Despite the unappetising, gnarly appearance of oysters, their primeval, necrotic-looking shells are of course considered to contain edible utopia. In the west coast of Denmark, wild oysters fuelled Viking rampages and were used as currency before coins were around.
King Frederick II, who ruled around the same time as Tudor King Henry VIII, was so fond of the molluscs that anyone who dared pick them, depriving him, was subject to the death penalty – a law that was only abolished in the 1980s.
In recent times, oysters have been successfully marketed as a supposed aphrodisiac and the ultimate protein supplement, not to mention a sophisticated and decadent food fix. Given the considerable cost at which every creamy, metallic-flavoured slurp comes, an oyster free-for-all excursion sounds like a great idea.
In the Wadden Sea that surrounds the little island of Rømø in south-west Denmark, the invasive Pacific oyster is thriving. I was assured that, if you know where to find them and have a pair of wellies, you can fill a bucket with wild, organic oysters in less than 20 minutes. For free.
They are safe to eat straight from the water as they are tested for harmful bacteria every couple of days. In 20 years of testing, shellfish from the area have never been shown to cause tummy upsets.
I met my guide Iver in the car park by the beach. “They are everywhere,” he reassured me, “you can just pick them from the sand.”
Easy, I thought. I can forage for my own healthy, gourmet lunch in a sustainable and active way on the cheap. But doubts about the ease of this foraging challenge set in when the wellies lent to me were already flooded and filled with sand.
"It obviously hadn’t ended well for the previous wearer. Ignoring this and focusing on satisfying my taste buds, we set off for the water’s edge. I thought it a good indication that, from the moment we stepped on to the beach, the ground was a crunchy mosaic of tiny shards of broken shell.
Looking through the 1ft-deep, still water, the oysters were so abundant they were multilayered and I couldn’t see mud or sand between. This will be easy, I thought, as I reached my hand into the not-that-cold water to grab a perfect, rain drop-shaped oyster the size of my palm.
I was disappointed; it was just a shell with no edible contents. I took a step forward and reached for another, empty. And another, the same. Every selection I made was either an empty shell or one that was conjoined to about 10 others in a crusty orgy that was too much effort to attempt separating. My plodding around in the water, searching for an oyster I could actually eat while trying not to slip and fall over, churned up the mud so badly that I could see diddly-squat.
With a foot stuck in the mud and awaiting rescue, I semi-resentfully watched Iver, who, with his expert eye, seemed to be throwing multiple mollusc prizes in his bucket at Ferrari speed. In a very shallow sea full of delicious oysters that visibly surrounded and taunted me, I couldn’t find an edible one. Oyster foraging was much harder than I thought it would be, which made it even more exciting, and spurred me on to keep searching.
Finally, I was rewarded. It was hugely satisfying to find one, then two, and build my proud collection. With my bucket half-filled after an hour of foraging, we headed back to the shore to sample the fruits of our labour. This was where the real challenge began: trying to prise open the shells without sacrificing blood or a finger.
Sitting by the beach, Iver showed me how to open an oyster with a special knife and handed me the bounty to eat. “Isn’t it delicious?” he enthused, and indeed it was. “You open the next one, it’s easy,” he confidently claimed. I tried with considerable force to wiggle the knife into the seemingly impenetrable membrane and lever open the shell. On my first few attempts all I managed to achieve was breaking off a chunk of outer shell.
I had a few more attempts and eventually managed to get a couple open, before allowing Iver to resume serving me until I was full. I returned to the car a bit less Viking, more humbled peasant scavenger with grazed hands and wet socks from leaky wellies – but with a very satisfied palate.
Guided tours lasting around two hours are available from September to May (sortsafari.dk; 245 DKK [£28]). Eat and sleep at Hostrups Hotel in nearby Tonder. Travel within the UK and overseas was subject to restrictions at time of publishing; check the relevant guidance before booking and travelling.