October 09, 2022 7 min read
When I think of Scottish adventures, the first things that spring to mind is all of the wonderful landscapes we are renowned for, the snow-capped Cairngorms, the Cufllins in Skye, The sprawling highlands and plentiful Munros. What many people don’t realise (myself included until recently) is that when you dive below the surface then Scotland’s underwater world is full of places ripe for exploring too.
I had the pleasure of chatting to a few Scottish divers and our very own co-founder Steve, who used to be a scuba-diving instructor, for a bit of inspiration and some of their favourite Scottish diving locations.
Dr Isla Hodgson - Inveraray slip, Loch Fyne, Argyll
I’ll never forget the first time I dived this site – on a crystal clear night in the depths of winter, when it was warmer in the water than out. We set out straight from the slip, illuminated by moonlight, and headed to the left. For what felt like an age our torch-beams just revealed soft mud with the occasional crab – then, like a solitary tree in the desert, an enormous anemone appeared. Another stood tall about a foot away, and others behind it, swaying gently and silently. This is what we had come to see: fireworks anemones, Pachycerianthus multiplicatus. Reaching up to 30cm across, with extremely long, wafting tentacles that really do look like a firework exploding across the night sky, they aren’t your average anemone. The longer, outer tentacles are a brilliant white, the shorter ones around the mouth can be orange, green and pink. This is a burrowing species of anemone that lives in a tube of mucus and mud, that can be up to one metre long. And the best thing? They are biofluorescent, essentially meaning they can glow in the dark! We spent a very happy dive switching on our blue lights and having our own bonfire night celebration.
Although it can look like a vast muddy expanse, there is plenty to see – bobtail squid, squat lobsters, and of course, the fireworks. I’ve always dived this site at night, as it adds to the feeling of magic and otherworldliness – seeing those anemones, standing on stalks with their freakishly long, curling tentacles, is like coming across the strangest, but most beautiful, alien’s garden. But it’s so accessible. Usually, you come across fireworks in much deeper water, but here, you can find many of them between 10 and 13m. A really special place.
Rachel Brooks - The Isle of Coll
The Isle of Coll is an underwater paradise hidden away in the Inner Hebrides. With white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters and an abundance of wildlife, Coll is one of my favourite places to explore underwater in Scotland. The shores are lined with kelp beds and important seagrass habitats, which create an important nursery ground for fish and plenty of hiding places for exciting critters like nudibranch and catsharks! If you're lucky you may spot something larger like a seal or basking shark during the summer months.
Steve Henry - Basking Sharks, Isle of Coll
Another suggestion for the Isle of Coll from me. I love sharks and have been lucky enough to dive with around a dozen different species at different sights around the world. Many people have questioned my sanity for this, but I must confess that I have planned entire holidays around sharks on more than one occasion. As soon as I found out that the second largest species of shark on the planet (Whale Sharks are the largest if you’re curious) likes to spend their summers in Scotland, getting in the water with them went straight onto my bucket list. A couple of years ago I managed to tick this item of the list courtesy of the amazing team at Basking Shark Scotland (which includes Isla and Rachel who kindly contributed to this article) and loved every minute of the experience. Seeing these gentle ocean giants up close is an experience that is hard to match. The weather was a bit choppy for my visit, reducing the visibility which made taking pictures a little bit harder, so I’ve included one of my images and a couple of better ones from Rachel (it could also be that she’s a better photographer…)
Lawson Wood - Scapa Flow
The northern natural harbour of Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands has been used by invaders, warring nations and fishing fleets fishing for herring. When the German High Seas Battle Fleet were interred at the end of the First World War, who knew at the time that this fleet would be intentionally sunk or scuttled. Now over 100 years later the shipwrecks of Scapa Flow are internationally recognised as one of the top scuba diving areas in the world and certainly the top wreck diving destination in Europe. This sunken fleet first started as being recognised as Weapons of mass Destruction; they then became a massive resource of scrap metal; Soon they evolved into an unrestricted diving amenity and finally as a historic National Monument, worthy of international recognition and worthy of full protection. There are currently 3 German Battleships; 4 Light Cruisers; a WWII destroyer; a submarine; various aircraft wreckage and 17 diveable block ships. Virtually all of the diving can be done by scuba divers of any expertise and all of the shallower blockships can be explored safely by snorkelling. This is one of my favourite diving locations in the world and being in home waters is even more special. The underwater photographic opportunities are immense and challenging, but the rewards are well worth any effort undertaken to the top of Britain and the top diving location in Europe.
Rachel Brooks - Fingal’s Cave, The Isle of Staffa
Fingals cave is a spectacular place to snorkel and freedive, being beneath the towering basalt columns gives you a completely different perspective. As you swim inside the cave you can also see the unique geology under the water. Surrounding the cave is a large kelp bed where you can spot many critters and jellyfish, keep an eye out above for nesting seabirds flying over head as puffins nest on the cliff tops during the summer months. The island has more caves to explore and removing your hood to hear the echoing from the waves is a really special experience. This site is more challenging, the exposed island and reef can get some very strong swell and a lot of visiting boats, this one should only be visited on a specialist guided trip, but definitely one for the bucket list!
Ross McLaren - St Catherines, Loch Fyne, Argyll
St Cats Seal Reef is a very popular dive site just south of the small village of St Catherines on the banks of Loch Fyne directly across the loch from Inverary. It's a dive site with something for all divers from trainees all the way up. With a beautiful stoney beach the entry and exit is relatively safe and doubles up as a great wee campsite (for those brave enough to face the midges).The diving itself is relatively easy with navigation being simply head out keeping the slope on your right hand side until you hit the rocky reef and then on the left on the way back. The reef is home to the usual Loch life; langoustine, Squat Lobsters, crabs and starfish. But on top of that there's always the possible of the odd Lobster hiding away under the bigger rocks, dogfish on the sandy bottom before the reef and, if you're really lucky the odd bobtail squid either at night or at depth.
Lawson Wood - Berwickshire Marine Reserve, St Abbs Head
Officially this year the Marine Reserve is 38 years old, it was set up in August of 1984. I founded the Marine Reserve in Eyemouth 10 years earlier as a voluntary conservation programme around the same time as the St Abbs Marine Reserve was set up and the local Scuba diving clubs and divers made a pledge to cause as little damage as possible and not touch or take away any wildlife in these areas. A few years later it was Underwater Conservation Year which saw the founding of The Marine Conservation Society and I’m actually member number 6 of the society. Eventually the decision was made by the National Trust for Sotland and The Scottish Wildlife Trust to combine the two Marine Reserves into one to protect that whole line of coast. The Code of Conduct set up for the Berwickshire Marine Reserve has now been adopted by a whole host of Volunteer Marine Reserves around the UK and across the world. My favourite spot in the reserve would be what we call the Anemone Gardens at St Abbs Head. You can see these huge Dahlia Anemones that are amazing bright colours. It’s a very photogenic site and a nice, easy, sheltered dive spot with lots of things to see.
Simon Temple - Berwickshire Marine Reserve, Eyemouth
It is said that the diving offered within the Berwickshire Marine Reserve is amongst the best in the UK. As you descend into the waters you are immediately struck by the dramatic whites and oranges of the soft coral encrusted rock faces. Any space not occupied by corals is taken by colonies of anemones, giving the impression of near 100% coverage by vibrant marine life. Generally the underwater visibility in this area ranges from good (5-8m) to 'Wow!' (15m+) making it easy to navigate the contours of the reef which descend below you into deep sided gulleys and onwards to low rolling brittlestar beds. With such biodiversity on offer it's easy to see why the Marine Reserve can hold a diver’s attention for many years and in some cases a lifetime.
Thanks so much to Steve, Rachel, Ross, Isla, Lawson and Simon for the suggestions! Please make sure to dive safely with experts and always follow theScottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.
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