'Real Staithes' and the true taste of the coast, sea-fresh lobster
PUBLISHED: 17:25 22 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:32 20 February 2013
Fisherman Sean Baxter introduces Annie Stirk, our food and drink consultant, to the 'Real Staithes' including the taste of sea-fresh lobster Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Its difficult to imagine the serene village of Staithes on the Yorkshire coast as heaving with maritime industry. It once buzzed as a fishing port (in fact, it was home to one of the worlds most famous seafarers,
Captain James Cook), and was the UKs premier port for shellfish. In its heyday the village boasted more than 300 fishermen who filled three trains a week with fresh fish for delivery to the rest of country. The area is pitted with fossils (more than Dorsets famous Jurassic Coast) and has been dubbed the Dinosaur Coast, and for centuries was mined for its jet, iron, alum and potash.
For former fisherman Sean Baxter unwrapping Staithes rich history and combing the beach for its treasures, has always been more than just a hobby and has now become a family business too.
Along with wife Tricia and sons Thomas and Luke, Sean offers visitors the Real Staithes experience; discovery days that unravel the secrets of Staithes from the perspective of the foreshore, where he shares his knowledge gained from decades working on the fishing cobles and a lifetime exploring the Yorkshire coastline.
While fishing, bird watching and foraging for flotsam and jetsam jet, fossils and even plants and sea slugs that can be turned into natural dyes are all part of the Real Staithes circular walk from Staithes to the lost harbour of Port Mulgrave (a site of Special Scientific Interest), Sean also demonstrates the art of foreshore lobster catching; laying out lobster pots in the rock pools and gullies when the tide is out and collecting the bounty on the next low tide.
Its extreme rock pooling, says Sean with a grin. We show people how to check and bait the pots on longlines set from the shore, but we also show them how you can catch small lobsters in rock pools if you know what youre doing.
Sean knows what hes doing. At 16 he swapped home comforts and further education for the choppy waters of the North Sea, becoming part of the crew of a fishing vessel. This set the standard for me, it taught me about tides, how to work fishing gear and the power of the sea, says Sean. There was so much to learn.
At 18, having honed his skills on the deck of other peoples boats, Sean got his own; later swapping this for the high-speed and high-power Staithes and Runswick lifeboat where he was helmsman for 20 years. Its a job that makes you very realistic some say cynical and it certainly gives you a healthy respect for the sea.
But after 20 years, I began looking for new opportunities, says Sean. As a kid I was always messing about on the foreshore, and beachcombing is what I do now to relax with my own kids. I thought how wonderful to be able to make a job doing something I love, and thats how Real Staithes came about.
While the majority of Seans foreshore foraging can be done year round, the lobster catching is much more seasonal. The best time for lobsters is June, July and August, says Sean. In the winter they hibernate and in spring you need to know your tides we only arrange our walks for the spring tides.
Strict laws prevent Sean from having more than 10 pots, and hes only allowed to take two lobsters a day from these for personal use. While this prevents him serving up his own lobster to Real Staithes guests, Sean who taught sustainable fishing techniques in places like Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone is philosophical. These local licenses are a good way of conserving the stocks for hobby fishermen, it means we can still pull a few a day and thats enough, he says.
Perhaps the highlight of the foraging walk, however, is the seafood picnic served in Seans fishermans hut in the disused Port Mulgrave. Its where I always played as a kid and it seemed a natural point in the walk to build a shack and have lunch, says Sean. That said it took us a long time to get all the materials for the shed over the cliffs.
So here, in a protected cove on a spit of shale, a ravenous party of walkers is greeted by Seans wife, Tricia, whos cooked up a meal of fresh Whitby lobster, new potatoes and salad served with a giant jar of homemade mayonnaise.
Tricia does the cooking while I do the flannelling Im good at the grumpy, Hemmingway side of things, says Sean. Lunch at the hut is the sophisticated element to the walk its not quite napkin rings and tablecloths, but its restaurant food in lovely surroundings.
We dont stick loads of rubbish on the lobster though; fresh lobster, crab and prawns are always best on their own, with a great slice of bread and a good dollop of mayonnaise. And with a head full of sea air, a comfy armchair and the Sunday papers, we do get a few people nodding off.
Its certainly an idyllic life. Im lucky to be able to make a living out of something Im passionate about, admits Sean. But theres no fakery or falsehoods here; this has been my life this is what I do and what Ive always done and Im happiest at sea, by the sea or walking the seashore.
And while Sean is also currently helping to train the next generation of lifeboat cadets in seafaring and lifesaving skills, he continues to pass on his enormous knowledge to his sons Thomas and Luke too, who both contribute an enormous amount to the courses. Id like to think my sons will one day go into the business, says Sean. While they both have the knowledge, Luke has the charisma and all he needs now is the beard like me a beard is obligatory in this business.
Meet chef Lisa Chapman
Seafood is certainly a life-long passion for chef Lisa Chapman. She set up the To Dine For deli in Hinderwell alongside an outside catering company, but such was the demand for her food that shes also set up a new pop-up restaurant at Staithes Art Gallery. I very much miss the buzz of restaurant life and the pleasure gained producing food with fantastic ingredients, says Lisa who was formerly the chef/patron at the much-loved Staithes restaurant, Endeavour.
As soon as I go down the cobbled street to the harbour at Staithes and see the cobles bobbing about, knowing that that when they return from a fishing trip seafood will be on board, I just want to cook it. So when the opportunity came up to cook some at my new Lisa@thegallery, it made me very excited.
For our photo-shoot Lisa cooked Lobster with Brandy & Dry Sherry Souffl, alongside a dish named after a former restaurant customer.
Lisa is preparing a series of dinners at the Staithes Gallery (staithesgallery.co.uk) on June 22nd and 23rd, and September 28th and 29th (39.50 including wine).
To book a table for Lisa@thegallery, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01947 841840.
Sean Baxter holds Staithes foreshore foraging walks, including a gourmet seafood picnic, on June 6th, July 5th, and September 15th-18th. The one-day courses cost 50 per person. Find out more at realstaithes.com or call 01947 840278.
Fresh lobsters are available from Whitby Seafish -whitbyseafish.co.uk. Contact email@example.com or call 01947 841236.
Our thanks to Jill Turton for the use of her Staithes cottage kitchen for the photo-shoot. Jill writes for Squidbeak the online guide to Yorkshires best restaurants and places to stay squidbeak.co.uk