a quick smack and they are ready to pick up. These limpets were cooked over an open fire in their shells, we ate some straight from the shell and some we chopped some up and added to a stew.
We caught no lobsters in the lobster pots but plenty of crabs. These were used to make a stock for dinner later that night.
I think all the guys were pretty happy with the catch on the day.
Once they were all bagged up it was back to camp to prepare dinner.
The crabs were simply mashed up and made into a stock. Not too sure of the exact process here but I am sure Fraser would explain it all if you contacted him, or take a look at his book Eat the Beach which has lots of information on catching and cooking food from the seashore.
We prepared the sea bass and wrapped it in some burdock leaves. This was cooked directly on the embers of the fire and came out very moist and succulent.
Fraser taught everyone how to properly fillet the other fish and we cooked some of them directly on the grill. The fillets we did not use were hung above the fire to dry out and take on some of the flavours of the wood smoke. We ate these smoked fillets the next morning for breakfast.
In between all this cooking I managed to take some time out and do a little bit of carving. This is my relaxation therapy.
A couple of my plates of food from the weekend. Fraser supplied a few of the basics like noodles and potatoes but everything else was foraged. The spoon in the top picture was also a little carving from the weekend.
On one of the walks we collected some herbs for tea. This is a morning brew of Ground Ivy, Bramble and Wild Mint. Very refreshing.
There were also foraging and net making classes. I thoroughly enjoyed both these classes and learnt new stuff in both.
Each student gets shown how to make their own gill net which they can take home with them.
On the last day we went down to Chesil beach. We took a stroll along the land nextbeach looking and identifying all the edible and medicinal plants we could find. We found plenty of sea kale and horseradish (not in this picture) at that time of year.
As soon as we got to the beach we set up the little shelter and Fraser taught us how he sets up his rods for beach casting.
Then it was down to the shoreline to see how it should be done and then have a go ourselves.
No fish were caught that day but everyone had fun casting out past the surf.
I filmed three videos on my iPad while I was on the course, two bringing in the nets and one on the initial prepping of the fish:
Long Line Net Gather 1
Long Line Net Gather 2
Initial fish preparation
I was very chuffed to be invited along to Fraser’s Coastal Hunter Gather course and will be looking to attending again in the future.
Fraser is bringing out a video tutorial course this year so I looking forward to seeing how that develops as coastal survival is a subject I want to explore more now.