|Eight Acre Lake, East Yorkshire
|Mike Ward will do anything for a nice cuppa
Charter boat skippers do it right, puttinga brew in your hand before youve even stowed your kit. Inland sites, by contrast, provide a pierced youth with a hand outstretched for money, and if you want tea, you buy your own.
Not at Eight Acre Lake, however. Dave or Michelle, the owners, will have the kettle on for you as you fill in the registration form.
Eight Acre is an old quarry working that has filled up very nicely to form an almost perfectly rectangular lake covering about 8 acres, hence the name. Maximum depth is around 14m to a soft and silty bottom. Viz can be made to drop very quickly, but was 3-5m in April and gets better as the weather warms up.
To keep visiting divers entertained, there are a fair few bits and bobs to find and explore, ranging from a couple of sunken yachts and a Chinese junk to a yellow Reliant Robin and a group of farmyard animals.
Fixed platforms at various depths permit novice divers to hit the bottom without stirring it up, and a second, slightly smaller and shallower lake on the same site was due to be opened specifically for training soon after my visit. This leaves the bigger area for more experienced divers with better buoyancy control.
The water was a chilly 5Ã‚C when I took a stride from the main entry stage and finned slowly across to the buoy marking a 6m training platform.
I was trying out a new second flash on my camera rig and was able to kneel on the wooden structure without a care in the world to twiddle the arms and check that all was well. Luxury.
Camera sorted, it was time to explore. Near the platform is an ex-pub treehouse, its big face grinning insanely through the green water. If it was any deeper, and a touch of narcosis had kicked in, it would be slasher-movie spooky, but at just 10m and with a nice swim-through it was fun.
Nearby is a small sailing yacht, the cubby entryway barred. Peer inside and you can see the last skipper still in residence.
The bars are clearly there to keep the unwary out of a space too tight for a drysuited diver, but then I remembered Dave saying something about getting the boat really cheaply, and I felt an icy trickle run down my spine.
I really must get that neck-seal changed.
Swim away from the yacht just west of north, and the bottom begins to rise a little. After a minute or two of finning, youll spot a turtle, one of a number of occupants of the Eight Acre Gnome Garden, the others being ducks, sheep, a dog, a pony and some frogs.
Oh, and keep looking upwards. Somewhere in the lake is a 2.5m shark, but he moves around to take the unwary by surprise. Michelle had told me where he was for photographic purposes, but catching sight of that ominous silhouette swooping down was genuinely startling.
Theres another toothy surprise that moves around but Ill leave you to find out.
The Pipe is another fun item. At 12m long and 1.5m in diameter, it provides a convincing yet safely navigated introduction to overhead-environment diving, with your exhaled bubbles rattling a lively accompaniment. There are even fish, including a goodly number of decent-sized koi carp, but they havent yet learned to follow the divers.
Getting out of the water is easy. There is a second-entry stage just by the Gnome Garden with a nice staircase, and the main stage has a ramp. Both start far enough beneath the surface to make using them easy for a fully kitted diver.
Oh, and the post-dive free tea is delivered in a pot mug, so you can warm your hands if necessary.
Getting there is simple. Take the M62 to junction 38, then drive a couple of miles through South Cave, turn right at the War Memorial and half a mile later turn right again onto Mires Lane. When the tarmac runs out, keep on down the unmade road. Its left uneven for a reason; this is a green lane used by walkers, horses and kids, and speed isnt necessary. The car park is plenty big enough, and very close to the water.
Behind the bushes is a man with a catering van for bacon, soss and fried egg butties. Ask and Dave will phone ahead, so your order is ready when you walk across.
Official policy is to restrict the numbers of people diving each day to about 30, so you need to phone ahead to book a spot. A day of diving will cost you£10; torches and cylinders are available for hire; and weightbelts, fins and masks can be borrowed if you forget yours.
Dave also offers a unique service for the buddyless diver - hell buddy with you and show you around!
A new inland venue opening is good news, given the diver pressure on more established sites. Eight Acre will never rival St Abbs, but it is less than 30 minutes from my home, very friendly and, when the sun shines, its a pleasant place to be. So much so that the memsahib, shore cover for the morning, wondered aloud where her drysuit might be...
Eight Acre Lake, 07891 281214, www.eightacrelake.8m.com
|Wuddy Rock, Berwickshire
|Mike Clark squeezes into some tight places at St Abbs
Wuddy Rock is found at the first headland on rounding St Abbs Head from the harbour. Its a shallow site with a maximum depth of around 12m, if you stay around the rock itself. I visited it recently on a glorious sunlit Sunday, with only a small swell surging up the rocks. Visibility was fantastic at around 12m - not unusual for this site, but a bit of a surprise so early in the year.
I rolled into the water off the Eyemouth-based dive boat North Star, and the sea floor soon came into view through the bright green water. We had entered to the south of the rock and there was a good reason for this. The walls of the Wuddy rise vertically from the sea floor, and in the clear viz the soft coral-encrusted walls can be viewed all the way up to the surface. I soon recognised the layout of the face.
This can be confusing, because although the walls rise vertically they cut back on themselves, so the uninformed diver may just fin straight past this sites best features.
By entering from the south, the two tunnels that run right through the rock are at their most visible, especially with the sun high at your back. That said, even from this direction you will have to look hard for them.
Finning along the sea floor from the seaward side of the rock, you come to a rounded buttress of rock covered in dead mens fingers. Finning around this, you see the wall reform after a gap, but it is this gap that you need to investigate.
The more inviting gully stares you in the face, but the better tunnel lies to your right, the entrance not yet in sight.
Fin up to your right, a bit shallower over a big boulder, and head to the back of the gully. On your left is the entrance to the main gully of Wuddy Rock.
Its narrow, only 3m at best, and the walls rise vertically the whole 12m to the surface. On that day the light streaming in from above silhouetted the kelp covering the gully roof.
The walls were covered in life, with dead mens fingers and a swathe of white plumose anemones feeding in the gentle tide which was sucking us through the tunnel. Scorpionfish abounded on the walls and nudibranchs were visible, promising a colourful summer ahead.
The tunnel is 20m long, and the tide soon pulled us through. At its exit on the north side, you now have a choice. By continuing to fin straight out of the exit you will eventually come to Black Carr rock and its impressive walls, a little deeper at 20m. Its well worth the trip.
On our dive, however, we wanted to see the other gully running through the Wuddy, and its on your left as you leave the first tunnel. The entrance is not clear until you have risen over a ridge to see it.
This gully rises up a lot shallower, to 6m at points. It opens up somewhat in the middle as well, where a third gully shoots off to your left (dont bother going up it). You usually encounter a family of inquisitive and very colourful ballan wrasse, and butterfish scuttle about between the soft corals.
The gully looks to have ended, but there is a narrow crack below you. Its quite exciting as the dead mens fingers close in. You have to fin along this tight passage and it looks as if the gully has ended again, but light enters from below, inviting you down, and the exit is visible.
Just to your left is the little gully up which you finned to get into the first tunnel. The round trip is complete. Its up to you what you do now, but if you have enough gas you could do it all again, or even take the trip to the Black Carr.
North Star (018907 71676, www.marinequest.co.uk); Selkie (07702 6876060)
|Sugarloaf Caves, Isle of Man
|John Liddiard heads for the holes
Layered slate cliffs always catch my interest. One look at the geology of the Sugarloaf stack and surrounding cliffs says look for caves. Even if I didnt already know there were caves, and even if I couldnt see their entrances, I would go looking here.
But these caves are already well-known. Entrances are visible from the surface, the guide has a pretty good map and, while kitting up, local diver Mike Keggen describes both the layout of the caves and the route we will follow between them.
There are three caves, spread over 300m. The southernmost has multiple entrances. The northernmost and smallest, the V cave, we decide to skip.
The RIB edges into the top corner of a rectangular inlet just north of the Sugarloaf, a dark inverted V in the cliff marking the entrance to the Cave of the Birds. Even from the RIB, I can see a shadow below the surface, where it widens under water.
On rolling in, the scene is dominated by kelp. With shallow water, I would have expected nothing else. The entrance to the cave is soon identified as a darker shadow at the limit of visibility.
The transition from kelp to cave life is a clean line at the corner of the entrance. One side is kelp, the other side a dense, spongy surface of thumb-sized red tunicates. The mat of tunicates is actually spongier than the blobs of grey sponge that interrupt the scene, like a shag-pile carpet worn down to threadbare patches.
Outside, there is some plankton and algae in the water. Inside, the suspended bits have gone and visibility is actually better. A rock rising from the floor of the cave to break the waters surface leaves a narrow canyon on one side and a natural roundabout.
As the cave shallows and narrows, the surge is amplified. Further back, I can feel the concussion of waves hitting the end.
Kelp debris is beginning to accumulate in the shallowing water, the walls are scoured and the visibility rapidly diminishing. Its a natural point at which to turn round and head for the light.
From the Cave of the Birds, we swim and drift towards the third cave, the Fairy Hall. Its closest entrance is some 150m to the south. Its a trick of the tides, so although slack water is not essential, by diving at the start of the ebb we have plenty of water on a shallow dive and just a trace of current to help us along.
The kelpy rock is split with cracks between layers of slate. While progress south is swiftest and easiest above the kelp, every now and then I dip through the fronds to see what I can find.
Its all the usual crack life - crabs, shrimps and small fish, with sessile life such as dead mens fingers and jewel anemones making homes on overhanging lips of cracks where kelp cant grow.
The kelp gives way briefly as we enter a vertical canyon between the Anvil, a big square rock that breaks the surface, and the cliff face. There is room here for the dead mens fingers, sponges and anemones to flourish. Many thousands of years ago this may have been an arch, and before that a tunnel, perhaps even one connecting the other caves.
The Fairy Hall is a different cave, a diagonal slot cutting through the headland behind the Sugarloaf stack. Marine life on the upward-facing surface of the slot is a dense carpet of hydroids. The downward-facing surface also has dead mens finger and anemone patches.
The key to the difference is that water flows through the cave, rather than crashing in and out. Its the sort of life that would be found much deeper, on an open wall exposed to constant current.
Hydroids bring their usual passengers in the shape of grazing nudibranch herds. Tiny white squiggly blobs stuck to the tops of the hydroids are clusters of nudibranch eggs. Mike and I let the gentle current drift us south through the cave, past a T to the side that breaks out to give a third entrance in the cliff face.
A shoal of fish loiter in the southern entrance, dispersing as we allow the current to carry us through. As the cave widens, the current slackens off, Its easy to swim back round the kelp-covered headland to enter again through the T.
All that, and I have been only 11m deep. I can see why Mike likes to dive here just after high tide.
Late in the afternoon, we surface into the shadow of the cliff. Light twinkling through the entrance of a cave is always inspiring, though if you can pick the day to be here, go for high tide in the morning, when the sun will shine in.
Isle of Man Diving Holidays (01624 833133,www.isleofmandivingholidays.com). The centre has accommodation.
|The shark moves around Eight Acre Lake - dont let it startle you. |
|Livestock in the Gnome Garden |
|Ballan wrasse |
|Launching the RIB at Port St Mary |
|the wall of the Fairy Hall |
|entering the Cave of Birds |
|the canyon between Anvil Rock and the cliff face shelters some bright sections of wall |
|The Sugarloaf Stack and the entrance to the Fairy Hall cave |
|One side of the Fairy Hall is a wall of hydroids |
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