UK Diving - You may have the wrong idea
There seems to be general idea amongst Divers and non-Divers alike that Britain is a no-go for diving. Well, at first glance I would probably agree with you, I mean with the cold miserable weather, probable choppy seas and murky waters you’d have to be fairly committed in the first place but I can tell you one thing now, the UK can have some of the most rewarding diving in the World… Yes, seriously, hear me out!
I have dived in several countries including the warm tropical waters of South-East Asia but if you’d asked me to list my top 10 dives I’ve done, then you’ll find 2 dives from the UK in the top 5 alone. Whilst true that you can’t just `Grab your gear and hop in’, careful planning and correct equipment is needed, making logistical plans a little harder but it is all worth it all the same. Drysuits generally are worn all year round but you can get away with 5mm or more during the warmer months. A quick orientation with an instructor or the ‘Drysuit Diver’ course with PADI can familiarise you with a drysuit if you have not dived with one before.
For a start let’s take a little jump back in time to the first and second world wars, hundreds if not thousands of battles have taken place at sea between the Allied and Nazi Navies around the UK coast meaning these shores are literally littered in all these Shipwrecks from German U-Boats, Submarines, Warships and even smaller boats like Landing-Craft, they’re just waiting for you to explore them. Even unlike me, if you’re not that interested in wrecks and the history behind them, there is such a diverse and interesting wildlife structure; Seals, Basking Sharks, Stingrays, Conger Eels, Dogfish, Seahorses and Dolphins all call the UK their home.
Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, is home to the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in 1919, seven large warships and four destroyers lay rest making it a perfect site for wreck-heads, what more can you want than an underwater ship scrapyard! Most of the wrecks sit at approx 30m so only the experienced divers who have completed the training required can dive to these depths. Coming south into Northumberland, England you’ll find the Farne Islands, particularly famous for the grey seals and wreck dives. A colony of around 4000/5000 grey seals occupy the islands and can be very playful, some will swim right up to and around you for a closer look whilst some are known to even nibble on Divers Fins making the Farne Islands a must on any Divers to-do list.
Britain is also home to one of the most popular and largest in-land dive sites Stoney Cove near Stoney Stanton in Leicestershire. Also the UK’s National Dive Centre, Stoney Cove an ex-Granite quarry is perfect for Diver training and depth progression due to the layout and shape of the quarry. It has different levels with different max-depths so any level of diver can enjoy Stoney. Within the quarry many “New Toys” have been added for divers to enjoy, ‘Viscount’ an Aircraft Cockpit, the ‘Stanegarth’ boat, the Wessex Helicopter, a few tug/trawler type boats and even ‘Nessie’ a man-made model of the Loch Ness monster and be found, but gets periodically moved around so keep a keen eye, it may jump out on you! Resident Pike can be seen lingering around the wrecks.
The English Channel is probably home to the densest area of shipwrecks in the World, not only because of the world wars, but because is it the busiest shipping lane in the World, something as busy as that cannot help but have one or two accidents. Many Dive operators operate on the South Coast of England, whilst some diving seasonal, generally you can dive year-round. Diving out of Cornwall, Newquay, Plymouth, Weymouth, Portland, Southampton and Brighton are all popular and most wrecks can be reached by Charter boats but some small wrecks can be reached by shore, more notably Chesil Beach near Weymouth, Dorset. An Iron Sailing ship called the ‘Royal Adelaide’ and a Royal Navy Landing Craft are within a stone’s throw away from the beach. Shore & Drift Dives are also good for those who want to mooch around for small critters at shallow depths. Britain’s coastline forms lots of natural bays, coves and rock formations making every dive different and lots to be seen. Studland Bay near Swanage in Dorset is a special site; it is a key habitat for species of Seahorse, the long-snouted and short-snouted. They are masters of camouflage yet regularly spotted; you’ll need a keen eye and patience to find them. Swanage and Brighton Piers make good dives between 3 to 10m, lots of wildlife takes shelter underneath, Crabs, Lobsters, Wrasse and Pollack are all regularly seen. Whilst visibility can hit almost zero, it can also reach 8/10metres in good months.
Examples of English Channel Wrecks
S.S Kyarra (Swanage)
Fleur de Lys (Swanage)
M2 Submarine (Lyme Bay, Dorset)
James Eagan Layne (Plymouth)
As much as you can dive in the UK as an ‘Open Water Diver’, you will only be able to dive to 18 metres where many wrecks are beyond 18m so I recommend anyone to do the PADI ‘Advanced Open Water Diver’ course, it will not only improve your skills as a diver but it will progress your maximum depth to 30 metres. For those wanting to extend that further, the PADI ‘Deep Diver’ course will progress that to your max depth to 40 metres.
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver
PADI Drysuit Diver
PADI Enriched Air Diver (Nitrox)
PADI Wreck Diver
PADI Deep Diver
So all in all don’t be put off by the potentially cold waters, correct equipment and protection can make even the colder dives toasty. Britain has some of the best diving the World has to offer, look past the potentially low visibility, get up close and personal and you’ll find some of Britain best treasures. These shores are definitely one of a kind and one not to be missed. I’ll be flying the flag for UK Diving for as long as I’m alive and will recommend anyone with a spare weekend to check out a dive site near them.
By Ed Hall