How the coast helps Nick Weston get closer to nature

Perhaps most famous for giving up his city life to build and live in a tree house, Nick Weston knows a thing or two about getting outdoors and closer to nature. Now running a foraging and cookery school in Sussex, he tells us about his adventures at Cuckmere Haven, where the white cliffs remain a source of inspiration.

NB: Cuckmere Haven is a protected SSSI and voluntary MCZ; foraging is a great way to get closer to nature, but you need to gain permission and have some understanding of the environment from which you’re foraging beforehand.

The Cuckmere estuary, with the spectacular white Seven Sisters cliffs beyond. ©National Trust Images/David Noton

The Cuckmere estuary, with the spectacular white Seven Sisters cliffs beyond. ©National Trust Images/David Noton

The walk there was always the most taxing part: Cuckmere Haven is a good trot from the car park. Even as children, armed with nets, fossil hammers and buckets, we decided that mountain bikes were the answer, as we could never wait to get there. Loaded with all our gear, off we went to set up camp on the beach for the day.

On approach, there is no inkling of the magnificence that lies beyond. Once on the comfortable pebbles that line the beach, the Seven Sisters reveal themselves in all their glory – one of Great Britain’s true landmarks.

Tides willing, we went straight to the rock pools to catch blennies, crabs and whatever else found its way into our nets. As the years went by, my three feral friends and I, who were regular fishing companions, discovered the common prawn here. The culinary aspect of the coast gave us a glimpse of what was on offer, and rock pooling became more than just a delve into the natural world beneath the seaweed; it could feed us if our hunting skills were up to scratch.

Over the years Cuckmere Haven has never been short of surprises: from finding a piece of iron pyrites the size of a cannonball (paired with flint it was the Mesolithic lighter), to catching my first bass, to rubber ringing out of the estuary as the tide runs out, eating my first raw limpet, and discovering wonderful edible plants… not to mention the buckets of prawns from my youth. The place is a never-ending voyage of discovery.

Limpets and barnacles. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Limpets and barnacles. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Today, I still visit the Haven often, and the coastal larder never fails to amaze me. Of course, as an excitable twelve year old, I never dreamed that my job would be as good as it really is. I’m a hunter-gatherer and I have a hunter-gatherer school deep in the Sussex countryside. We teach butchery, trapping, foraging, and outdoor cookery, with elements of bush craft to make everything complete. This isn’t about survival; this is about living comfortably in the wild, and discovering great food from Mother Nature’s larder.

As a hunter-gatherer the coast holds endless possibilities: from exploring rock pools and gathering seaweeds and the crustaceans that lurk beneath them, to casting a line over the bass hunting grounds. Even if this isn’t fruitful, a short walk into the salt marshes reveals a number of wild edibles: sea purslane, marsh samphire, rock samphire, sea aster, and sea beet – and a very recent discovery, sea arrowgrass, which has the flavour of coriander. It is little wonder that the salt marsh lamb that idly wanders these rich pastures grazing 24-7 tastes as good as it does.

View of the Cuckmere estuary and Seven Sisters.

View of the Cuckmere estuary and Seven Sisters. ©National Trust Images/David Noton

As a place that has seen so much, be it smugglers, fisherman or foragers, I bet the white walls of Cuckmere Haven would have some interesting tales to tell. The Haven is a place of unrivalled beauty, and I am truly grateful that such places continue to exist in this day and age.

  • Do you have a strong relationship with the coast? Feel free to share with us in the comment box below.

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