Greatstone Shrimping September 11th 2016

We were blessed with the perfect conditions – clear skies, warm sunshine, light winds – that make for a very relaxed day.

The tide was falling, so the order of the day was cockling first. Just the day before cockles had been highly visible but the combination of calm weather and a weak neap tide meant that on this occasion they had not been disturbed out of their sandy beds. Despite this we had a little success, and course leader, John Ruffhead, was able to show our party the typical field signs to look for when a cockle buries itself in the sand.p1260974

As we turned back along the beach  Steve spotted a different mark in the sand, the tiny circular dimple left by the breathing siphon of a tellin, a type of colourful small clam. In no time, working as a tribe, we had foraged enough for a meal.

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When we returned back to base for a delicious lunch of vegetable soup prepared by Cathy,  the shellfish were left in saltwater to disgorge any sand an grit before the cook up later. It is worth doing this, if only to see a cockle spit sand.

Every year is different at the coast. This year, hitherto, shrimps had been almost non-existent. How would our luck be today? There was only one way to find out and that was to walk the kilometre or so to the low tide line, over the mud deposits, and put those great big nets in the water.

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Well, not only were there plenty of shrimps, albeit not the usual size or abundance, but also a smattering of small Dover soles in the nets, the occasional Plaice and, mercifully no weevers. Fish were surprisingly plentiful and we could see them skipping out of the way of the nets and feel them occasionally brush against our legs. (Warm enough to do without waders. Fabulous!).

John had astonishing success with his throw net and caught half-a-dozen thin-lipped mullet in water half way up my short little shins; beautiful fish. These were returned to the sea. Meanwile, our shrimpers were steadily accumulating a feast. After a couple of hours of pushing, and carefully monitoring people’s temperature we headed back when the youngest started to feel cold.

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Then came the beach feast. Cathy had two pans of water almost at the boil by the time we arrived. For the cockles we added a decent knob of butter and a generous slosh of white wine; and for the shrimps a big dose of salt, which makes them easier to peel. When the water came to the boil the live shellfish were added and by the time both pans returned to the boil, they were already cooked. The shrimps were pink and the cockles and tellins gaping. Any that were not were discarded.

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The taste of freshly cooked shellfish on the beach is unbeatable, and shrimps this fresh are the sweetest  you will ever taste. If you’ve never done it, you don’t know what you are missing 😉