Coastal Survival School - 3 Day course: The Coastal Hunter Gatherer - 4/6th October

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May 20, 2012
The mild mild west!
Here is my review of a recent course i attended with the Coastal Survival School. The course - The Coastal Hunter-Gatherer

Arriving after dark on a Thursday evening nestled somewhere on the outskirts of Bearminster we arrived at our destination. Coastal Survival HQ. Walking out from the darkness to greet us was Coastal Survivals founder & chief instructor Fraser Christian.

I have a keen interest in all things bush-craft & being a newcomer to all things 'bush' I had high hopes for the weekends course; The Coastal Hunter Gatherer.

After arriving & personal introductions we got all our kit together and were led a short walk up a secluded track into the woods. It was here in a clearing amongst the ash that we arrived at what would be our base camp for the weekend. The suspended parachute canopy slung low amongst the trees greeted us with the kettle already on the fire and ended up becoming a great space to socialise and cook over the weekend. There was plenty of suitable space for students to to rig up a hammock as well as the option to bed down in a lovely old army canvas 12 man open tent if you were feeling particularly lazy. Generally sleeping arrangements were flexible on camp & I ended bedding down round the fire most nights of the course. We were told there was even a tent allocated for couples should they want privacy.

The set-up was minimal but functional and struck a good balance between necessary comforts and deliberately making the experience an authentic 'back to basics' true outdoors one. Students were encouraged to participate in the general running of base camp including group cooking and food prep as well as firewood collection. I felt nurturing a group dynamic in this way based on hands-on participation ultimately bonded the group & reminded us all of the value of resources & comforts we would normally take for granted in the outside world.

The first day of the course the morning after our late night arrival began promptly at 08:00am to the sound of bacon & egg crackling away in the pan over the fire. A great start. After breakfast & a brew Fraser and one of his instructors Kris Mouse went through the itinerary for the day and it was certainly due to be a busy one. It became clear that this first day was part of a bigger picture planned for the weekend which was basically an ambitious hunting expedition to the coast to provide for a wild seashore feast in the evenings.

After rendezvousing in town with the other students attending we proceeded on to our weekend hunting grounds a short drive from base camp. The coastal site selected for the weekends course was stunning. Clean blue waters, shingle beach but more importantly huge areas of of rock pools which is where we ended up harvesting most of our bounty.

It very quickly became obvious to me the amount of experience & knowledge chief instructor Fraser Christian had on coastal terrain. This started with essentially establishing amongst the group the hunter-gatherer mindset. To readjust ones view of the area that begins to see it in terms of its resources. Tuning in to the living landscape in a way that opens your eyes to the ever changing weather systems that influence coastal areas & how this affects your methods and results as a coastal hunter. It was so much more than just throwing a few nets out. You had to think like our ancestors.

Once we had walked out to our rock pool hunting grounds Fraser went through the seashore edibles we were targeting as a group as well as the techniques & tools we were going to employ to harvest them. It was clear everything was on the menu. Juicy crustaceans such as crab, lobster and shrimp as well as small fish would be collected using a combination of spring traps and hand made bottle traps. The latter being made directly from salvaged waste washed up on the beach. Other shellfish such as periwinkles, mussels & limpets would be foraged by hand. For the latter we were shown a simple technique of swiftly striking with the heel of your boot to remove easily from rocks. The endless supply of limpets were also smashed in their shells to be used as highly effective bait for the spring & bottle traps. Large fish such as bass & mullet were to be targeted using gill nets.
There was also a huge variety of seaweeds to be collected all of which had their own different textures, colours & tastes. Not only would the seaweed supplement perfectly any protein we caught but were also packed with minerals & vitamins. Every food resource in the area was covered & explained individually in depth. Everything from its nutritional content & calorific value; taste; texture as well as the best means of cooking with it in the kitchen.

Foraging in a coastal area also meant doing it safely. The limited window of opportunity afforded by the tide meant we had to work efficiently & affectively. The Coastal Survival instructors really highlighted how perilous this terrain can be and did a superb job of ensuring everyone was both mindful and respectful of how quickly this environment can change. Personal safety and avoiding injury was a number one priority from a survival & primitive hunter point of view.

After spending many hours in glorious sunshine setting traps, nets and foraging a bountiful supply of fresh crabs & seaweeds we headed back to camp to begin preparations for our first foraged meal. A mixed seafood paella. This is where chief instructor Fraser Christians michelin cheffing experience & knowledge added an exciting twist to the simple practice of foraging which took it beyond mere survival. Limpets cooked in their shells over the fire; a creamy crab & shellfish stock; pan fried seaweed. All cooked together with rice over the fire.

The first day of the course was great but it was the following day where we went back to check our traps & nets that really was the highlight of the weekend for me and many of the group. After waking to another slap up breakfast over the fire and walking back out across the shingle to our hunting ground, we revisited the spring and bottle traps set the previous day. We were not disappointed. Every single trap pulled out from the rocks was a gastronomic treasure chest of fresh seafood treats; shore crabs; velvet crabs; shrimp; mini lobster; blenny fish & Eel. However what everyone was really excited about was whether we had anything big in the nets.

The night before had been quite rough seas, not ideal for setting nets. We were a little concerned the nets may have been trashed by rough weather. When the group approached the large pool where our nets had been positioned a few were certain they could see a flash of silver under the surface water & movement on the nets. Being over waist deep the only way to check & retrieve the nets was for someone to get in the water. Two students were asked to strip down & wade out to the nets, methodically working their way along under the strict instruction of Fraser. Within minutes an enormous mullet fish was pulled to the surface. Then another, bigger than the first. After both nets were retrieved we ended up with a massive haul of 8 huge mullet. It was literally a fish for every student attending the course.

After photographing the catch & with morale at a high the Coastal Survival team showed us how to properly gut & de-scale all the fish ready for transportation back to base camp. Everyone was involved & had an opportunity for some hands-on fish gutting under the guidance of Fraser & Kris Mouse. For the particularly brave we were also shown how to extract the fresh nutrient rich eyeballs for an interesting seaside snack. An acquired taste. The day's hunter-gathering was not to stop there. After bagging up our enormous haul & resetting the traps for the following day we headed back to our transport to drive to another area of coastline for a wild food walk.

Equally as beautiful scenery as our rock pool hunting grounds this area of beach was absent of shellfish & seaweeds but rich in other edible resources that weren’t present at the previous coastal site. Under the guidance of Coastal Survival our eyes were really opened to the sheer volume of medicinal & edible plants and roots that were in abundance on the coast. All of which remained utterly unnoticed & ignored by the general public walking by. As before each plant was covered individually in great detail, from its name & identifying attributes; historical use; nutritional & medicinal qualities; and of course how best to prepare & process each plant in the kitchen.

The students quickly got to work identifying and collecting a plethora of wild plants & coastal veg. Some of which included wild carrot, sea spinach, sea kale, silverweed, plantains & yarrow. The latter was especially picked by Fraser to be used in a tea to alleviate one of the students respiratory problems. We also managed to locate some edible fungi, shaggy parasol and puffballs. These were added to the ever growing haul and were a tasty addition to our cooked breakfast the following morning. Coastal Survival instructor Kris Mouse also educated the group on one of the deadly varieties of fungi when we also came across a notorious and fatally poisonous mushroom known as the 'destroying angel'.

At this point in the day the budding group of hunter-gatherers had amassed a huge quantity and variety of wild foods. Once back at base camp preparations for the evenings feast were under way. Fraser & Kris got everyone involved & with their expert tuition & guidance every student filleted their own fish and participated in salting & smoking the fillets. Other tasks included preparing all the shellfish, sea weeds & coastal veg. Students were also shown how to correctly manage and moderate a fire for a variety of cooking purposes.

It really was a wild gourmet kitchen and the final spread was as much a delight to look at as it was to eat. Pan fried mullet, mixed sea veg medley all in a creamy shellfish sauce with fire roasted wild carrot & sea kale. The meal was also accompanied by some wonderful fresh bread baked over the fire in a dutch oven by instructor Kris Mouse. Kris also ensured any sweet tooth’s in the group were satisfied by again baking fresh in the dutch oven a chocolate sponge cake for afters. There was nothing 'survival' about this meal, this was top grade restaurant standard eating. The rest of that final evening descended in to a late night haze of merriment & laughter round the fire till the early hours.

The following day with some sore heads & after a hearty breakfast we did return to our rock pool hunting grounds to check the nets & traps. Despite the spring and bottle traps performing well again with a mixture of crabs & shrimp there was nothing this time in the nets. However the rest of the day got students trying their hand at the more crafty aspects of being a coastal hunter. Some very interesting & hands-on workshops back at base camp that included making & using a fishing spear & net making.

As the weekend drew to a close, I and all other students really didn't want to leave the woods at Coastal Survival HQ. The weekends hunter-gatherer course had really captured the spirit of 'the tribe'. The Coastal Survival team worked hard to get us thinking & operating as one. A real mixture of people had attended from different backgrounds, careers & age groups but despite this we had successfully formed in to a tight knit group of efficient coastal foragers with the confidence to use the skills we learnt beyond the weekends course.

For me personally what I got out of the course the most was exactly what I came for – knowledge. The level & variety of content covered by both Chief Instructor Frazer & Kris Mouse was vast but was taught in such a way that did not make students feel overwhelmed with all this new information. Every subject, practical skill, plant & juicy seashore edible was covered & explained methodically with clarity and without unnecessary jargon. Having someone recite all the Latin botanical names for plants is impressive however I feel our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have had a more no nonsense approach. Seeing the world of resources around them in terms of their known potential use; the habitats known to harbour these resources & the methods of harvesting or utilising these resources. This is and was The Coastal Survival approach. It was hands-on, enlightening & an authentic experience as well as I feel extremely good value for money.

Anyone even remotely interested in foraging, good eating and the coast should seriously consider booking a course with Coastal Survival. Highly recommended.


May 20, 2012
The mild mild west!
Wow what a fantastic review. Really in depth and full of relevant information. Thanks for spending so much time on it and sharing with us.

No worries. I was a bit concerned it was too long but I just couldn't find a way of making it any shorter with the amount we did on that weekend.


Sep 7, 2013
by the beach
Mate that was a great post I could read all day about the time you had.
Of all the survival courses, this is the one I'm most interested in. I live by the coast, wherever i go i always seem to gravitate towards water.
Thanks for posting this, really enjoyed it.

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