It’s so cold that my chest tightens and I battle the urge to retreat to the warm car. The rain feels like it’s passing straight through my ears, falling in long, wind-whipped filaments. The water is the same slate grey as the sky. Right in front of me a man is wading into a loch. This is Dave of Sconser Scallops, and he does this for a living.
Dave had always wanted to work underwater and, after years as a diver in civil engineering, he decided along with his son Ben to indulge his other passion – farming the sea. After experimenting with various techniques, he hit upon the method that (he’s fairly sure) makes his the only “twice-dived” scallops in the world. The key lies in moving the scallops from deeper water during the calmer summer months to a shallower part of the loch, where they’ll be safer from predators and the stormy seas of winter. In their sheltered location Dave lets them grow until they’re seven years old, refusing to harvest any that weigh less than 250g. The only way to tell when they’re ready of course, is to get into the freezing water and give them a careful fondle.
As we wait for Dave to resurface in his hefty dry suit, Ben explains the history and method of their unique Scallop farm. I alternate between taking notes and longing for Sou’esters. I wonder if I’ll ever feel my feet again. When Dave is back on shore, I can’t help but ask if there’s ever a time when he just doesn’t feel like plunging himself into the glacial waters to check on his herd. His grin suggests he’s heard the question before and probably less delicately phrased, but standing on the shore in the driving rain with a dripping collection bag full of fresh scallops he replies, “I love it. I love what I’ve achieved…” then cautions me, “just never have a hangover”.
Dave’s farming technique means that his scallop population is booming, and so is demand for his produce. We drop him home to warm up (he’s not completely superhuman) and Ben takes us and the contents of the collection bag to one of the many restaurants that use his harvest-to-order service. In the beautiful and mercifully well-heated surroundings of the Dulse & Brose restaurant at the Bosville Hotel in Portree, head chef Peter Cullen shucks, cooks and serves us the fresh, juicy scallops along with a lesson on scallop anatomy and a good line in bivalve jokes. The taste was amazing of course, which was mostly due to their freshness, but undoubtedly enhanced by knowing exactly how much had gone into their production and the way that the heat of their recent flash-frying chased the last shards of lochside chill from our toes.
Tessa is the marketing manager at Sawday’s. She was in Scotland to research Sawday’s Curious Guide to the West Highlands.