A foraging and cooking course for castaways in Cornwall

{ Posted on by }
Categories : Travel news

"Spa breaks are such a cliche," my friend Helen said as we discussed our options for a girls' weekend away without the kids.

When, two weeks later, we find ourselves in the middle of a wood, hedge-haired, stinking of mackerel and with rabbit blood dripping from our hands, I suspect this isn't what she had in mind when I suggested that we attempt a cookery course instead.

We are on a "wild food retreat" near Cornwall's Roseland peninsula, learning how to cook with nature's larder. Our guide is Thom Hunt, a third of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Three Hungry Boys, a Channel 4 series on foraging. Thom's a passionate hunter, fisherman and campfire cook. He is also the kind of rugged and capable man you's happily be shipwrecked with. Which, in a way, we are.

The food courses take place at his Lost Cottage, a centuries-old hideaway on the banks of the River Fal. Reputedly once a smugglers' den, it has recently been renovated to a "rustic" level by Thom. Guests sleep in one of seven bunk beds and wash in open-air showers. And while the furniture is sparse, there is the luxury of electricity and running water – albeit via a hose from the nearby stream.

The only house rule is "no watches or phones" – not that you'd get a signal here anyway. The cottage stands alone in 14 acres of woodland, completely inaccessible by road. The only way in or out is by boat, and that's only when the tides are right. As Helen, myself and four other castaway cooks stand on the ramshackle pontoon, watching our boat disappear from view, I feel suitably marooned.

The loose structure to the weekend is based around the need to eat. On our first morning, we are taught how to gut and fillet a mackerel, which we then smoke in an old aluminium pot for lunch. It's probably the best-tasting smoked mackerel I've had the pleasure of eating. Throughout our hands-on lesson, Thom fires fish facts at us. He is a marine biologist, so his infectious, almost childlike, enthusiasm for the natural world is matched by a vast scientific knowledge of everything from seaweed and fungi to trees, bugs and cooking methods.

Post-lunch activity is focused on preparing the evening meal – rabbit stew cooked in a ground oven. We all dutifully set to work digging holes, collecting wood, chopping logs and lighting fires.

I might have spared my children a second thought if I were steaming in a spa, but here I'm too busy exploring woods, paddling in streams, learning to fish and snoozing in the "hammock village". I spend a happy hour with two fellow guests – a vet and a PR manager – and my inner child, as we construct a rope swing to launch ourselves over the creek. The shackles of adult responsibility are well and truly off.

I'm forced to grow up a bit, though, when it comes to the lesson in skinning and jointing a rabbit. I'm a keen cook but I usually buy my meat ready-butchered. My squeam-o-meter has shot up. But Thom is so matter-of-fact in his demonstration, and the four other women are so gung-ho, that I face my fears and proudly provide my share for the pot. As supper is ceremoniously lowered into the ground and covered in embers, Thom announces it needs four hours to cook.

To distract us from our rumbling stomachs, we go foraging in the creek. Brandishing enormous shrimp nets and looking like we've fallen out of an Enid Blyton story, we roll up our trousers and wade in. It turns out to be a hugely addictive and productive activity that continues until the sun has set. Later, while the bunny boils, we share stories around the campfire and savour our just-caught shrimps, oysters and mussels cooked in cava.

Maybe it's the warm wine, but I'm feeling there's a magic to this weekend that is about so much more than fishing lessons and outdoor cooking.

The collection of stopped clocks adorning the mantelpiece in the cottage pretty much sums it up. I have no idea what time I went to bed, or what time I got up, because I haven't needed to. My weekend at the Lost Cottage has removed me from the manic pace of my daily life in every sense. In return, I've got back what it's been missing: peace, space, nature and, most of all, time.

• The trip was provided by Seventh Rise (no phone, 7thrise.co.uk). Weekend courses for groups cost ?249pp, including all tuition, boat trips, accommodation, equipment, food and drink. Day courses are also available

Related posts

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.