... there is still some great shore-diving to be had around the UK! John Liddiard rounds up five of the best bets for those who just have to get down to the sea again - and jump straight into it
St Abbs, Borders
St Abbs is a bit of an odd one out in this round-up, and not just because it is north of the border. ???? All the other dives are good shore dives - good for training, for when the weather gets too rough for boats, and if you want something easy, shallow and convenient.They are not, however, as good as offshore dives available in the same areas. ???? St Abbs, on the other hand, is magnificent. Shore-diving here compares favourably with many of our best offshore dives. ???? Access is from the outer wall of the harbour. Go to the end and continue along the rocks, slithering into the sea wherever it is most convenient. The closest rock is Big Green Car, only a few metres' swim to the north-east. ???? There is a well-sheltered wall with slight overhangs on the inside edge of this rock, covered in large clumps of white and yellow dead men's fingers and grazed by countless sea urchins. ???? At the base of the wall, one of many local wolf-fish lives in a triangular hole. This could be the most photographed wolf-fish in Britain, a celebrity almost. ???? Wolf-fish are actually big blennies. Out of its hole it resembles a tompot blenny in shape, but without the antlers and the smile. They like to scrunch through the hard shells of crabs, squat lobsters and sea urchins. Debris from such meals often provides a visual clue to the holes which conceal a wolf-fish. ???? The south side of Big Green Car is an overhanging wall, again carpeted in dead men's fingers. The gully this forms between the rock and the rocky ledges that lead across to Broad Craig seems to be a favourite haunt for ballan wrasse. ???? To the outside of Big Green Car is a semi-circular bowl with steep rocky edges known as the Amphitheatre. It seems crass to describe it as 'more of the same' because the site is actually quite spectacular. ???? Further south along the outside of the harbour wall, the big rock close to the middle is Broad Craig and outside this is Little Green Car. The famous Cathedral Rock is further south still, towards the end of a reef that runs almost in line with the south wall of the harbour. ???? The rock above the double archway of the Cathedral is submerged at all states of tide, though with the typical good visibility of the area a shadow of kelp can just about be seen from the harbour wall at low water. ???? Even with the flattest sea there is constant movement of water through the main archway, feeding the tapestry of small plumose anemones that adorn its walls and attracting multitudes of fish, from pollack to wrasse. There are even reports of the occasional cod being seen here, though I have yet to meet one. ???? The second 'keyhole' archway is above the main arch, and on a busy weekend enough air collects from divers' exhaust bubbles to create an air bell in the roof. ???? If it's a bit too rough to dive comfortably around the rocks on the east of the harbour wall, it may be a little more sheltered at Gull Rock to the north of the harbour entrance. Here there are shallow sandy gullies overhung with kelp and a narrow cave into the north side of the rock, though you have to be careful not to obstruct boat traffic.
One of the wolf-fish for which St Abbs is famed
a scorpionfish lies balanced inside a kelp leaf
a lion's mane jellyfish cruises through the reef on a current
GETTING THERE: St Abbs is just north of the England / Scotland border. From north or south, follow the A1, then the A1107 to Coldingham, then the B6438 to St Abbs.
AIR: On the harbourside, 01890 771708, or Scoutscroft Dive Centre at Coldingham, 01890 771669, www.divescoutscroft. freeserve.co.uk.
ACCOMODATION: B&B in St Abbs, caravan and camp sites at Coldingham and Eyemouth. Tourist information, 01835 863688, web www.scot-borders.co.uk.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 160 St Abbs Head to the Farne Islands; and 175 Fife Ness to St Abbs Head. OS Map 67, Duns & Dunbar. Diver Guide - Dive St Abbs and Eyemouth by Lawson Wood. Diver Guide - Scotland, Vol 3 by Gordon Ridley. St Abbs and Eyemouth Marine Reserve, www.marine-reserve.org.uk.