Tag Archives: scallop diving

Seven sweet scallops

Scallops in a row

A fine forage – seven fat scallops

Last week I had my most successful forage yet. Scallops. Yes, seven fat scallops plucked from the bottom of the sea with my very own hands. These succulent sweet beasties have always been at the top of my foraging list. Not only because they’re utterly delicious, but because I love the notion of diving down through the crystal clear water of the loch to nab them. I’d tried last year, but without a wetsuit those crystal clear waters are unbearably icy. I tried again later in the year with some friends. We ploughed backward and forward across the bay, scanning the seabed. But it was bare, the only signs of life the bulging red jellyfish trailing feathery manes of tentacles. They loomed from the shadows like fleshy ghouls and soon scared us off.

My neighbour’s as keen as me to catch a scallop. We’ve often discussed tactics and hatched plans over a cup of tea. He remembers diving in the bay in front as a lad and scooping them up by the dozen. He’d used scuba gear back then, but he reckoned we’d be able to freedive for them – particularly at low tide. So on a glorious morning, we squeezed into our wetsuits and set off round the coast. The loch twinkled, the sky was blue and the grumble and splutter of the outboard was the only sound in the sleepy sunny calm.

We were heading to a tiny cove that my family have always called – rather unimaginatively – Wee Bay. It’s a fine spot, protected at one side by a rocky peninsula and fringed on the other by a lovely old oak wood. The shoreline is scruffy with flotsam and jetsam and bits of blue rope, but the bottom is sandy and the water translucent. I floated on the surface. Sunlight streamed into the watery world. Hermit crabs scuttled, shadows of tiny fish flickered and a few lone sea laces waved in the ebb and flow. I listened to the burbling breath, steady and loud in my underwater ears.

My neighbour was the first to bag a scallop. I got to work and soon spotted my first victim – a small sandy coloured mound about three metres below. The shell was slightly open and I’m sure I could see its string of beady eyes.  I dived down, ears popping as I neared my quarry, fighting the pull upwards to reach out and grab it. I shot to the surface, and emerged, triumphant, holding my booty aloft, slightly deaf and cackling with joy in the sunshine. It was a huge, heavy King scallop. I was ridiculously elated and ready to catch more.

Scallops and chorizo

A slightly fuzzy shot, but we were keen to start eating…

As we ambled back in the boat, I lay the scallops in a row in order of size. They were all pretty enormous. They sneezed and exhaled and, every now and again, opened their shells for a peek. Preparing them was slightly more challenging than I’d imagined – it took an effort to ease the shells open and there are bits and bobs you need to remove. It was, of course, more than worth it. Seared with chorizo, parsley and lemon juice they were, quite possibly, the freshest, tastiest and most tender thing I’ve ever eaten.

There’s a good video about cleaning live scallops on the BBC’s website.


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Hunting for scallops

I’ve always fancied catching scallops. Back in the day, before commercial trawling, my dad and his pal Bill used to dive for them in sandy bays all along the west coast. Wearing home-made wetsuits and weight belts, snorkels and masks, they were – so the stories go – pretty successful at it, coming home with bucket loads clacking like castanets in the back of the car.

View of White Bay

Heading over to White Bay. It's the little strip of white in the distance.

Inspired by these tales, one sunny morning last week I set off to White Bay with my swimmers and snorkelling mask to try and snare a scallop or two. At high tide the bay doesn’t look like much – just a small crescent with a fringe of dried seaweed – but it’s a great swimming spot. The clear water warms up nicely as it washes in over the sand. I waded out to the small island that sits at one side of the bay. Swaying seaweed licked my legs, tiny fish darted into the shadows and empty mussel shells, midnight-blue and pearl, shimmered in shafts of sunlight. The rocks on the island are sharp and black and wink with mica. I clambered over them to reach a smooth, flat slab. From here I planned to launch myself into the deeper waters where, I thought, scallops might lurk. I screamed like the gulls as I hit the glinting iciness. It was, of course, far too cold to stay in long. I gave the seabed a speedy scan before dragging myself out, dripping and shivering. The scallops will have to wait until I’ve invested in a wetsuit.

Hens in the vegetable patch

The pesky hens are caught raiding the veg patch.

Still, I haven’t been short of delicious food to eat, and most of it’s been grown, foraged or caught locally. The mackerel shoals have well and truly arrived, and if you know the right spots to fish you’re pretty much guaranteed a catch. If truth be told, I’m a bit bored of eating grilled mackerel, so it was quite a treat when my neighbour dropped off four freshly smoked fillets the other morning. Still hot from the smoker, they oozed an oily, oaky, smoky, fishy, salty loveliness. I guzzled all of them for breakfast. A few days later his wife arrived at the back door with some hot-smoked salmon fillets, which were, quite possibly, the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. My next mission is to buy (or build?) a smoker. I’ve also been feasting on big brown crabs. I’ve become quite an expert at picking the meat. I eat it clean, sweet and simple on toast or make a pasta sauce with butter, chilli, basil and lemon.

Blaeberries in the wood

Blaeberrries in the woods. You need to lift up the leaves of the bush to spot them.

And if all that sounds a bit protein-heavy, don’t worry. My vegetable patch is on the cusp of feeding me (as long as the hens don’t trash it) and there’s plenty of wild fruit to be found. Yesterday I collected a punnet of blaeberries from the woods; they were small and sweet and so much tastier than their flabby supermarket cousins. I’ve also been experimenting with edible flowers. The elderflowers are just about to go over and off, and I’ve been roaming the countryside furtively collecting the final few frothy white blooms. I’ve made elderflower champagne (six bottles that should be ready for Christmas), cordial and flatbread. The flatbread, with its hint of hedgerow, was a roaring success, and I finally had something nice to give to my generous neighbours. The pale-yellow cordial, decanted into small diet coke bottles, wasn’t quite so well received. It looked, rather unfortunately, like I was delivering urine samples to the village.


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