Post lockdown, many people are looking to holiday closer to home this year, and for underwater enthusiasts it is a chance to sample some of the best diving sites that the UK has to offer.
From historical shipwrecks to native marine life, there is something of interest for all levels of divers to enjoy, from novices to seasoned experts.
Leading travel writer and diver Kate Morfoot, from LoveToEatToTravel.com, shares her favourite sites around the UK.
Scapa Flow, Orkney, Scotland
In 1919, at least 52 vessels of the German fleet were scuttled in Scapa Flow on the Orkney Islands off Scotland’s northern coast. Many have been salvaged over the years, but the remaining wrecks provide an eerie reminder of turn-of-the-century naval technology and have become some of the most famous wreck sites in the world, let alone the best dive sites in this area. The wreck dives here include three 177 metre/580 foot battleships and four 155 metre/510 foot cruisers.
As the name Scapa Flow suggests, strong tides run here and bring nutrient-rich water that supports abundant sea life. This archipelago of islands has striking landscapes, fascinating history, inspiring culture, adrenaline-pumping adventure activities and everything in between that make it a natural playground for children and adults alike.
Reasons to visit: Adventure, wilderness, stunning nature and outdoor family fun.
Porthkerris, Cornwall, England
On the Lizard Peninsula at Porthkerris, there’s some excellent shore diving. Sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds, a handy beach entry gives access to a rocky reef close to shore. Invertebrates, including tube worms, anemones and sea urchins colonise the hard substrate, but keep your eyes open as encounters with basking sharks and pods of dolphins are a real possibility.
Crumbly Yarg cheese, meat-stuffed pasties, clotted cream – the endless list of Cornish delicacies literally rolls off the tongue. Work up an appetite surfing off Atlantic coves, ambling across granite moors or striding out on the South West Coast Path across sandy beaches and wild flower-strewn clifftops.
Be prepared for plenty of sky and lots of attractions, days out and family trips that will let you take advantage of the often stunning weather. It’s easy to see why England’s southwest toe with its super-quaint harbour towns has inspired celebrity chefs to take up residence. Green fingers? Potter round Cornwall’s lush gardens that can be found at rambling stately homes and the modern biomes of the Eden Project alike.
Reasons to visit: Incredible beaches, coastal walks, family days out, culture and active sports.
Falmouth Bay, Cornwall, England
Falmouth is incredibly accommodating for all levels of diver, thanks to its line-up of both shallow and offshore dives within easy reach. Pendennis and Castle Beach are particularly popular shore and night dives for both scuba divers and snorkelers, and are home to the wrecks of WWI submarines; keep an eye out for cuttlefish and dogfish too.
The Hera (18m/59ft) is a great beginner’s wreck, spread across two halves and each encrusted with sponges, fans, and dead man’s fingers. For something a little different, the Falmouth Estuary and Helford River lay claim to excellent sightings of thornback rays in spring.
Reasons to visit: Dog friendly and family friendly beaches – from iconic sandy beaches to intimate sheltered coves, Falmouth’s 300 plus beaches are gloriously varied.
Chesil beach, Dorset, England
Take a trip to the Jurassic Coast (a World Heritage Site) and you’ll find dramatic, red cliffs preserving millions of years of natural history and surrounding some of the UK’s best dive sites. Weymouth and Portland offer both shore dives (Chesil beach is a popular training site) and the M2 submarine and Aeolian Sky are both top wrecks to visit for more experienced divers. Swanage Pier, at 4m deep, is a fantastic, novice-level shore site where no two dives will be the same.
Reasons to visit: Family attractions and entertainment, beautiful beaches.
Home to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (the only coast national park in the UK), this area has it all, from beachy shore dives (St Brides, Martins Haven) to countless wreck dives at all depths. The Dakotian sits in just 20m of water while The Lucy offers a more adventurous 40m. For technical divers, the Drina touches the seabed at 60m. Further afield, the island of Grassholm is not only a superb diving spot, but home to one of the world’s largest Gannet populations.
Even further, about 20 miles out to sea, The Smalls Lighthouse needs calm seas to be reached, but worth the journey as you’ll be surrounded by seals playing amongst the pinnacles and gullies. Pembrokeshire is renowned for its rich concentrations of marine life including blue sharks, dolphins, sunfish, rays, lesser-spotted catsharks, octopus, lobsters, conger eels, crabs, starfish and more.
Reasons to Visit: Coastal national park, adventure, off the beaten track.
Farne Islands, Northumberland
Located off the Northumberland coastline in England, the Farne Islands are just a stone’s throw from the Scottish border and a popular checkpoint for divers travelling up into Scotland. While the islands are surrounded by wrecks and beautiful reefs, the attraction here is clear and simple: seal encounters! There’s estimated to be thousands of grey seals in the area, and they’re very accustomed to visits by divers. Don’t be surprised if you find your fins being tugged by one of these playful residents!
Reasons to visit: Good stop en route to Scotland, amazing sea life (grey seals and puffins!).
Jersey, Channel Islands
Offering warmer waters than mainland UK, this Channel Island is a great option for winter months with plenty of shore diving options offering colourful reefs, rays, wrasse, flat fish, cuttlefish and more. Jersey has one of the biggest tides in the world, creating fun drift dives where you can see rays and plenty of scallops. The historical wrecks that lie around the island are teeming with marine life such as pouting and conger eels.
Boat trips further out from the island are also available, where divers can find soft sponges and fan corals covering reef walls and beautiful kelp forests where the resident seals come to play.With a mix of British and French cultures, it’s known for its beaches, cliffside walking trails, inland valleys and historic castles. Just nine miles by five, Jersey’s size makes it easy to fit plenty into a weekend.
Reasons to visit: Beaches, culture, heritage, family.
The presence of the nearby Gulf Stream and unpolluted waters of the Firth of Lorne make Oban and other sea Lochs a mecca for UK diving enthusiasts. There is diving here to suit everyone, from pleasant scenic dives in wrecks both shallow and deep, to hairy drift dives with tidal flows exceeding 15 knots and deep drop offs. The marine life is abundant, with walls covered in anemones, sea squirts and sponges, lobsters and conger eels. You can also discover wildlife such as otters, seals and skate that teem in these pure waters.
Reasons to visit: Scenic destination, Scottish highlands culture, nature.
Brighton, West Sussex, England
The Indiana Wreck is located roughly one mile out to sea from Worthing Pier. It rests in eight to 12m of water depending on the tide. The Indiana was a British steam ship returning from Sicily with its cargo of lemons or oranges (although these have long since gone). She sank due to a collision with a German steam ship called the Washington who survived the crash while on her journey to New York.
This is one of the most frequently visited dive wrecks as it is perfect for novice and experienced divers. It has bags of marine life including large schools of Bib and Whiting, congor eels, crabs and shell fish. A great way to enter the world of UK sea diving.
Reasons to visit: Proximity to London, wreck diving, nightlife, culture, shopping.
Menai Strait, Angelesey, Wales
Separating Anglesey from mainland Wales, the Menai Strait offers exciting drift diving thanks to these tidal waters. Divers can enter from shore close to the impressive Menai Bridge, and drift with the tide at a maximum depth of around 17 metres. The water movement ensures plenty of nutrients feed sponges and anemones that provide spectacular colour as you pass through the strait, whilst gobies, blennies and all other manner of fish are easy to spot. The tides can be strong here and it is recommended that your first dive is with a local dive centre so they can advise you on the best techniques.
Reasons to visit: Remote beaches off the beaten track, rich history, ancient sites and coastal walks.
For more information about learning to scuba dive, visit Padi.com.