7th Jun 2012 10:32am | By Cath Millman
How would you cope as a castaway? Find out with a coastal survival course on the beaches of Devon
“The good thing about the beach is that there’s always plenty of protein around,” says Fraser, my guide, as he cuts a limpet from a rock with his blade. He inspects the grey gooey creature, and slices into its raw flesh. Flicking off any stray bits of sand and grit, he hands me a piece with a mischievous grin. I take the measly offering without a second thought. Having clambered over rocks, dug a shelter, built a fire from scratch and munched on numerous weeds and plants, I’m determined not to lose face now. Plus, I’m starving. I smile back and pop the limpet in my mouth. It’s actually not that bad. To think people splash their cash on shellfish in posh restaurants when it’s right here for the taking.
I’m on a beach survival course on a strip of coastline in Devon dubbed by locals as the ‘secret beach’. So far, it’s been a pretty steep learning curve. Fraser gives his students loads of practical information about the flora and fauna he finds, as well as the experience of roughing it and braving the elements. “It’s a liberating experience, engaging with the wilderness,” he says. “Nature can provide everything you need: shelter, fire, water, and food. You just have to be prepared. If you like an adventure, you owe it to yourself to get some survival skills.”
A few miles from the pretty seaside town of Lyme Regis, we’re hardly in the wilderness, but, as Fraser explains, the skills we learn here can be used anywhere in the world. “Making traps, finding wood, boiling water, foraging and putting up an emergency shelter are skills that can be used anywhere – you just need to have confidence and keep your wits about you,” he says. Having trained with the Royal Marines and actually lived in the woods and on the beach for a while (he’s just one of those characters), Fraser knows what he’s talking about. He’s also a big foodie, and is always keen to apply his cooking skills to the ingredients he finds all around him. Survival students won’t be eating baked beans on his watch.
You can decide how hardcore you want the experience to be. If falling into a proper bed after a long day foraging or fishing is more appealing, no one will judge you for it. But there’s something pretty special about sleeping in a shelter you’ve built yourself. Visitors who spend a few days learning the ropes go hunting with nets and traps, try their hand at spear fishing and even make their own tools. Crucially, everyone learns how to operate in a sustainable way and leave every site as they found it. “It’s really important to respect your surroundings – you never know when you might need something again,” Fraser says. “Also, you may be in a situation where it’s not wise to leave any tracks.”
He looks up at the cliff face – he’s assessing the potential dangers around us all the time – and we make our way to the woods. This is where we’ll set up camp, away from falling rocks and sheltered from the wind. I follow his lead, plucking berries, seeds and leaves from the trees and bushes. Each one has its own distinct taste – one plant could pass for wasabi, something I regularly fork out for at the supermarket. “We overlook all these things,” says Fraser, cutting more samples with his knife. “Take stinging nettles. They’re an antihistamine, they’re said to help arthritis, and they’re full of vitamins and protein. Now that’s what I call a super plant.”
Every step he takes is with great care, and he’s scanning everything around him for possible uses, tastes, and tools. For Fraser, this is a way of life, and anyone who wants to escape the daily grind and fend for themselves should join him on his adventure, if only for a couple of days.
Coastal Survival runs courses in Dorset, east Devon and northwest Wales. From £75pp.
Travel by train from London Waterloo to Axminster with South West Trains, from £20.50. The journey takes about three hours. Coastal Survival School offers free transfers from the train station.
Eat, Drink, Sleep
Part of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s empire, the River Cottage Deli & Canteen’s menu changes each day depending on what the local farms and fishing boats have brought in. Mains start from £8 | rivercottage.net
Situated under Corfe Castle, picture-perfect pub The Greyhound Inn offers fresh, local food, real ales and traditional ciders. Mains from £11.50 | greyhoundcorfe.co.uk
Loders Arms is a cosy 17th-century pub with a roaring log fire and seasonal food. Pints from £3.50 | lodersarmsbridport.com
Warm your cockles in traditional boozer The Harbour Inn. Pints from £3.40 (Church Street, Axmouth, tel. 01297 20371).
Bridge House Beaminster is a 13th-century B&B boasting oak beams, candlelight and fireplaces. Doubles from £126pn. (Prout Bridge, Beaminster, Dorset, tel. 01308 862200).
With comfy beds, a wood burning stove, a dishwasher and free wifi, you and your mates can join civilisation again at Mazzard Farm. From £17.50pppn. (East Hill, Ottery St Mary, tel. 01404 815492).
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