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Sperm and herpes – the first words that sprung to mind when asked about my weekend.

I hadn’t been on a debaucherous Miami ‘spring break’. Not Newcastle. Not even Newquay, which I’m told is a wild night out.

But I’m close, on Cornwall’s stunning north coast. It’s packed in summer, but I find it a quiet treat in the chill, where you can drink, stroll, relax, eat like a king and learn more than is necessary about oysters.

I arrive at Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, between famed holiday spots Padstow and Newquay, on a Friday night.

We’re here to go “oyster hunting” (a misleading term, but more on that later) tomorrow, one of the many themed craft and food breaks the hotel offers.

The area’s obsession with the digestible is proven immediately. The hotel has two restaurants, Wild Cafe (the laid-back one with well-priced seasonal fare) and The Herring (the fancy one which puts a delicate twist on the best the area has to offer).

But our first taste comes at the bar where I spy four unlabelled bottles. Turns out they’re infused boozes – lemon, raspberry and strawberry vodkas and slough gin – made with mostly foraged goodies by The Herring’s head chef. Careful not to fuss with their simplicity, ice is their best mate … and mine. 

Through the blissful haze of a hangover that comes only on a morning where the night before had no additives, I’m given the perfect wake-up – an unending Atlantic view through my window dotted with a keen half-dozen surfers waiting patiently for waves.

The headland at either end of the beach invites the explorer in me to have a gander. It takes five minutes to get to the beach and five more until I could be anywhere.

I scale the path up Bedruthan Steps, the right-side mound which gives the hotel its name, and civilisation is gone – blue to the left, green fields to my right and rugged cliff-faces over every turn.

The raw beauty of the coast reminds me of the oysters I’ll be devouring – sweet beauty with a gnarly exterior. And I’m so relaxed I nearly miss my ride to the farm.

A 30-minute drive to Porthilly leads our tour group to dairy farmer and oyster grower Tim Campbell. From Tim’s oyster plot on the tideline of the Camel Estuary, a short walk along the beach, we have a perfect view of Padstow. When I comment in its favour, Tim tells me, “That’s the best look you’ll get of it.”

Since he’s showing us his racks which produce a Pacific variety so good the French pay a mint for them and rate them ‘spéciales’ (the tier below perfect), Tim must be pro-tourist.

But he reckons his neighbours across the water have been overrun. I ask if it’s the TV fame of the town’s fave son, Rick Stein, that’s done the damage, and he agrees with a nod. 

Conversely, his spiel about how his farm came to be – a marine academic tried to grow oysters on his family’s land, thought he failed, gave up, and then they grew like wildfire – and pride at his waters being among the most pristine in the UK is worthy of an episode of Stein’s Food Heroes.

The journey through the cleaning, sorting and purifying process is mechanical, but interesting. Tim’s a showman, even if he doesn’t realise it. “They make crap pets, so we’ve got to get rid of them,” he says deadpan.

His warning against ‘milky’ oysters hits home, too – “it means they’re spawning, so you’re basically … eating sperm”. Lesson learned. He doesn’t even sound bitchy when he tells us about how some oyster-producing regions in the UK and France – but not his – are struggling with “herpes”.Oysters get herpes?!

But not even a shell full of spunk or the risk of a shellfish STI can turn me off the next bit. Accepting the “hunting” the promo material talks about means a tour of a farming process, we try a few pristine fat morsels.

When Tim says, “If you want any more, you can shuck them yourself,” I go for it. With us is Darren Milgate, sous chef from the hotel, who makes a heavenly wild garlic (foraged, of course), hazelnut and rapeseed oil pesto to go with them.

The passionate foodie then takes us back to base for a cooking demo. He shucks more oysters – some to tempura and serve with pickled rock samphire (from nearby cliffs) or poach in celery soup.

You can help as much or little as you like. Some of our group choose to chill out with the view. Others, like me, get stuck in. That’s the beauty here – you can take your pick.

Oyster Hunting runs next on Oct 19.
Costs £275pp for two nights  
bedruthan.com


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Oyster hunting in Cornwall: A unique travel experience that tickles the tastebuds
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