Undiscovered Britain & Ireland – County Kerry
To celebrate the launch of the 2016 Best Loved Hotel & Travel Guide, we are pleased to bring you a series of stories on Undiscovered Britain by leading travel writers.
A Seashore Feast
by Emma Cullinan
I’m down by the sea eating seaweed straight off the
rocks. The slimy algae that drapes the County Kerry
foreshore is bringing out the primordial sea creature
I’ve just been hearing all about the stuff in a local
bar, as one of a group attending a day’s forage led
by Caherdaniel-based Atlantic Irish Seaweed. To me,
seaweed has always been an eerie jellified substance
that made walking on rocks treacherous and gave a
creepy tickle when I swam in the sea. Now, I want to
engage with it, to pluck it from barnacle-strewn rocks
and savour its flavour and texture.
Chewing the rubbery slime feels primitive – we came
from this – but it is also curiously zeitgeist. “Last year it was
kale, this year it’s seaweed,” says John Fitzgerald, who runs
Atlantic Irish Seaweed with his wife Kerryann (she cooks
the delicious seaweed-laced food served up back in the
bar after the forage), referring to its nutrient-rich status.
It looks prehistoric, I reflect, as John holds up
spaghetti seaweed. He clasps it hand-to-hand, like
a wool winder of old, and then dangles a wide strip
of flapping, rubbery amber kelp for the sun to shine
through. He points out the spores dotted along the
spaghetti ready to fly off and procreate. This is the stringy
stuff that masses in swathes on top of the sea.
And we know what he’s talking about because
we saw his slide-show back in the bar, where we
learned that there are three main types of seaweed.
Serendipitously, a key player in the naming convention
was the Irish botanist William Henry Harvey in the 1800s.
The categories are simply green, red and brown –
except some are sly. The brown colouring in the heady,
oily type used in seaweed baths – serrated wrack – is
water- soluble, so once dunked into hot water it turns
green. We watched the colour change and then plunged
our fingers into the oily deep of the jar, the gel sinking
swiftly into our palms.
None of the seaweed we encounter at the beach is
poisonous – and lots of it has health-giving properties,
hence our nibbling frenzy down at the shore. John slices
the top off low-growing pepper dulse. “This costs £18 for
a small jar in Harrods,” he says. It’s like eating spicy sea.
“Great in bubble-and-squeak,” pronounces a chef in our
Raw shore-dining on the Ring of Kerry coastline. The
peninsula spreads out into the Atlantic, with the dark,
pointed hills of islands and neighbouring land brooding
beneath a wide silver sky, across the water, giving heart-hitting
views. You could just devour the place – and, it
turns out, you can.
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Emma Cullinan is a journalist and author who writes mainly about architecture and travel.