A common question I am asked by new divers….. Where is the best place you have dived in the world?
It is a great question, an honest question, an inquisitive question and awaits a passionate answer. My answer, there are many places I have dived, for different reasons I would consider the ‘best place’. And then I bore them to death with a hundred ‘amazing’ diving stories…. Well, it was their own fault.
Having dived the Wreck of the Yongala in Oz, the Mexican cenotes, swam with sharks and mantas in the Maldives, glided over the Barrier reef in Australia, dived with massive morays in the Caribbean, played with turtles in the Seychelles, had Manatee bumping into me in Florida and penetrated the wreck of the Thistlegorm in the Red sea, plus a multitude of other exotic locations abroad I really feel I have the right, and feel the need, to give a big shout out to the amazing diving we have here in the UK.
The UK’s waters are renowned for their variety of shipwrecks, it has more wrecks per mile of coastline than anywhere in the world. Especially I’ve enjoyed Scapa flow, Plymouth and Oban for this reason. For scenery I love the almost Mediterranean feel of the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales on a sunny day, Ynys Mon and its secluded bays, Lizard point Cornwall. For wildlife we are lucky to have Basking sharks along the West coast, blue Sharks in Cornwall. Inland for recreation and training we have professionally run dive sites such as Capernwray in the South Lake District, the list goes on of amazing diving, many of these all easily make up some of my favourite ‘best places’ in the world.
The one place I would like to talk to you about is the Farne Islands along the Northumberland coast. This Northeast coast of England is stunningly beautiful. White sandy beaches, a castle or ten, a large bird population for twitchers and underwater it is beautiful too. Orange and white soft corals, forests of kelp swaying in the tide, a number of wrecks that have fish life taking residence in them. The biggest draw though is a colony of around 6,000 Grey seals.
I have been going on and off for 20 years, and organised many trips there. Why is it the view of UK diving that it is cold, bad visibility and uncomfortable?
I think the people who believe that just haven’t given it a chance yet. I genuinely believe that with the correct equipment it is warm enough to dive comfortably all year around, but certainly 8 months a year, and yes in some areas the visibility will be bad, but I’ve seen gin clear waters in many places around the UK. A bit of weather watching, and local knowledge can really improve your chances of a good show. It’s about a small amount of planning, and a bit of good advice from experienced divers on the conditions to judge what you need for comfort and enjoyment.
Our latest trip, on arrival at the beach town at Sea Houses you can see it is very accommodating for the traveller. Many friendly pubs, chip shops, gift shops and Bed and Breakfast and other tourist accommodation to satisfy both ends of the financial spectrum. The people are friendly, and it sets the scene for an enjoyable trip.
We dive with Billy Shiels, he has looked after us for many years. Himself, his skippers and crew are knowledgeable of the conditions in the area, which is essential as tides can run fast and inclement weather plays its part as you are travelling offshore a short journey to the islands.
After a short walk from the harbour to the boat, the boat journey out is all part of the fun, surface dwellers pay for the privilege of steaming to the islands to view the wildlife from the surface, certainly this is a great experience, but it is less than half of the story.
On arriving at the islands there were around 100 basking seals, in the water we were already surrounded by many inquisitive seals who were dive bombing, us, touching us, or just viewing on the edge of visibility. The one amazing thing about this encounter, unlike a Sea World type encounter, is the creatures are in their natural habitat and may come and go as they please. It seems though that Freedivers and Scuba divers are fun so they don’t mind visiting us.
As we approached the shore, all of a sudden, 100 fat basking, sedentary seals turned into 100 playful, darting impressively aquatic mammals firing in from every angle, chewing fins, pulling hoods, nibbling gloves and all the mischief you could imagine from a room full of puppies. And after all, seals are just dog mermaids.
Water temperature was perfect, I never felt overly warm, never felt overly cold. Just right. We wore 5-7 mm wetsuits with hood and gloves. September and October are the warmest months for diving, February and March are the coldest. Having the right equipment is the difference in comfort, not the conditions themselves.
After 3-4 hours in the water for the group, we got back on the boat and steamed home. With fantastic tales and a video and picture or two to show the surface dwellers.