NESTLED IN AMONG THE BEAUTIFUL green hills of Argyll is Loch Long. Well-protected from the weather for much of the year, and located less than an hours drive from Glasgow, it is a popular destination for many Scottish divers.
Loch Long is a sea loch, but the freshwater run-off from the hills around it frequently makes the first few metres of water appear hazy, while the peat content can add an old-fashioned, yellow tinge to the water.
Visibility is variable, but at best I have had around 10m down on the eastern shore at Knockderry and Cove, and at worst around 1m elsewhere.
Generally most light seems to disappear after about 6-8m, even on the brightest of days.
This makes a good torch essential, and another as back-up is desirable, rather than relying on your buddys.
Probably among the most popular sites are the A-Frames at the Finnart Oil Terminal on the east shore of the loch. Located on the A814, this is the first dive site you reach if travelling from Glasgow, and so is popular with dive schools for training at weekends, and people wanting a dive after work.
With a large area for parking, and an easy entry over shingle into the water, it can be dived at any state of tide.
Swim straight out from the shore. The seabed slopes gently down, and at around 10-15m you find huge concrete blocks and a variety of other debris scattered around the silty seabed. The remains of an old pier, this provides a home for a variety of marine life.
Fin down to around 18m, then turn right, and the A-frames suddenly appear out of the gloom, towering 5m above you. They are covered in delicate loch anemones, and the papery tubes of peacock worms that swiftly withdraw their feathery tentacles as you pass.
Large, plump plumose anemones also sit atop these huge structures, their fluffy tentacles well placed to catch passing nutrients.

FURTHER ALONG THE EASTERN SHORE are quite a number of other dive sites, and although broadly similar, each offers something a little different.
Along the road towards the head of the loch, and only around 300m from Finnart, is a site known as the 29 Steps. No guesses as to how you get down to the small, shingle beach from which you can dive!
Like Finnart, it can be dived at any state of tide. It makes a good alternative should you wish to get away from Finnart, which can get a little crowded at weekends, but be careful not to obstruct the private road past the site.
Follow the line of the old stone jetty here and swim out to around 15m before turning left. Continue along this contour and you will find a rocky reef comprised of red rocks, caused by the algae that grows on them.
These are covered in white fluted sea squirts and lovely plumose anemones in every shade of cream and peach.
These soft fluffy anemones contrast well with the dozens of little, spiky green urchins (far smaller than the common urchin) that seem to proliferate. Huge, long-clawed squat lobsters hide in crevices, while several different types of swimming crab scuttle around the rocks.
Other sites along this narrow road are largely determined by the ability to park in one of the lay-bys.
One known as Midway is opposite the largest of these, which has been cut into the hillside. Hop over the barrier on the loch-side of the road and make your way down a sloping bank to the shore.
Like many of the sites along here, it is probably best dived near high tide, to avoid the slippery, weed-covered rocks.
With a depth of more than 50m, this is a useful site for those wanting a deeper dive for training and/or experience. It has a silty bottom, common to all the sites along this stretch, and while it lacks a great variety of life on its muddy seabed, it does have the beautiful sea cucumber Thyonidium drumondii.
Different to the pink-spotted sea cucumber, which can be found on the other side of the loch, its stocky white body is covered in tube feet, making it easy to identify. Picked out by torchlight, its an incredible sight, its delicate pink, feathery tentacles contrasting vividly with the grey silty seabed.
Further along the road is Douglas Road End - the name helps to locate it! This site again stretches down to more than 60m, but just swimming down to 15m will bring you to a series of drops and overhangs that characterise this site.
These are covered in the translucent white tentacles of loch anemones, peacock worms and pretty, pale pink sea-squirts.

THE SITE KNOWN AS CRAGGAN is a little further on still, and locating the number 173 painted on the lochside barrier will assure you that you are in the right place. Entry is again down a steep loch side, so I usually find it easier to carry my kit down near to the water and kit up there.
In fact at this site I sat on the rocks to kit up and then just fell into the water.
Loch Long, with its silty seabed, is the ideal environment for the fabulous fireworks anemone, though Glen Douglas Road End and Craggan were the only two sites on the eastern side of the loch at which I found them.
Fireworks anemones live only in our western Scottish lochs, and a few sheltered places in the west of Ireland. They are unmistakeable, with their 30cm span and up to 200 tentacles.
Their white and cream colour contrasts dramatically with the brown grey mud in which they always grow, and they look spectacular.
Following the 25m contour to the left at Craggan will also bring you to a reef of large slabs of rock. This is inhabited by dragonets and fierce, long-clawed squat lobsters, attempting to intimidate by waving their claws at you, before disappearing rapidly backwards into a multitude of holes and crevices.
A little further along the A814 from Craggan lie the Caves. This dive is not for the faint-hearted, because the entry point is beneath a bridge, down a fairly steep culvert, and across some large stone slabs. However, a rope is usually in place to aid entry and exit.
Swim out to around 25-30m, and then turn left to reach a series of boulders and overhangs covered with delicate loch anemones. Saithe and goldsinny patrol up and down the slopes, while the odd Yarrells blenny will watch your progress with soulful eyes.
Heading round the top of the loch on the A83 is the village of Arrochar. A quiet, peaceful atmosphere prevails for most of the year, though the car parks at the top of the loch are often buzzing with walkers heading to Ardgarten Forest, part of Argyll Forest Park.
Historically, Arrochar was always a popular tourist destination. Steamers in the 1800s would stop at the pier, the remains of which can be seen opposite the Pitstop Diner.
A popular route at that time was the Three Loch Tour. Starting in the Clyde, this would take in Loch Goil before steaming up Loch Long. Passengers would disembark and be transported by road to Tarbet to board another steamer and travel the length of Loch Lomond.
Earlier still, Arrochar was besieged by the Vikings, who sailed up Loch Long before dragging their galleys over the pass to Tarbet, continuing their raids down Loch Lomond.
Anyone who has ever driven over the pass by Rest And Be Thankful will know that this was no mean feat!

CONTINUING AROUND THE HEAD of the loch, you see the Old Torpedo Testing Station (access is down a small side road). Built in 1910, this was still in use until 1986, with the torpedoes made locally at Greenock.
The pier is Ministry of Defence property and fenced off, but anglers have made their way through the fences and often fish directly off the pier itself, so look out for line when diving.
The entry point for diving the torpedo station is a little further on from the pier. This is also a popular spot at which anglers camp and, sadly, is strewn with their rubbish and debris.
Kit up on the rocky slabs or the little patch of shingle before entering the water to surface-swim out to the station.
Being shallow and with so much to see, this would be a very interesting dive for new divers. However, technically it could be considered an overhead environment, and there are many opportunities for snagging equipment on the debris lying around and under the legs of the station, so good buoyancy skills are essential.
At low tide, the shelf on which the station stands is only around 2.5m deep, so diving closer to high tide is a better option. The shelf then slopes away to 15m, and debris from the station above is scattered everywhere, providing homes for a great variety of life and, in particular, thousands of mussels.
Feasting on these are dozens of bright orange, common seastars, ranging from thumbnail-sized to huge, fat ones able to graze over this huge feast indefinitely.
Also scuttling over these mussel-beds and up and down the mussel-encrusted legs of the station are hundreds of green and brown shore crabs. Tub gurnards, butterfish, dragonets, large black gobies and several topknots also make up the population of this fascinating site.
Swim out and away from the legs and the mussels eventually disappear. At about 20m the seabed once again becomes a featureless silty landscape, dotted with sea-loch anemones and hermit crabs.
Continue down the A83 to find two more dive sites before the road turns inland towards the high pass at Rest And Be Thankful.
Twin Piers, sometimes known as Two Piers, or just Ardgarten, is another easy entry over a shingle beach. At high tide the pier legs sit in 5-6m of water. As at the Torpedo Station, much of the seabed under and around the piers is covered in mussels - slowly being consumed by dozens of common seastars.
Swim down to around 15m and, turning left, you soon come across a small boat. The skeletal remains are covered in sea-loch anemones and translucent white sea squirts that give it an eerie, ghostly appearance.
A little further on is a boulder reef. Again, loch anemones coat the rocks while, slightly higher up at around 10m, well-fed plumose anemones sit atop large boulders.
Hunt around the rocks here to find topknots, black gobies, beautiful hairy brittlestars, dragonets and hundreds of skittish leopard-spotted gobies. You may even find the odd conger or two eyeing you up from lairs under the rocks.
Just before the road finally heads inland is the very popular Conger Alley, and diving near high tide means that you avoid having to negotiate slippery, weed-covered rocks.
Head out from the big rock on the shore on a bearing of 90° to find the two reefs, one above the other, the lower reef dropping to around 30m.

WORK YOUR WAY UP TO around 24m and continue to the second reef, which stops at around 15m. The marine life here is similar to that found at Twin Piers, and a large number of congers can often be found hiding out in the artificial reef, made of old tyres, that was put here back in the 1970s. There is also a third small reef here, to the right of the entry point, lying at around 15m.
I was not expecting much in terms of amount of life present at Knockderry Cove. Situated on the B883, opposite a hotel of the same name (a similar dive can also be had, further on still, in Cove Bay itself), it had an easy entry across a shingle beach onto a gently sloping, sandy seabed.
I was very surprised by just how much there was to see, as I swam out over what at first appeared to be a fairly featureless seabed. Among the stones and bits of weed were many creatures - huge hermit crabs eating razor clams, countless shore and velvet crabs, common and spiny seastars, urchins, tube anemones and sand gobies to name but a few.
This is an ideal dive for introducing new divers to shallow-water marine life.
Not only is Loch Long home to a huge variety of small life, but larger animals are also often seen. I have so far not encountered any seals while diving here, though I have often seen them from the shore. Divers who visit Loch Long more often do report seal sightings, going so far as to name one regular Beryl.
Whales, dolphins, and porpoise are also regular visitors to the waters of Loch Long, with one of the most recent a northern bottlenose whale.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: A82 from Glasgow, branch left onto the A814, which runs up Loch Longs east side to Arrochar, or A83 from Tarbet to the east.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Nearest dive centres are in Oban or Glasgow, but Quebec Marine Services at Argyll Caravan Park, Inveraray provides air-fills. Hotel or guest-house accommodation available in Arrochar.
: La Manga - Las Gaviotas Hotel, +34 902 223 321. Mazarron - La Meseguera Hotel, +34 968 594 154
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.visitscotland.com, 01301 702432.