He is living the wild food life in a cottage accessible only by boat or a 10-minute walk from the road, with no running water (although water from the stream is diverted to an outdoor shower/toilet block) that had a hole in the roof and was derelict when he arrived. As an ex-builder with hunting, fishing and foraging credentials, it would appear he has reached his very own state of nirvana and now that the roof is mended, he wants to share it with the public.
Thom’s business, 7th Rise, at the Lost Cottage invites members of the public to have a piece of the ‘good life’. Where Thoreau advocated solitude when he moved to the woods to: “live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life”, and Christopher McCandless too, in Into The Wild, spurned the company of humans to live out his Jack London fantasy, Thom admits to being: “totally fascinated by humans.” 7th Rise is located on the banks of the river Fal, set in 14 acres of ancient woodland and offers day or weekend courses in hunting, foraging and fishing.
Taking a rain break with tea and biscuits after tackling some mackerel, he’s not afraid to probe deeply into the inner lives of the four people he has just met. He grabs a piece of paper pinned to a nearby wall and reads aloud: ‘What, if you had to, would be your freely chosen task assuming for the rest of your life you had nothing else to do?’
He explains how colon cancer was his own wake up call to walking away from a life as a builder, getting drunk at the weekends and back to work again on a Monday. I talk a little about teaching and writing and the two nurses, Lara and Ali, reveal their own level of contentment with work. Thom talks about humanity, an incident with a thief in South Africa, Paulo Coelho and the adventure writer Thor Heyerdahl as the rain continues to fall.
We are cosy in soft armchairs, albeit a little awkward from being thrown together for the day in such intimacy but it is oddly liberating and inspiring. Thom’s passion for life and the pursuits of survival are tangible and manifest themselves all over the house and the grounds in little altars to creativity, practicality and Pan. From the hammock village to the cooking pits, pots and fires dotted around the grounds, the dens built by children, a shooting range and his plan for an outdoor cinema, it is apparent that his idea of the indoors is actually out. “This is my sink by the way,” he points out, opening the window to chuck out some water.
We learn to top, tail and gut mackerel, to fillet them close to the spine and pick out the bones and how to hot smoke them in just 20 minutes; we butcher rabbits, skinning , chopping and cutting to take out the loin and de-bone the legs. Butchery is followed by a foraging walk to discover mushrooms and edible greens, about which Thom reveals some impressive knowledge and that he also supplies local restaurants with wild food.
We taste sea beet, identify sea spinach, find some rock samphire and yarrow for tea. His chat about mushrooms is intelligent – with over 4,000 mushrooms in the UK, he speaks of the ‘3,800 club’: if a mushroom is not part of that 200 and is part of the remaining 3,800, it’s not worth the risk of eating. We (Thom) find chicken of the woods, a beef steak fungus and some purple amethyst deceivers.
He believes himself to be: “the only one who does all three skills – fishing, hunting and foraging – all in one course in the country”, and describes that after a night at the cottage, guests begin to totally immerse themselves into it. The cottage ideally sleeps 12 but can accommodate up to 14 and with the rather intimate washing (2 toilets, 2 showers of the watering can variety) and sleeping facilities (bunk beds), there is not much that could be hidden in a weekend at the Lost Cottage. If you are prepared for ‘full immersion’ however, the rewards are nourishing not only for the belly but for the oft-neglected modern soul: frank conversation about life, love, work and passion.
The welcome is warm and homely, the front room a forum for philosophy and the kitchen a shrine to some very good food which is provided throughout your stay. After being welcomed with some delicious mid-morning tapas – Fal river prawns, sausage and apple, mackerel and orange, we ate our smoked mackerels with a delicious salsa verde and salad for lunch, followed by a bowlful of pork and vegetables that had been cooking since the day before in an underground pit. The time invested rewarded both chef and guests with a meltingly soft meat that collapsed into a tasty sauce on top of a blue cheese mash, washed back with homemade elderflower cordial.
7th Rise offers genuine ‘time-out’ for contemplation, solace in the outdoors and some very fine food and company. Things that can’t be bought? They can. But for one or two days only. Grab your place while you can or opt for a month-long stay out of season with all food and bills included for just £400. It may just change your life.