Foraging Along The North Coast 500
When you are taking your North Coast 500 road trip, you won’t go hungry. Scotland is a foodie heaven, offering everything from fresh salmon and seafood, to the delicious haggis. The N500 is a route peppered with smokehouses, delis and amazing farmers markets. There are also some really delicious foods you can find along the way for free – particularly good if you are camping. You can forage for your own organic, fresh food, and even better, it costs nothing.
A few guidelines
Firstly, if the land is privately owned, make sure that you have the landowner’s permission to forage. Only pick when you see food in abundance, and in plentiful supply. If you are a complete beginner, Alladale Wilderness Reserve can offer tuition. They’ll help you learn about what to look for and where to search; some of the finest wild herbs and mushrooms can be found growing in this rugged terrain. As part of their foraging for food package, you can also enjoy trout fishing on one of Alladale’s lochs and, at the end of the day, the reserve’s chef will create a delicious meal using all the ingredients you’ve foraged for that day.
You should also make sure that you are quite certain what it is that you are picking, particularly when it comes to berries and fungi. Mushrooms in particular can be quite difficult to identify, and some can be extremely poisonous. The yellow stainer mushroom is the most commonly eaten poisonous mushroom, although it looks very much like your average field mushroom. Take a reference book with you, and if you’re not sure, don’t eat it. The Achnagairn Estate’s new restaurant Perfect Manors in Inverness uses foraged mushrooms on its seasonal menu – a great example of how the food you find can make it to your plate.
There aren’t many species of wild berries in Scotland to choose from, but you can certainly find something nice to sprinkle on your morning porridge. Blackberries, juniper, rowan, wild cherries, sloes and damsons are reasonably common, mostly through Perthshire, Fife and Strathmore. Throughout Arran, Ayrshire, Grampian and the Highlands, edible berries are less common, but you might be surprised what you can find. Look out in the forest areas for wild strawberries and raspberries too. If you are camping, they’re a great, nutritious fruit to supplement your diet. One of the plants that are native to Scotland is the blaeberry (also known as the bilberry), which can be found in Scottish forests. In the autumn, look out for the beautiful orange foliage. The berries themselves are sweet and juicy. Brambles can also be found along the North Coast 500 route as summer turns into autumn. If your NC500 trip includes a stay at The Torridon, make sure to explore their kitchen garden and farm to learn more about how these locally-grown fruits and vegetables bring unique, seasonal tastes to the menus in the three AA rosette ‘1887’ restaurant.
Mushrooms and fungi
Scotland’s seasonal damp weather makes for perfect wild mushroom conditions, and it is one of the best places in Great Britain to find fungi growing naturally. From woodland and grassland areas, to montane and lowlands, there are plenty of mushrooms to choose from – just choose wisely. Keep your eyes peeled for Wood Blewits, Chicken of the Woods and the delicious Hedgehog Fungus. Giant puffballs are also common in the summer months. Scottish Natural Heritage offer a good guide to what you can and can’t eat along the N500 route.
Garlic and horseradish
Both garlic and horseradish can be easily found along the edge of the North Coast 500, at the side of the road. Horseradish has large green leaves, and is best in early summer. You can dig the horseradish root up, and grate it to add flavour to food. It’s particularly good with a roast beef sandwich. Garlic of course has that distinctive scent. You will also be able to find the wild garlic plant, the leaves are very good as an addition to salad. It is even better with some smoked fish from Applecross Smokehouse or The Isle of Ewe Smokehouse!
A little fishing
If you are thinking of fishing as part of your North Coast 500 experience, it is well worth visiting Shieldaig Lodge in the Highlands. They offer a great experience to foodie foragers, where you can go out with the local creel fishermen and haul in a wide variety of shellfish, including lobster, langoustines and crab. Afterwards, head back to dry land and the lodge, where you can dine on a five-course seafood feast. Alternatively, book a fly fishing lesson with Roger from TroutQuest to learn more about this most patient of sports. You can take this knowledge onwards with you, fishing on the rivers along the North Coast 500 – and if you haven’t got a campfire to cook on, try the Ulbster Arms Hotel, where the team of chefs will happily cook your catch of the day for you. Delicious!