Few things are more satisfying than feasting on food you've collected with your own bare hands. Foraging in the unspoilt British countryside, dining in the woods, shucking oysters on the seashore - such activities offer a precious connection to the land that enriches the soul as well as filling the belly.
One big silver lining of the pandemic was that it saw a revived appreciation for the healing power of nature and the importance of community, along with a greater desire to know where our food comes from. Now, exciting outdoor dining experiences are rising to meet the demand, bringing guests directly to where their ingredients are grown, reared, hunted, fished and foraged.
We roll up our sleeves and visit eight UK operators dedicated to preserving our rugged landscapes and reconnecting people to nature through food - where eating (and, fingers crossed, drinking wild cocktails) together is an essential element of the whole experience.
Forage for your supper: eight great outdoor dining adventures to explore
Dorset-based Fore Adventure is run by husband-and-wife-team Dan and Jade Scott. The business model evolved when the pair realised the coastal foraging Dan was doing to entertain their kids could provide something unique to others. Their Kayak, Fish, Forage & Feast experiences offer outdoor adventure to foodies and food to thrill-seekers. When on the water with Fore, shimmering Studland Bay - a Marine Conservation Zone - turns from a beach destination into an edible landscape. Flowing strings of sea spaghetti and leather-like kelp turn from ocean oddities into potential umami seasonings for your fish dinner, which you'll cook over fire back on the golden sand.
Hunter Gather Cook
Foraging and cookery school Hunter Gather Cook specialises in game butchery, cocktails strong on natural ingredients and fire cooking - discovering what can and can't be eaten in our wild spaces is a great way to become more familiar with local flora and fauna. Its Seasonal Day course is centred around ingredients sourced as close as possible to the company's flintstone HQ, Shepherds Barn, located at the base of Firle Beacon. Participants are put to work in preparation for a five-course lunch, learning how to butcher the first half, forage the second, spark fire from friction and mix wild cocktails. Your reward? Dishes such as rabbit saddle wrapped in pancetta and served with nettle pesto balls, wood pigeon "lollipops", battered hogweed shoots, rabbit quesadillas and nettle cocktails that taste like peach iced tea.
At Nancarrow Farm, set in the countryside outside Truro, you don't just get to see where your ingredients come from; you learn why they're farmed that way. Nancarrow's feasts, suppers and Sunday lunches are a form of educational storytelling. You dine next to the fields where your meat is reared and vegetables grown. Innovative fine-dining dishes are set out on long tables in a wooden barn and on benches in a courtyard framed by climbing roses. Beef, lamb, hogget or pork is paired with elderflower champagne from the hedgerow or cider from the orchard. Nancarrow shows guests that if you tend the land, it will care for you in return. Even the charcoal used for fire cooking is made on-site from its own wood, while wool from the farm's sheep fills the mattresses in its double bedrooms and shepherd's huts, which can be booked for its Dinner, Bed & Breakfast events and weddings.
Supporting a local community spurred Rosie and Tom Barclay to start Neetfield, a postcard-perfect 0.2-hectare no-dig market garden. The couple knew something had to shift in their lives when they couldn't access seasonal ingredients grown locally for their home cooking. If they couldn't, neither could others around them, so they started Neetfield to build a sustainable food culture in Bude. They now deliver seasonal boxes containing hyperlocal, super-varied produce, from fresh herbs to artichokes, multicoloured tomatoes and kohlrabi. Inspired by their time in Italy, the couple also started Saturday pizza nights in the warmer months, offering a cuisine that's affordable, accessible and fun for all. "Everyone loves pizza," says Tom. "We want people to get as much joy from food as we do."
Nomadic is a restaurant with no walls, offering immersive fine dining in a private forest glade in Buckinghamshire. The business aims to use food and nature to reconnect guests with the world around them. Dishes tell the story of the surrounding ancient bluebell woodland and the wild ingredients you can find within it. Dine with friends on a table carved from a birch tree and enjoy expert cuisine from leading professional chefs.
The Wild Kitchen
The Wild Kitchen is led by Lucia Stuart, a foraging expert and innovative chef based in Deal. Stuart links the landscape to the table, hosting foraging adventures on the Kent coast. Shuck oysters directly where you find them, or step out of your culinary comfort zone and try unusual snacks made from ingredients such as acorns, algae and sea buckthorn.
Caroline Davey founded her wild cookery school in 2007, combining her love for people, food and nature. This project aims to break down the barriers between the kitchen, the outdoors and the dining table. Forage wild plants along the Cornish coast, then explore the options of eating your bounty in a picnic or lunch at local stalwart The Gurnard's Head. Those wanting to learn how to cook up their finds can opt for a private lesson at the Fat Hen's holiday let.
Fire + Wild
Fire + Wild hosts elaborate outdoor dining experiences in an undisclosed woodland location near Lewes. The dinners, events and workshops focus on wild food, cooking over fire, foraging and cocktails. Eat squirrel, wood pigeon and whatever else you've gathered in the surrounding Sussex landscape, while making new friends under the stars.
Photographers Charlie Wild and Jess Last are behind the Instagram account @the.travel.project, which chronicles achievable adventures within the UK and showcases the excitement of discovery in your own backyard.