Author and TV bushcraft expert, Ray Mears, seeks out wild coastlines to reconnect with nature, especially the far-flung shores of the Outer Hebrides and the fossil-rich beaches of North Norfolk

INTERVIEW Caroline Wheater

Because I like wild food and wild places I love the coast and we’re lucky to live on an island, with so much variety. The coastline gives me a tangible connection to the wilderness. Time is different on the coast and runs according to the tide – you’re bound by nature’s rhythms. When I’m at the beach I often collect shellfish and cook them up in my army mug on a stove – limpets, winkles, mussels, marsh samphire – and feel as though I’m in touch with my ancestors.

The west coast of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides are remarkable. The island of North Uist (pictured), in particular, has got wonderfully clean, nutrient-rich water and is very good for seaweed. At Lochmaddy, I went diving for scallops and came across an edible sea lettuce as big as a king-size bed sheet – not like the small plants I usually see. It’s an elemental place where bad weather rolls in fast, but it’s all part of island life and encourages the little community to come together in shelter.

I’m not one for lying on the beach, I like to walk about, make discoveries and stay alert to the unusual, whether it’s a bird – I saw a hawfinch on North Uist that must have been blown in by the weather – or a little Mesolithic flint tool that I spotted on the Isles of Scilly. The shoreline is the transitional area between sea and land – I like exploring the many micro-habitats found there.

Walking by the sea makes you feel good, and I love that mineral scent of the salt and the sound of the ocean. Part of the fun is discovering beaches for yourself, then they becomes yours. The North Norfolk coast is another coastline I visit. I love wading around Happisburgh beach, with its fossils and archaeology, including the million-year-old footprints of a human family which are the oldest outside Africa. It’s great birding country too, and I never go anywhere without my binoculars and birding scope.

Ray Mears’ first ever cookbook, Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Outdoors (£20, Bloomsbury), is out now.

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