Finding connection on the foreshore
Enthusing about urban ant colonies, or the delights of birdwatching from the dual carriageway, weren’t quite what we expected from the guy who spends his life literally immersed in the natural world. And yet for Dan, of Fore / Adventure, these are some of the best ways to reconnect with the natural world.
“Nature is all around us, we just need to notice it” he encourages as we get deep into conversation about the profound benefits of time spent with nature.
This surprising perspective comes from his own experience of whiling away days on building sites watching birds of prey wheel overhead, whilst supplementing his income as a trainee kayak instructor.
However, it’s trips with clients that prove most telling of the need to reconnect. Dan recounts how one family were brought to tears during a tour.
“I could tell this was a totally unfamiliar environment for them. So, to find a way into the encounter, I sat us all down and began to reflect on the experience - the light filtering through the trees, birdsong in the distance, shouts coming up from the beach amongst the buzzing of bees.
When I paused to see how the family were responding, there were tears running down their cheeks, so rare was even the briefest of moment of simple wonder in their busy modern lives. I felt priviledged to share the moment with them."
In moments like this Dan, and partner Jade, see how the power of nature can have a profound impact, even in a short time spent outside.
With their own family heart of this venture, they know from personal experience how important developing connections at an early age is for children. Giving families the skills to make the most out of their time together and memories that inspire them to go outside more is a key principle of their work.
Fore / Adventure are unique in focussing on kayak based foraging, a specialism that reflects Dan’s own family heritage
“Dad was a teacher and sailing instructor, so I’ve been on the water since the age of about 6 months. Mum was really into plants, and would always be pointing out a species or collecting a few samples. There wasn’t the term foraging then, but looking back that’s what it was.
When I was a young instructor, I saved money for the important things – beer and cider – so Mum’s teaching was put to good use extending the food budget with whatever was on hand, fish, fruit, herbs anything edible really.
It was only when I started the business that I realised catching a fish and cooking it on the fire was a novelty for most folk. For me it was a normal thing to be doing.”
The business started out in 2010, when a chance conversation at a family BBQ revealed a shack coming up to rent on Studland Beach. The couple were questioning their life choices and felt a real pull to do something different. Dan was working as a manager in an Outdoor Centre, pushing the paperwork whilst the rest of his team did the guiding he enjoyed. Wife Jade was working in an architectural practice whilst pregnant with their first born Molly.
“Best day’s sickie I ever pulled!” he enthuses about the day he checked out the shack and signed the lease.
When it comes to idyllic beach life, Dorset’s Studland Bay is hard to beat. Regularly nominated as one of the UK’s best beaches, the landscape is owned by the National Trust as a mark of it’s environmental and cultural importance.
“We’re so lucky to be based here” reflects Dan, his tone a rich blend of pride and enduring awe “The bay is the perfect place for beginners. It’s a shallow, gently shelving, beautifully sandy beach, with very little swell. Visually it’s lovely with the sand, cliffs, huts, heath and wildlife.
Walking down from carpark to beach it’s common to see adders, sand lizards. Often have seals in the water. We spot Dolphins a few times a year.
Most of our trips run in shallow water, so it makes for a less intimidating experience. Whilst paddling, folk can still see others swimming and bathing nearby.”
As you would expect for a self-confessed social media luddite who only uses Strava and two What’s App groups, one of which is called “Birdbrains”, Dan has a passion for passing the time watching the local birdlife.
“Being here all the time you get to follow birds through the year. So you watch the Oyster Catchers rear their family, and the Peregrine Falcons teaching their young to hunt by dropping bits of pigeon. I love the changing of the seasons. Nature always has something new to show you.”
Much as he loves sharing his love of beachlife with clients, you can’t help feeling that it’s the benefits for family life that content Dan the most
“My kids have grown up on the beach, and brought all their friends out to enjoy it too. I often stash sea spaghetti in the pockets of my cargo shorts whilst I’m out on a tour. At the end of the day my daughter will come and rugby tackle me to root around in my pockets for her favourite seaweed snack.”
Perhaps some who work in the outdoors would not notice these everyday intimacies, but Dan brings a keen eye and reflective approach his practice. It’s clear he is driven by the desire for everyone to benefit from his connection to nature: his family, clients and even his team.
“All the guides aspire to running the foraging trips. The longer they stay with us the more foraging they do, they learn their craft and gradually build up their skill, until they are ready to share it with others.”
Nurturing clients in how they relate is clearly Dan’s passion.
“We’re guides to the outdoors, not instructors coaching technique. When you adopt this softer demeanour people start to disclose things and really open up. They often ask questions, which they then answer themselves. They might realise they are struggling a little physically, or they are stressed at work, or a loved one’s illness is making them face their own mortality.
People benefit from both the physical and mental challenge. You can’t be anything other than in the moment when trying to make a kayak go in a straight line, identify some wild food to eat that evening, or pick up a crab whilst avoiding it’s claws!
You just see people relaxing. If I’m having a bad day, and believe me that happens, it helps me too.”
Being based on the beach with heath and woodland behind them, Fore / Adventure’s foraging is a distinctive surf and turf affair.
“We always start with something that folk can relate to, like a Blackberry, and ask what they can do with it, like make a crumble. We just take what people know and pimp it. Gradually build on peoples skills. Show them some things that they can do for themselves and that they can come back to again and again.
Our skills as guides are how we interact with people. How we share our passion. How we entertain them. If my clients are comfortable they are far more likely to taste something that otherwise might be off-putting.
I can easily show people up to 40 things on a foraging walk, they are unlikely to remember them all. But if they can remember 2, and the process for finding them, this is a great starting point.”
Fore / Adventure offer a variety of kayak and foraging experiences from simple kayak foraging and fishing, collecting seaweeds and using hand lines, shrimp and lobster pots, through to foraging and feasting tours – where they feed folk at the end. Dan revels in his knack for unlocking folk’s wild side
“Catching fish is always exciting. Everyone starts as a perfectly rational human being, but the hunter gather kicks in the moment of their first catch. I love watching this in clients.
Although we run more advanced courses using rods and fishing kayaks we also have great luck with simple hand lines, they’re easier for novices and children as you don’t have to mess about with rods and reels."
As we talk about the things that people most enjoy about their experiences, a consistent theme emerges of childlike wonder.
“Giving an adult a crab to hold helps them remember how to be a child.” muses Dan “And falling in the water, when that’s expected and part of the fun like in Paddleboarding, provokes such a strong positive reaction they come back to the surface alive with laughter. I remember when I was a kid learning to sail, I was forever jumping in the water.”
The secret of Fore / Adventure’s success seems to be pairing this ability to tap into everyone’s inner child, with a philosophy of enhancing connections to nature, not treating every outing as an Outward Bound style exercise in endurance.
Always pushing forward, the team were recently granted a commercial seaweed foraging licence from the crown estate to launch a new edible seaweed company, Sae Seaweed. This new project will allow Dan and Jade to reach a broader audience who may not be lucky enough to live by the sea delivering wild foods into their own home, as well as boosting off season incomes and satisfying customer demand for something tangible to take home at the end of their tours.
Enter our competition to win a copy of The Forager's Calendar, plus £50 of Adventurous Ink back issues.
Prize draw will be made on 30th September 2020.