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

CJ and Mike

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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).
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Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report: Stats & Scotland

Donovan Lewis

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Expedition Overview

During June 2021 a team of us Photographers, Filmmakers, Scientists and Divers took part in the Western Ecology Tour, an expedition that involved diving some of ‘The Best’ of the West Coast of the UK. The Expedition took place between the 17th and 29th of June, and we traveled to 3 key locations throughout the UK. The expedition started out in the Lochs of Scotland and finished along the Pembrokeshire coastline.

The expedition was led by Andy Clark of ATND Services and @fancy_a_brew_podcast. He sought out talent, sponsors, and expertise to aid him in achieving the goals he had planned for the expedition.

The expedition had three main aims; To support scientists who are working to better understand and protect our coastlines, wildlife, and ecosystems, to tell the unseen stories of our hidden coastline, and to promote sustainable adventures.

The expedition had a number of sponsors with all of them supplying equipment to the WET Team, these sponsors included Northern Diver who supplied Cylinders and Dive Lights and a Northern Diver bags for the Crews equipment, Analox who supplied a Nitrox Analyser, Dryrobe who supplied Dry Robes to members of the WET Team, GearAid supplied Cleaning and Repair equipment, Stream2Sea Supplied Alcohol Hand Sanitiser, Neptunic supplied T-Shirts and Rash Vests and Modena Journals supplied Journals to each member of the WET Team to make notes throughout the expedition.

Other sponsors included OThree who donated an array of items for Raffle Prizes and Finisterre who donated a £150 Voucher also for a raffle prize.

A prize raffle was run leading up to the trip, this raised £2,005 with £397 being given to each of the 3 projects that were supported, and the rest going towards supporting the team throughout the expedition. To reduce costs and minimise the teams carbon footprint, we lived life as simply as we could, which we did by staying at campsites.

In total the team collectively covered around 12,500 miles, with travelling taking between 5 – 10 hours to travel between each area of work.

Expedition Stats

  • Collective Miles driven – 12,500
  • Dive Sites Visited – 12
  • Max dive time – 74 Minutes
  • Collective Total Dive Time – 30.7 Hours / 1,847 Minutes
  • Max Depth Reached during Expedition – 34 Metres
  • Camp sites visited – 3
  • Collective Midge Bites (Scotland) – Unknown (Possibly Hundreds)
  • Largest Item of Pollution removed – Oil Drums
  • Projects Supported – 3
  • Total money raised during fundraiser – £2,005
  • Money raised for each charity – £397

Scotland

In Scotland, our team were supporting Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, with Chris Richard and Dr Lauren Smith. Chris and Lauren are working alongside fisherman and the local community to better understand the movements of the Flapper Skate, an animal that was once in abundance, hence why it used to be called the Common Skate, but it is now classed as a Critically Endangered Species. Chris & Lauren have managed to identify an egg laying site of the Flapper Skate but are unsure of how many animals are using the site and with the surrounding area being used for fishing, it puts the site at risk. Thankfully the specific site is closed to fishing and even diving, Chris & Lauren are working to try and better understand the Skates and learn more about their movements as this will help them place better protections on not just the site itself, but also the routes the Skates are using in and out of the site.

The one thing they mentioned is that the local community are an almost untapped source of local knowledge and resources. Due to the rarity of Flapper Skates Chris and Lauren have put together a Facebook page where local divers, walkers and nature enthusiasts can report their sightings of Flapper Skates and other Shark & Ray species.

We left from Andy’s house in Wigan for around 10:30am and it took us around 10 hours to travel up and arrive at The Wee Campsite which is located on the shores of Loch Carron. As soon as we arrived, we were mobbed by thousands of Highland Midges which resulted in some members of the team having between 10 – 100 midge bites on a single arm. We were warned about this before heading up but we weren’t expecting the sheer amount of them.

The campsite was however situated amongst some of the most breath-taking landscapes and vistas that the UK has to offer. Once we had all set up camp and eaten, it was time to set up our cameras and make sure that we were packed and ready to set off for 9am the next morning.

The First day included diving the shores of Loch Duich with the first Dive Site being outside the Ratagan Youth Hostel, this had a gentle sloping seabed with a muddy bottom. Here lies a huge amount of Short-Clawed Squat Lobster, Brittle Stars, Harbour Crabs and Jellyfish. This dive was unbelievable in terms of the sheer amount of life and is a Macro Photographers dream with life that was not only in high abundance but were also confident allowing you to truly take your time in getting the shot.

The second Dive Site is known by the unfortunate name of the Rubbish Dump, this dive site sits below a small lay by that is known for dumping rubbish, and when you go underwater you see why. The wall was covered in rubbish that ranged from plates, fishing line, car tyres, and even more shocking, was the sheer amount of animal remains with skulls and bags of bones littering the seabed. Even with this sheer amount of waste present at the site, there was life clinging to the debris, from crabs who made makeshift homes beneath the rubbish, Lauren even found a Mermaids Purse that had been wrapped around discarded fishing line but after Lauren did a quick check, she concluded that the egg wasn’t hindered and rather than try and move it and damage the egg she decided to leave it to develop.

After the dive at the Rubbish Dump, Chris spotted what was first believed to be an Otter but as a surprise sighting it turned out to be an invasive American Mink who swam past the team with what was believed to be a Rockling in its mouth, only a few shots were able to be taken before it darted under some rocks.

The final Dive site of the first day is known as School Bay, this is once again a dive site with a muddy bottom. The mission on this dive was to find and photograph a Fireworks Anemone and Sea Pens. The dive site is essentially a bowl that drops to around 25 metres. Chris advised us to follow the slope down into the Bowl at a depth of 20-25 Metres and here we found huge amounts of life from Sea Pens, Sea Whips, Long-Spined Sea Scorpion and of course we found Fireworks Anemone. This site was being swept by a gentle current which was shown by how many filter feeding animals that were present here.

The only problems that we ran into on this site, was entry and exit from the water, as it was over a very rocky beach, followed by shallow areas with thick algae, so extra care was taken when walking and swimming with cameras.

After day one the team returned to the campsite and settled down, after eating and preparing cameras for the second day, to dive briefings for day 2 which were delivered by Chris and Lauren.

Day two in Scotland was a day of drift dives which first lead the team up to Conservation Bay a short drive from the campsite and a short walk down a slope to a gentle shore entry. The dive started on shallow kelp bed, but with a short swim out however had us swimming out into a gentle drift dive, the walls here were covered in Dead Man’s Fingers, Kelp and Anemones. Ollie managed to get some incredible footage here of the walls and life that clung in the gentle drift.

The second dive was another short drive to Castle Bay, a beautiful dive site which had Strome Castle overlooking the bay that we were diving in. The current on this dive was much faster, however manageable when we were trying to capture imagery and footage of the site. The walls on this site were once again adorned with Dead Man’s Fingers, Anemones, and Common Urchins, however the drift was fast enough that it lasted for around 20 minutes before slowing in much slower water. The wall at this point flattened out and became a gentle sandy floor with huge amounts of flatfish, decorator Crabs, Moon Jellyfish and Nudibranchs. This area alone would have constituted a dive all on its own due to the abundance of life that was present.

The final dive of day two was a quiet one with only two members of our team going down for this one, as other members of us went off to photograph the site from above water and conduct drone shots for the Expedition film that is currently in production. It was Chris and Ross who decided to get in for the final dive of the Scottish leg and they dived on a huge Maerl bed, Maerl is a hard Seaweed that forms huge carpets on the seabed and creates a diverse habitat for other wildlife, they reported back after the dive after seeing Nudibranchs, Butterfish and Flame Shells amongst the Maerl beds. Scotland was finished off with Chris and Lauren giving their interviews about what they do at Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, along with some time to take images of some of the expedition’s sponsors.

After the final dive we spent an hour or so filming and taking photographs of expedition sponsors, and the general scenery before heading back to the campsite for the evening. The evening was spent with us chatting about the amazing diving we’d had during the Scottish leg and spoke about the next stop on Expedition WET’s itinerary, this was of course beautiful North Wales.

Tune in for the next entry of Expedition WET’s Trip report where I’ll be collaborating with Co-Scubaverse blogger Jake Davies, where we’ll be talking about Project Seagrass and about what the team saw and achieved during this amazing leg of the journey.

Header Image: WET Team in Neptunic gear. Photo Credit – Hannah Rose Milanković

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Wining and Diving – Gozo

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


Gozo is one of the most popular diving destinations for British divers, offering stunning underwater scenic dives along with plenty of wreck diving. Add to this the sunshine, professional dive centres and the relatively short flight and it is a perfect short-haul getaway.

We went for a long weekend dive conference and had heard that there was also an excellent vineyard on the island for us to try out on our non-diving day before flying home – perfect! With only two days of diving on the itinerary we wanted to pack in a much as we could, but the weather and the fact that Caroline had fallen down the stairs the week before and was struggling to walk very far – we needed help and the team at Calypso Divers really went out of their way to accommodate us, so rather that the usual shore diving the island has to offer, we started out visiting some of the most popular dives by boat.

Cathedral Rock and the Blue Hole showed off the dramatic seascape that is a feature of Gozo, with cliffs towering up out of the sea, caves and caverns where the power of the waves has created an underwater playground for divers. We visit Crocodile rock to see the schools of barracuda and to hunt for nudibranchs.

Our final dive saw us visit the wreck of the MV Karwela. This wreck is famous for its staircase that divers can descend and makes for an excellent photo opportunity.

Gozo is also well worth exploring top-side, with beautiful beaches, plenty of history and some lovely places to stop, relax and enjoy the food and drink of the region. We visit the family-owned Tal-Massar winery which hosts twice-weekly tours for groups, taking guests through the winery’s private estate and allowing them to enjoy the spectacular, unspoiled surroundings.

Tours also include a wine tasting featuring at least four different wines, plus traditional Gozo bread and cheese, sundried tomatoes and cold pressed olive oil. It was all delicious!


Links

  • For more information about Frogfish Photography click here.
  • For information about visiting Malta and Gozo click here.
  • For details on the dive centre we dived with click here.
  • For more information about the wine we sampled: Tal-Massar Winery
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