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 in me. 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 party. 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.