Great British Diving
By Andy Torbet
We all know those famed bucket-list dive destinations, the ones that most divers aspire to visit one day… Red Sea, Raja Ampat, Silfra… the list goes on. We can get so caught up in our ‘dream dives’ that we forget to look at the diving available under our noses.
So below is a starter for 10 UK dive destination to help you get outside and submerge yourself around the British coastline.
I’ve tried to include a spread to cover everyone’s abilities and desires. And this list is more of a representation of the huge variety of aquatic environment and types of diving we have here in the UK.
1. River Snorkelling
You don’t need to have a trimix closed-circuit rebreather and venture out into deep oceans to have a good dive. I’ve had some spectacular dives in clear, golden tinted waters in the hills of the UK with merely a snorkel. Glen Orchy and Glen Etive are firm favourites and the Devil’s Bridge in Kirby Lonsdale also makes for some interesting freshwater scenery.
2. Scapa Flow
It may be a cliché and it may be, as all wrecks do, deteriorating with the passage of time but this is still the premier wreck diving site in the UK. The area is incredibly well set up for divers, the wrecks vary in depth so everyone can access something and if you go ‘off-wreck’ by only a few metres you’ll find a seabed teeming with life due the wrecks forcing a no-go zone for fishing and dredging.
Image credit: Gareth Lock
3. St Abbs
A lovely site, now with its own dedicated independent lifeboat, is a relaxed dive with plenty of life. It also makes for a brilliant snorkel so the flora and fauna can be taken in by all. In fact I’ve been known to do a bit of snorkelling during my surface interval (although make sure you don’t start freediving).
4. Basking Shark
Another obvious one but if you haven’t done it then you’re missing out. Boats out of Oban and Mull, Cornwall, West Wales and the Isle of Mann will all take you to swim with the second largest fish in the sea and the pin up of Britain’s marine life. No matter your skill level or interest I guarantee it’ll be one of your life’s best dives.
5. Malin Head
Another one for the wreck-heads and a lot more technical than Scapa as you’ll be diving to around 80+m off the northern Irish coast. But the wrecks are incredibly well preserved and the visibility can be genuinely world class. You’d never believe it in around the UK and Ireland but I’ve seen the evidence.
Image credit: Steve Jones
6. Wookey Hole
One for the cave divers and a favourite of mine. I may well have dived this site more than any other in the UK as we use it a lot for filming and training. Cave diving really started here in 1935 (apart from a short attempt in Swildon’s Hole in ’34) and it is a mecca for cave divers the world over. Five dives will take you to the final sump and in the finstrokes of cave diving history. You’ll only be a few hundred metres from a tourist theme park but you might as well be on the dark side of the moon.
I’ve never had a bad dive in Cornwall. You could, and I have, thrown myself off a cliff in dive kit and there was still plenty to see. Falmouth Bay and Porthkerris Beach are easy and always produce the goods and I do love sea-kayaking with my freediving kit strapped to my boat around the southern Cornish coastline, stopping wherever takes my fancy or to play with seals.
8. Inland quarries
What? He’s recommending inland dive centres when we’ve thousands of miles of coastline, river and lakes to explore? Yes I am. I type this between Storms Ciara, Dennis or whatever we’re on to now. So I have to concede the British weather isn’t always as fair as we’d like. But practicing skills, or learning new ones is essential to get more out of our diving. So when you can’t hit the rivers and sea because trees, cars and cows are flying around in the breeze, head inland and keep your skills sharp for when the weather breaks…hopefully.
I’ve climbed here, sea-kayaked here from Devon, dived and freedived around Lundy. It has the feeling of a far distant land, with towering cliffs and no other land in sight yet is only a short boat ride from the mainland. It was the UK’s first Marine Nature reserve and now has a host of restrictions and conservation orders around its waters making it a great place to see plenty of wildlife including the ubiquitous and friendly seal.
And rather than put another seal-spot on the list I’ll include The Farne Islands here. Another amazing spot to get very close with Grey Seals and more accessible than Lundy, especially for those in the north of Britain.
10. Somewhere not on this, or any other list
Exact figures depend on how you measure and classify these things but we have, approximately, 24,000 miles of coastline in the UK. Added to that the 10,000 miles of river and 8-10,000 lakes, lochs, loughs and llyn and that all adds up to a lot of water (and we haven’t included the flooded caves, mine and quarries). And only a fraction of this has been explored. There is a huge amount of fantastic dive sites around the UK that no one knows about because no one has ever dived them. So go somewhere new. The first one may not be great but the thrill of exploration is worth the effort and eventually you’ll find a gem.
Good luck, safe diving and whatever you do make sure you’re having an adventure. Remember the happiest diver on the boat wins.