Dive Notes from a Small Island: Part 6 – Scottish Lochs and Final Thoughts…

After our brilliant week in the Orkneys, it was time to make our way back to the North West as our trip was coming to an end. Since we were driving past Oban and several Scottish lochs, it seemed rude not to hop in for one or two last shore dives on the way. Having heard good things about Oban we headed down the west coast and found Puffin Dive Center, just out of the town along Gallanach Rd. PDC offers boat dives, has a very nice set up and friendly staff; as we were on a bit of a tight schedule we just had time for a quick shore dive from their dock to the house reef. From Oban we drove south via Loch Long, where I had previously done a dawn dive as part of the ‘Three Deeps Challenge’, a charity fundraiser a few years ago. I remembered Loch Long having easy entry, good visibility and lots of life, so was keen to show Mike this dive as well, before packing away our dive kit for a while.

Dive 22: Puffin House Reef, Oban

Site description: 

This reef has a max depth of 18m, though most of the dive is shallower 8-12m. With a silt bottom and kelp in the shallows, the visibility is about 5m on average. The reef is easy to navigate by swimming west out from the PDC dock to around 8m and then turning south until you hit the reef. Explore the reef then return east to get back to shore. The reef is 1km long and so there is plenty to explore and common sightings include octopus, crabs, nudibranchs and lobster. It can be dived at any state of tide.

The Dive: 

The silty bottom is home to lots crabs, shrimp and scallops. We had an explore down to about 12m and found some nudibranchs on some seaweed. On the reef we spotted a couple of octopus hiding in their holes and eyeing us suspiciously. The visibility was about 5m and the temperature a nice warm 13°C allowing us an easy 62min dive.

Mike’s Thoughts:

This was more like a muck dive than previous sites we’d visited in the UK, with a large expanse of silty ground to explore before we made our way to the sloping rocks of the ‘reef’ in the middle of the Kerrera sound. The silty bottom was crawling with life, including whelks, squat lobsters and dragonets and gobies. What I thought was a piece of seaweed tumbling along the bottom turned out to be a very interesting long-legged spider crab bedecked in red algae. The site was easy to navigate and was another great place for a quick shore dive.

Dive 23: The A Frames (Finnart oil terminal), Loch Long

Site description: 

The site is easily accessible from the car park next to the Finnart oil terminal on the A814 and is the site of an old pier that was dynamited. A mix of rocky reef with pier wreckage, it is suitable for all divers and accessible at all states of tide, though strong currents can be present below 20m. Lots of life can be seen here, and it is best with few divers as silt can be stirred up and reduce visibility. Take a heading to the white lighthouse on the far shore of Loch Long for navigation and beware boat traffic coming to the oil terminal.

The Dive:

We arrived early as we had heard the site could get very busy and were not surprised when lots of other cars turned up. It turned out there was a PADI instructor exam taking place, so we decided to get in quickly, so we might be out of the way by the time the instructor candidates had completed their briefings. The top 5m of water was a brown tannin layer, with less than half a meter visibility. We descended through this having done a short surface swim and at 6m, went through a thermocline and into very clear water. With the heavy cloud cover and tannin layer above we had very little light and proceeded in night dive conditions. Despite the good visibility deeper down there was not a lot of life on this dive, in stark contrast to the last time I dived here. We did see sea urchins, crabs and above us the silhouette of a huge lion’s mane jellyfish. As there was not a great amount to see and quite dark we kept the dive short, just 25mins as we also wanted to let the examination group get on with their dives. Speaking to some locals as we de-kitted, I found out that the site is often hit and miss, some days being packed with life and other days not, sometimes without any tannin layer at all and this reassured me that I had not misremembered my original dive.

Mike’s Thoughts:

I had an interesting time in my first Scottish loch. After seeing the atrocious visibility on top upon initial descent, I thought we might have a very short dive indeed. Fortunately things improved a bit deeper and the experience of dropping through the dark tannic water into the crystal clear below was quite cool. Despite the daylight hour it really became a night dive for us, although the sea life didn’t live up to expectations. Aside from a few widely-spaced dragonets, urchins, and the usual crabs there wasn’t much to see as we swam around. We may not have ventured far enough from shore, or we just didn’t have much luck that day. At least the surrounding area above water was beautiful!

CJ’s trip summary:

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to take the time to show Mike round my native waters and get some fantastic diving done; it’s not always the case that you can take a couple of months break from work and just go and have fun, especially with a great and like-minded dive buddy.

I’ve always been passionate about UK diving and believed that we had some world class dive sites to enjoy, if you are willing to take the plunge into temperate waters. During this trip I was really hoping that Mike would get to experience this for himself and wouldlove the diving here as much as I do. Sometimes the visibility isn’t good, or the weather blows out the dive, but this is part and parcel of UK diving. However in the last few weeks I have also had the opportunity to see lots of new places and been able to dive sites I have been wanting to visit and it has been utterly brilliant!

For anyone wanting to visit any of the places we have been, we have included some recommendations of dive centers and skippers that were great and made our trip. Finally, if you want to go and dive somewhere, our recommendation would be to absolutely make time to do it. Sometimes the conditions may not be perfect, but as long as its safe, it’s always great being underwater!

Mike’s Trip Thoughts:

Looking back on two months of travel and diving around the UK and Ireland, a few thoughts come to mind. First of all, the dive conditions were fairly challenging more often than not. When planning an ocean dive here, one has to expect colder water, generally low visibility, and factor in tide and current. This meant being a more attentive and prepared diver; losing sight of your buddy or dive group is always a possibility and you must be aware of your surroundings. It also made capturing quality underwater photos quite a challenge for me at times. The good thing is that with the proper equipment (a drysuit, good lighting, and DSMB and reel) and the right mindset there is a lot to love. I enjoyed many firsts on our trip and got to observe and photograph many new species. Even common species here like sea mats, long-clawed squat lobsters, tompot blennies and dogfish were a delight to see, and riding the diver lifts on the boats was novel at first! Diving in the UK really has a lot to offer … unique marine flora and fauna, interesting underwater formations, miles of stunning coastline, and hundreds of diveable shipwrecks. Having a post-dive pint at the pub was the icing on the cake. I can heartily recommend the UK as a diving destination; it’s well worth a visit!

Our recommendations:

Cornwall:

  • Seaways Diving, Penryn. (Great advice, cheap air fills, shop, boat trips)
    Porthkerris Divers, Porthkerris. (Campsite, boat trips to Manacles, Drawna rocks shore dive, shop & courses).
  • Roskilly’s Ice Cream. (Food, amazing ice cream).

Dorset:

  • Divers Down, Swanage. (Pier dive info, shop, air fills, boat trips & courses).

Ireland:

  • Scubadive West, Co. Galway. (Shore dive, boat dives at weekends, shop, air fills & courses).

Northern Ireland:

  • Aquaholics, Portstewart. (Boat dives, local advice, shop, air fills & courses).

Farne Islands:

  • Sovereign Diving, Seahouses. (Boat dives).
  • Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses. (Great beer selection, food & accommodation).

Scotland:

  • Marine Quest, Eyemouth. (Boat dives, accommodation, air fills).
  • Scapa Flow Charters, Stromness. (Boat dives, liveaboards & air/nitrox fills).
  • Scapa Scuba, Stromness. (Drysuit repair, air fills, shop, guided dives & courses).
  • Puffin Dive Center, Oban. (Boat dives, shore dive, air fills, shop & courses).

This article was originally published by Scubaverse