BY THE TIME SUMMER REALLY SETS IN, it becomes increasingly difficult to persuade club instructors and experienced divers to put aside time to conduct training dives.
At the start of the season, it is barely a problem. The experienced divers tend to be quite happy to refresh their own diving skills and check their equipment out while taking a beginner for an easy dive.
But as the season wears on, their availability shrinks as their valuable time is diverted to more serious diving.
Any beginners who have not progressed to the point at which they can organise their own diving and dive together, or perhaps be guided round something a bit more advanced, are in danger of being left behind.
They could be dedicated enough to wait for the next training season, but equally, it could be what leads to them giving up. And this doesnt apply only to clubs. For dive schools, availability of instructors is less of an issue because they get paid to teach courses. But the divemasters who back them up are often unpaid helpers, trading their time in return for free diving and experience. Again, that interest tends to diminish as the season progresses.
The answer, as wily club diving or training officers know, is to run a training trip with suitable bribes attached. Somewhere that offers a good shore dive for the basic training, but with good advanced diving as a carrot to attract experienced divers.
Come on this trip, have a serious dive on the wreck or offshore reef in the morning, then have a nice cheap and easy shore dive in the afternoon. By the way, while youre doing the shore dive, you can help out with some training...
So here are some great shore dives for beginners, with the added bonus of boat-diving from the same location to satisfy the more advanced diver.

Propeller shaft on the Kyarra

Lobster on the Kyarra


The trick with Swanage Pier in Dorset is to arrive early enough to get a parking space for a vanful of kit actually on the approach to the pier. Everyone else can then roll up at a more convenient time, and park further up the hill.
For those bringing a boat, it can be launched just round the bay by the lifeboat station and then driven back to the pier to load and unload throughout the days diving. Yet its hardly worth the hassle of towing and launching with so many charter boats operating from Swanage Pier, some shuttling in and out every couple of hours, and others taking whole-day charters.
The obvious offshore bribe here is the World War One wreck of the P&O steamer Kyarra, only a mile off Durlston Head (Wreck Tour 47, January 2003).
The complexity of a liner means that there is always something of interest, even for those who have dived the Kyarra many times before. Having toured the outside of the wreck, further dives can be dedicated to exploring some of the easy holes behind the boilers, searching out conger eels and lobsters, playing mental jigsaws with the broken remains of the engines, or searching further out among the debris field.
For those who want something other than the Kyarra, the nearby Carantan and Firth Fisher are both well worth a look.
Back at Swanage, beneath the pier is an easy training dive. Shaded from direct sunlight, the range of marine life includes species normally found only at much deeper sites. The sheltered location also provides a habitat for the unexpected - such as the black-faced blenny, a species at its furthest distribution from the Atlantic coast of southern Europe.
To get the most from a pier dive, think in three dimensions. Rather than hugging the bottom, explore the detail up and down the pier legs.
Between dives, air is conveniently available on the pier, and there is a big choice of cafés from which to get the all-important bacon sandwich.

Below the old MoD range building

Anemones and dead mens fingers at Raglan Reef

A simple count of the number of clubs that run annual training trips to Porthkerris proves that this pebble beach on the east side of the Lizard Peninsula has much to offer.
Just to the south are the rocks of the Manacles reef, host to the wreck of the Victorian passenger liner Mohegan (Wreck Tour 8, October 1999) and some spectacular submerged pinnacles.
From the Voices, the pair of rocks next to which the Mohegan rests, heading due east and out to sea leads along a ridge of rocks that then breaks and resumes at Raglan Reef, the outermost rock of the Manacles. Its too far out to swim all the way under water from the Voices, but easy enough to find from the boat with an echo-sounder and shot.
Raglan Reef drops away in a series of near-vertical steps from 8 to 30m on the west side, and past 40m on the open east side. Each step and section of wall is covered in hydroids or anemones, with vis typically good enough to take in the whole scene. A comfortable plan for a dive computer is to follow the outer edge of Raglan down to a maximum depth, then meander back up to 20m and circle the entire rock. At the corners, look outwards to see shoals of pollack holding formation.
Back at Porthkerris, the reef below the old naval range station provides canyons, caves and short sections of wall to a depth of 18m, though most of the reef is shallower than 10m.
Instructors can impress their students by navigating back through the canyon at the south end of the reef and surfacing at the shoreline.
The trick is to start looking for the canyon at 6m, halfway up the reef, rather than following the bottom of the reef below the canyon entrance.
Boat-launching is best assisted by a long tow-rope and lots of helping divers, or the dive centres tractor. Even the best 4x4 will soon bed down to its axles on the pebbles.

Divers on the beach at Martins Haven


The Lucys mast is covered in anemones

Martins Haven at the westernmost tip of Pembrokeshire is a great place both for a shore dive and for loading a boat to dive off nearby Skomer island, but not a great place for launching.
Small boats can be carried down the beach, but any attempt to drive a 4x4 and boat trailer will mean hours of entertainment for the spectators.
A better plan is to launch at Broad Haven, Dale or Neyland, then drive the boat round to Martins Haven to load and unload divers. Thats what the local charter skippers do.
Only 10 minutes away, the north side of Skomer is usually sheltered and offers plenty of choice of dive sites.
Top bribe is the wreck of the Lucy, a diesel-powered coaster that sank in 1967 after running aground at the south end of Jack Sound and then drifting to just out of North Haven (Wreck Tour 3, May 1999).
Be sure to start the dive on the buoy marked Lucy. Other buoys in the area may lead to lobster pots and Marine Reserve experiments. The wreck is easy to find and sheltered, but this is not a dive for those not well dived-in.
Local charter skippers find that groups regularly drag along divers who just arent up to it to make up numbers.
An alternative, to the west of North Haven, is the wall at the North Castle, which drops from the surface to 45m. To the east of North Haven is Rye Rocks, a relatively flat reef with surrounding wall and the foremast of the Lucy propped against it. All can be dived at any state of tide, though be prepared to work against a bit of current on springs.
Back at Martins Haven, a sign at the top of the beach requests divers to stay in the eastern half of the bay, away from the jetty where the Skomer ferry docks, and to carry an SMB.
The dive has rocks down to 10m or so, with plenty of small anemones, cup corals and nudibranchs to hunt for. Look into cracks and there are also squat lobsters and the occasional crab. Monster spider crabs graze the forest of kelp above.
Be careful about straying too far out of the bay, and dont risk surfacing out of the bay, as a current running along the coast will be sure to carry you off.
The western half of the bay provides a longer and deeper dive, but only in the evening, once the Skomer ferry has stopped running.
Some divers are too impatient or stupid to wait or dive the eastern side of the bay, the most persistent offenders being a couple of dive schools that regularly train there.
I wonder what their excuse will be when one of their students gets run over by a boat

The old slip at Portrush. The Blue Pool is by the buildings in the background

Skerries sunstar

On the wall at the Skerries

On the north coast of Northern Ireland, Portrush is a seaside town undergoing a property boom as a new commuter -land for Belfast. Among all the new building, a strip of park on the eastern side of the peninsula sits above a rocky shoreline with plenty of room for dive clubs to unload and spread out, and all the right components for training the beginners and bribing the instructors.
A boat can be chartered from the local dive centre, or club RIBs launched round the corner at the main harbour, or from the old slip by the new pumping station, though at the time of writing, trailer access to this slip is blocked by the works.
In either case, this small and unused slip is a convenient spot to load up and head out to the Skerries, a strip of low islands and rocks a mile or so offshore.
The outside edge of the Skerries provides a mile and a half of boulder slope and wall, shelving down to 30m and more, while the inside edge has a flat seabed at 10m or less thats great for trainees on boat dives.
Cracks between the boulders hide crabs, lobsters and conger eels. Exposed faces of the rocks are coated in yellow and white dead mens fingers and the occasional clump of plumose anemones, all fed by a gentle current running along the reef. Its usually strong enough to make its presence felt, yet not enough to force divers into drifting long distances.
Seals are to be seen year-round, and may come and play.
Back in Portrush, the southern end of the strip of shoreline is marked by the Blue Pool, a 3m-deep rock pool that opens out into the bay. Access is by steps cut into the rock or, for those wanting a thrill, from a ledge above the pool that, before the nanny state emerged, once supported a diving board.
Here beginners can be settled down while admiring the rock-pool life. A rocky ledge leads out from the southern edge to the deeper water of the bay, with all the usual rock life of anemones and small soft corals hidden below overhanging trees of kelp.
Plenty of wrasse swim through the forest, sea urchins munch their way about, and nudibranchs are something cool to show beginners. Lobsters, crabs, octopus and congers can be found under the rocks.
If the group includes enthusiasts too young to dive, the pool also makes a safe snorkelling spot.

Common sea urchin

The lifeboat station


The harbour at St Abbs is overkill when it comes to instructor bribes. Advertise a club trip here, and chances are that the experienced divers will snaffle up the spaces before the poor neglected beginners get a look-in. Even without boat-diving, they will be jostling for space to do a shore dive.
RIBs can be launched on the harbour slipway. Charter boats operating shuttles and full-day charters are based in the harbour, and if they are fully booked, boats from Eyemouth can be chartered to pick up divers at St Abbs.
The best boat-dives are all to the north of St Abbs Head. Most of the protruding bits of headland yield reefs running out from the shore, swept by gentle currents that can be dived at any state of the tide.
None are that deep or difficult, shelving away to average depths with sections of wall, overhangs, gullies and swim-throughs.
One of the best for sheer wow effect is Wuddy Rocks (try saying that 10 times quickly after a few pints). One of the closer sites, it lies just across the bay and still in sight of the harbour.
On an echo-sounder it looks like a fairly flat hump of reef, yet under water the reef is cut by canyons to 15m and a little bit deeper. Its shallow enough for beginners graduating to their first few boat-dives. Some of the canyons are wide enough to swim side by side, while others are single-file, overhanging sufficiently that getting out at the top would be decidedly tight. The walls are a mass of dead mens fingers.
Back at the harbour, very similar scenery on a shallower scale can be experienced to the east of its wall.
The entry point for shore diving is found by scrambling down the rocks at the north end of the harbour wall. Here the dive that involves least swimming is Big Green Carr, the rock that sticks up only 10 or 15m from the entry point. The near side is a vertical wall of dead mens fingers to 12m, with resident wolf-fish.
A longer swim out, in line with the south wall of the harbour, is Cathedral Rock, a submerged double archway in a reef that just about shows at low tide. The reef runs almost straight out to the east and the Cathedral arch cuts through it, rising a few metres from the seabed at 12m.
A second much tighter arch cuts through above it. Both have walls and ceiling covered in anemones, and the wrasse play 3D ring-a-rosy.
Its a dive that beginners and instructors alike will rave about.

The Bretagnes fascinating toilet

Hawse pipe on the Bretagne

Debris from the wire-swept superstructure hangs off the hull

At the end of a steep and winding road cut into the East Devon cliffs, Babbacombe beach is not the easiest place to locate, yet more than enough divers and beach-goers find it in the summer season to make an early arrival important.
The wall at the south-east end is more breakwater than harbour. This is not somewhere to attempt boat-launching, but a convenient pick-up point for a boat launched elsewhere, as evidenced by local charter RIBs that run shuttle services from Babbacombe at weekends. The closest slip is five miles away at Paignton.
A nice offshore wreck dive that is not too tight on tides and is suited to both intermediate and expert divers is the Bretagne (Wreck Tour 21, November 2000). Wrecked during WW1, it sank following a collision with the Renée Marthé in fog on 10 August, 1918. It is 30m to the seabed and just past 20m to the deck, so good for intermediate divers looking to build experience.
At the starboard side of the bow, the toilet fascinates most divers.
At the stern, the propeller is still in place and a second spare prop is on deck. The nearby gun platform is bare, the gun having been salvaged by Bristol Aerospace SAC, which owns the wreck.
More experienced divers can enter the hull through the collision split in the starboard side of the aft hold, then work their way forward and up through the engine-room.
Back on shore, the beach is best dived during the upper half of the tide, the best location being out round the breakwater and following the rocks. Divers need to take care not to run foul of any boats coming in.
Early in the season, Babbacombe Bay is famous for mating aggregations of cuttlefish. Later in summer, cuttlefish may still be about, but not in such numbers. Look out for cheeky tompot blennies, dogfish and even lumpsuckers among the rocks.
The most obvious crustaceans are usually big spider crabs, but edible and swimming crabs and lobsters can often be found. Also look out for cute little decorator spider crabs, well camouflaged with their coatings of sponge and weed.
The beach is a very gentle slope.
I have heard claims of divers getting to 15m but I reckon that even getting to 10m is a more-than-long-enough swim.

Dive boat at Meanish Pier

Chadwicks four-bladed propeller

Pretty dive under the pier

Out of the way off the west of Scotland, Skye is hardly the place that any but local clubs would travel to for a day or weekend training.
But Meanish Pier does fulfil our criteria for a top-quality beginners shore dive, with boat access and good boat diving nearby, and enough clubs take their training trips to the west coast of Skye with Meanish in mind, so Meanish Pier it is.
Just bribe the instructors with the promise of a longer weekend or a week of diving.
To launch boats, there is a slip alongside the pier. Alternatively, they can be launched at Stein and driven round Dunvegan Head, while divers travel the winding roads by car.
Local dive centre Dive and Sea the Hebrides in Lochbay often follows a similar strategy with its own boat.
Loading divers from Meanish Pier, it is only a couple of sea miles to Oisgill Bay and the wreck of the Chadwick, a 1463-ton steamship that ran aground in fog on 2 July, 1892.
The Chadwick soon slipped back into the bay (Wreck Tour 20, October 2000).
At only 22m deep, the Chadwicks ideal for divers who have just obtained their BSAC Sports Diver or PADI Advanced Open Water qualifications.
The wreck is fairly well flattened, with just the boiler and engine partly holding up the capsized hull. The propeller, with its coating of dead mens fingers, is a particularly fine sight. For a challenge, see if you can find the spare prop. Its difficult to spot even if you do have the Wreck Tour to hand.
For a deeper wreck, just round Neist Point the 1381-ton Norwegian steamship Doris met a similar fate in fog on 10 July, 1909 (Wreck Tour 39, October 2000), and there are plenty of scenic dives to do, from gentle reefs to screaming drifts.
The easiest way to get a beginner into the water at the pier is simply to walk down the slipway, though be careful not to lose your footing on the fine algae.
There is so little boat traffic that divers are unlikely to obstruct anyone - just have a word with anyone else about to make sure.
From the slip, its a simple right turn to get open ground for training exercises, or a left turn to get under the pier and the stunning scene of light twinkling through the deck above and between the pier legs.
Past the pier, a plucked glacial reef heads further out, with all the usual lough life. Assorted anemones sit on the rocks, with squat lobsters in the cracks and scallops on the silt below.