Right now, many of us are tentatively beginning to explore the far reaches of our own town and even the far reaches of the UK.

By a happy accident of timing, those who are a still a little anxious about doing so, can watch chef James Martin do just that.

The restaurateur and Saturday morning telly chef's latest series and accompanying cookbook, James Martin's Islands To Highlands, sees him track up and down the UK, from the microclimates of the Channel Islands (for Jersey Royal potato season) to the game-filled landscapes of Scotland.

"We do take it for granted," says Martin, 47, speaking several weeks before the coronavirus pandemic broke.

"I don't think we appreciate what's on our doorstep."

During a nine-month spell of travelling, he and his crew got to experience sights you just might not expect of Britain; like the Isles of Scilly - "20 miles off the coast of Cornwall but the beaches are the colour of chalk, it's just incredible" - and the astounding Shetland archipelago.

"Shetland is like being born with new eyes, it sounds really weird, but the colours, the clarity of what you see is surprising," says Martin, who trained at Hampshire's Chewton Glen, which he regularly returns to visit.

"There's no pollution there for sure, but it's the clarity of everything, you do feel as though you've been reborn with new eyes - that's all I can describe it as."

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They also visit Puffin Island off the coast of Newcastle and swim with seals off Scilly.

Then there were the food producers he encountered along the way. Martin learnt about salted coley, called piltock, in Shetland, used in fish cakes called 'hairy tatties': "The coley takes on the texture of hair, it's quite cool."

While in Northern Ireland he met kelp farmers on Rathlin Island, and a 14-year-old who's one of the few producers of wasabi outside Japan, with help from his scientist dad. "Taste-wise, it's amazing," buzzes Martin. "You can buy it online and it all comes from this kid who had this idea, and literally produces it in his back garden. Brilliant."

While Martin - a proper "farmer's lad" who gets "a bit freaked out if I'm in a city for more than a couple of days" - is animated when talking about the landscapes, wildlife and producers he discovered, there's a weariness that steals over him when talking about food culture and shopping habits in the UK (and this was before people began stockpiling).

"To fully understand food, you've got to appreciate how difficult it is to produce, and where it's from, and then you'll respect it a lot more, and respect the people who produce it,"

he explains fervently. He also considers artisan farmer's markets "gimmicky" and "a tourist attraction" when we ought to be buying from everyday markets like they do in Europe, or at least from local fishmongers, butchers and grocers.

Choice is another problem. "We don't eat a variety, we eat too much convenience food, without a shadow of a doubt, but we don't have the variety of what we should have," says Martin. "We still get fobbed off with the same stuff."

He says it's particularly frustrating when the produce in and around the UK really is spectacular, but so much is shipped abroad, like Dover sole (90 per cent of sole fished in Hastings is shipped abroad), langoustines (98 per cent sent elsewhere) and the eels hauled up at Loch Neagh. "All of those get exported to Holland - all of them! And it's weird, you'll be staying in northern Europe on your holiday and think, 'Oh I'll try this', not realising it's from right on your doorstep."

Martin wants us to adopt that holiday feeling on a more daily basis, and approach dinner as a pleasure, not a financial corner to cut. "It's one of the true enjoyments of life, that we all have to eat, all of us," he says, noting how in France it's the norm "to sit and enjoy a meal, have a conversation, eat bread and wine. When does that happen in the UK? It's normally sat watching TV."

James Martin's Islands To Highlands by James Martin, photography by Peter Cassidy, is published by Quadrille, priced £25. Available now.