The UK's Best Diving Experiences

09 May 2013
In this article we take a look at some of the best underwater experiences the UK has to offer.

Seals

Grey Seals are amongst the rarest seals in the world and the UK is home to approximately 40% of the world's population of them.

Whilst many tour operators offer Seal watching expeditions from the safety of a boat the best place to encounter these wonderfully inquisitive creatures is on their home turf (i.e. underwater) as it is there that you will get to experience for yourself their natural curiosity, their underwater prowess and quite often their mischievous personalities.

Many have likened juvenile seal behaviour around divers to that of a playful puppy, they are even known to nip and tug at your fins (if you are lucky). The bite marks on your fins however will pale in comparison to the impression a close encounter with a wild Grey seal will leave upon your memory.

Seals (including the UK's other indigenous species - the common seal) can be found at many dive sites around the UK with some sites boasting a resident seal or two.

The best experiences however generally come by visiting a seal colony like The Farne Islands.

Scapa Flow

The UK is renowned the world over for its wreck diving and that is for very good reason. Our maritime history is illustrious and our seas and coast line some of the most challenging in the world which happily for us divers means that the waters around our shores are jam packed full of shipwrecks of all of shapes, sizes, purpose and age.

Scapa Flow however is the centre of the UK wreck diving world as it is here in this natural harbour situated in the Orkney Islands that in 1919 54 war ships from the German High Fleet were scuttled. Following extensive salvage only a few now remain on the seabed but they represent some of the best wreck dives anywhere in the world.

For UK wreck divers Scapa Flow is the Holy Grail and should not be missed!

Basking Sharks

You could pay 4000 and travel 11 hours on a plane to swim with world's biggest fish, or you could hop in the car and head to Cornwall or Scotland to swim with the world's second largest fish - the Basking Shark.

At the right time of year these giants measuring up to 40ft in length and weighing up to 19 tonnes1 visit our fair shores to feed, and seeing one come towards you with cavernous mouth agape is guaranteed to be one of the greatest underwater experiences of your life.

We should mention that these monster sized sharks are filter feeders which prefer to graze on plankton and therefore pose little or no threat to humans (just in case you were wondering).

These animals can be encountered randomly whilst diving however the bubbles from dive equipment can scare the animals off. So to increase your chances of an encounter there are several operators offering you the chance to snorkel with these majestic animals, which happily means non-diving friends and family can come along for the ride too. Ok so it's not quite diving but it still a great underwater experience!!!

Drifting

There is one Drift Dive in the UK which elicits nervous excitement in those that haven't dived it and nervous laughs from those that have.

This dive could quite easily be on some peoples lists of worst ever dives, as scary down currents, uncontrolled ascents and buddy separation are common occurrences.

It is certainly not a dive for those who are faint of heart or shy of experience and it is not for everyone but if you have the requisite drift dive experience and fancy a thrill ride like no other then head to the Falls of Lora at Loch Etive in Scotland which offer you the chance to be swept along by tidal currents at break neck speeds of up to 8 knots before being spat out into the Loch. The dive may only last 10 minutes but the memory (good or bad) is likely to last a lifetime.

Dolphins

Much has been said about the controversial practice of swimming with Dolphins in captivity. The wild Dolphin however is a naturally inquisitive and intelligent creature and randomly finding a diver in open water can be a curious find even for a Dolphin.

These encounters are very rare and you could go your entire diving life without seeing one in the wild, but a chance encounter with one of these wonderful creatures is a life affirming experience and therefore definitely deserves to make the list.

You never know maybe one day you will have an experience like this one at Porthkerris; http://porthkerris.com/category/news-2/a-very-special-visitor/

Wreck, Wrecks and more Wrecks

The waters around the UK are a Wreck Divers paradise and whilst we have tried to avoid just listing shipwrecks in our best of list (though we could quite easily have done so) it would be rude not to mention just a couple more.

In Whitesand Bay, Plymouth lies not one but two world class shipwrecks and the best part is that they are only 500m apart making it possible to dive both in one day.

The other huge positives are that both wrecks lie in less than 25m making them accessible to all levels of diver and because they are so popular it means that there are many dive centres running trips out to them and therefore access should not be an issue.

The first wreck is HMS Scylla a Leander Class Frigate which served in the Royal Navy between 1970-1993. In March 2004 she was purposefully sunk off the coast of Plymouth to create the first artificial reef of its kind in Europe. She is now a home for a variety of marine life and a playground for divers.

Before her sinking she was specially prepared to make her as environmentally friendly as possible and as safe as possible for divers. They even cut holes in her hull to allow for easy penetration for those suitably qualified to enter her.

The second wreck is that of the James Eagan Layne a 7176 tonne US Liberty Ship which was torpedoed in March 1945 by a German U-Boat whilst carrying war supplies from New York.

She now lies upright in 25m and again is penetrable by those with the requisite experience.

Diving these two wrecks in one day may just add up to the best days wreck diving you ever do. If you haven't wreck dived before this is a great place to start and you may just find yourself craving more wreck diving experiences.

See;

www.divescylla.com

www.fourthelement.com/adventures/3d_james_eagan_layne_wreck_map.php

Shark Diving

Usually a UK diver will have to dive for years and travel many thousands of miles before spotting a big shark in open water (dog fish don't count by the way).

There are however a few places in the UK where you can dive with not one but dozens of big sharks all in near perfect viz.

We are of course talking about the UK's aquariums.

Several UK aquariums now offer visitors the opportunity to get into their shark tanks to get up close and personal with their resident sharks.

It's an adrenaline rush like no other gingerly lowering yourself feet first into a water filled tank whilst these Apex predators circle below. Make no bones about it though it is an incredibly special experience to see these perfectly adapted hunters gliding effortlessly past only a couple feet away from you, but be warned as a 10ft shark approaches from your blindside you may find that your regulator is not the only place you start to expel bubbles from.

See;

Blue Planet Aquarium

Footnote1(a b Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. p.256. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9)