Perhaps you’ve tried scuba diving on an exotic foreign holiday but can’t see the appeal of Britain’s green waters? Here’s ten of the best UK dive sites that may change your mind…
James Eagan Layne, Plymouth
It’s hard to say why the James Eagan Layne (‘the JEL’) has become such a draw to divers. Torpedoed in WW2 off Plymouth, for years the wreck was visible, although today her highest point lies around 6 metres below the surface. Much of the hull plating has fallen away leaving a ‘cathedral’ of bulkheads for a diver to swim through, so the ‘Layne is certainly atmospheric. More simply, perhaps it’s because she’s accessible to all levels of diver that the JEL is a must-do.
Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The expanse of water at Scapa is shielded by islands, making it one of the world’s best natural harbours – and hence the former chief naval base of the Royal Navy. It was here at the end of World War One that the German High Seas fleet took defeat badly and scuttled 52 ships simultaneously. Ninety years on, the battleships, destroyers and other wrecks of Scapa Flow lie mostly in recreational depths and attract divers from around the world.
There are submarine wrecks dotted around the UK, but the M2 in Lyme Bay, Dorset is stranger than most. Lying in about 36 metres, the sub is unusual for its large aeroplane hangar amidships. This experimental one-off vessel was designed to stalk prey, surface and launch a single aircraft before discreetly submerging again. Sadly, the hangar proved an Achilles heel and the M2 sank with the loss of all 60 hands in 1932. Worth bearing in mind when you descend on this utterly unique and atmospheric dive.
Chalk reef, Norfolk
It was as recently as November 2010 that divers discovered a chalk reef submerged off Norfolk is much larger than previously thought. Stretching at least 20 miles along the coast, in places the reef comes as close as 50 metres to the shore and can be snorkelled, while in others is made up of boulder fields, swim-throughs and mini arches. Who needs the Great Barrier Reef? Not Norfolkers.
Eddystone Reef, Plymouth
The lighthouse-adorned Eddystone is 12 miles out to sea so not for the complete newbie, but once there the rock gullies and reefs host an amazing variety of sea life. There are depths to explore from shallow 25m to 40, drop-offs, and large schools of Pollack and Bib constantly circling. Due to the relative remoteness of the site, there’s also an above average chance of seeing dolphins here too.
Lundy Island, Bristol Channel
As a ‘no-take’ zone, the waters around Lundy Island are some of the healthiest we can call our own. Large underwater rock formations are typically covered in kelp, providing the perfect abode for marine creatures to thrive. Lundy is visible just a few miles distant from Barnstaple and other North Devon, with boat skippers based here happy to take you out. Pick the right time of the year and you’ll be joined by playful seals from the local colony – a diving experience not to be missed.
HMS Moldavia, Sussex
Here’s one for techies. HMS Moldavia should tick all the boxes of the discerning wreck diver. Large (10,000 tons), once elegant (P&O liner, no less) and a warship (converted in WW1, with guns still visible), her broken remains now lie tantalisingly deep (48m.) At around 20 miles out to sea from Brighton, underwater visibility has an above-average chance of being excellent too.
St Abbs and Farnes Islands, Northumberland
The Northumberland coast is exposed to the cold waters of the North Sea and takes a battering from the weather. But that’s to a diver’s advantage as on a good day, this remote stretch of our shoreline teems with sea life. There are several Grey Seal colonies for starters, so look out for the tell-tale tug at your fin of a playful seal.
HMS Scylla, Plymouth
The Scylla could almost be bundled with the James Eagan Layne, so close are the two wrecks to each other. And this is no accident: Scylla, a Leander-class frigate, was sunk in 2004 as the UK’s first artificial reef. 5 metres below the surface, upright on the seabed in 24m and with holes cut into her side (for those trained in wreck penetrations of course), the Scylla offers an ideal introduction to British Diving.
Under your local pier
A dive under a pier like the one at Swanage couldn’t be easier. Typically, there’s easy entry and shallow water making it ideal for beginners. Piers attract critters such as Tompot Blennies and shrimps, although even Spider Crabs and schools of fish turn up to investigate from time to time. Best of all, most piers have a good local fish and chip vendor for your post-dive nosh-up. British diving at its best. See you in the water!