Sweeping a net through saltwater to bring it back dripping, seaweed-strewn and packed with prawns is one of nature’s greatest treats, says Rob Yorke
Scour the seashore for mouthwatering treats and intriguing wildlife discoveries.
We, in the UK, are islanders. Some of us are far from sandy beaches or rocky coves and can survive for reasonable periods of time without getting to the sea. But when a rocky shoreline is on offer, everything changes.
As a child, I was fortunate to be able to forage, fish and explore alongside a Scottish sea loch and it has hardwired in me a passion to reach for a net.
No one is supposed to know when I head for that rocky shoreline. It’s an indulgence – “a wild call and clear call that may not be denied” (Sea Fever, John Masefield). It’s a midday, midweek, perhaps even mid-life crisis, as I scramble down sea-thrift-covered grassy cliff, away from smartphones, supermarkets and responsibility, and towards seaweed-smothered stones.
Whether you’re King Canute or not, on these seaside jaunts, the tide is the master, so know your tidetables. I stalk shallow or deep-secret, ever-shifting rockpools on incoming and outgoing tides, as rockpool life reacts to the ebb and flow of water. Every year is different – but the best time to go is between late June to early September when the sun is high, no wind and the water warmest.
SHELL-BENT ON PRAWNS
Prawns live in awkward places, so a strong back and sense of balance are helpful. This can be back-bending work, but it’s lightened with joy, discovery and euphoric red-letter days. Travel light when exploring a rocky beach, and be ready to get wet. For tools, you need a fine meshed net of any size on a strong handle, a couple of saucepans, a stove or driftwood fire, and matches. (Butter and garlic are luxury items but worth packing if you feel optimistic.)
The turn of every tide covers and uncovers delights renewed on a daily basis, providing any amount of wildlife. Small fish – from striking coloured corkwing wrasse, lopsided dabs and bobbled-eyed gobies – lie still in your net. Sometimes a sandy brownflecked shrimp; sometimes an immortal sea anemone or an impossibly indistinct sea spider.
And, hopefully, you’ll net a handful of translucent sharp-nosed prawns. Return small ones and any with dark eggs held in their legs. The larger ones can be dropped into a seaweedsoaked container – keep the prawns damp until last moment of placing into boiling (not just hot) water.
Cook and eat them as fresh as possible, preferably whole, with fingers or sharpened bleached driftwood sticks and, as the all- consuming tide submerges the pools, sit back on your haunches to enjoy one of the most mouth-watering, satisfying feasts known to humankind.
HANDS-ON SEASHORE HUNTING
This connection with food draws me closest to nature. Not through TV screens or along designated boardwalks, but immersed in it up to my knees and elbows. A place of raw nature, red in tooth and claw, where starfish invert their stomachs to dissolve shellfish, swarms of jellyfish are washed up on wild waves and you yourself are under continuous scrutiny.
Herring gulls watch your every move, herons compete in nearby pools, oystercatchers stab mussels, hermit crabs peer out of shells, choughs call from crumbling cliffs and bold, if not reckless, prawns nibble your legs.
Oh yes, as for those red-letter days? Well, a cruel retreating tide once left hundreds of whitebait in swirling baitball-filled pools – the birds were not the only ones to feast handsomely that day. Another momentous day occured when a friend, wielding a tiny net, emerged dripping from a rockpool with a fully grown lobster.
We cannot forget that we are part of nature, nor overlook its benefits to us, from smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. By lightly hunting the harvest within our islander habitat, we humans can return to our roots and tap into our natural instincts.
1 The finest, largest, tastiest prawn Wood, flame and seafood – supper’s served Rob’s tools include a net and a long-handled spoon More than a pint of prawns Stomach-inverting starfish Corkwing wrasse Beadlet sea anemones break up and re-grow A stand-off between a shore crab and goby fish Prawns live in awkward places
The rockpools of the UK are beautifully unexplored
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