LAST WINTER’S NON-DIVING duration has lasted longer than previous years for many divers. I know mine has. When the rainy season started in April 2012 and continued until February, my UK diving took a nose dive.
Now I find myself with fins itchier than a mangy dog in the desert sun. But after a hiatus of several months, it pays to ease back in rather than banging down to 40m straight off. So I’m going for a weekend of relaxing, shallow shore-diving.
Easy diving is often seen as the stuff for beginners, but the UK has some great shallow shore-dives that provide a great place to get your head back into gear before jumping on the first boat trip.
OK, your site won’t compete with Cornwall’s Manacles, the wrecks of the Sound of Mull or seals in the Farne Islands, but you won’t enjoy those if you end up flailing around at the surface looking like a buffoon because your kit doesn’t work, or you’ve forgotten how to operate your BC.
So here is a round-up of the countrywide shore dives to enjoy at the start of the season. For no other reason than that I live there, I shall start in the south and proceed around the country.

CHESIL COVE
If the wind is from the east or north, which it can be in the early part of the year, this is one of the UK’s best shore-dives. If the wind is from any other direction forget it, because you’ll be fish food on the large pebbles of the beach, so check the weather before you travel.
Chesil Cove is located where the Isle of Portland meets Chesil Beach to the south of Weymouth. There is free parking, several nearby sources of air and gear, plus a shore dive with generally clear vis.
The only downsides are the weather factor and those pebbles at this end of Chesil Beach, calling for strong legs and a steady foot.
The seabed is weed-covered rock interspersed by sand. The fringes of the sand patches are where most of the life resides. Look out for cuttlefish early in the year, and monster sole in the sand.
You get decent depth, calm conditions, no current to worry about and usually lots to see. I use Chesil Cove as a normal dive-site year-round when I can get in, but it’s a great place for a warm-up.

FACILITIES
• Limited free parking, but plentiful parking close by
• Good nearby accommodation
• There are quite a few dive centres, including Underwater Explorers (www.underwaterexplorers.co.uk) and Fathom And Blues (www.fathomandblues.co.uk). Air is also available from Scimitar Diving (www.scimitardiving.co.uk)

SWANAGE PIER
Swanage Pier is where underwater photographers go to warm up for the UK dive season. Its tompot blennies are almost as widely photographed as Angelina Jolie. The site is easy to dive, shallow, experiences few currents and is great in most weather conditions, but avoid south-easterlies, which can kick up the sea in the bay.
There are two dives here – the new pier and the old. The new pier is the one you can see and where you get in. The old one is off to the right-hand side and is nothing more than the old legs. Both offer good shallow shore-diving in safe conditions.
Under the new pier you find a lot of critters such as the famous tompots, and the occasional oddity such as a seahorse. Mind you, the last time a seahorse was found here it was photographed more than a topless C-grade celebrity.
There is a dive centre on the pier, although check that it’s open early in the season. There is also parking but not that many spaces, so you may have to dump your gear and park in the large pay-and-display up the hill.
The site is usually quiet during the week, but can be exceptionally busy at weekends.
It’s also a popular spot for anglers and there is boat traffic as well, so it’s advisable to use an SMB, unless you’re staying right under the pier. If the main pier is busy (quite a few centres bring students here) head to the old pier, but the life isn’t quite so good unless you’re into macro critters.

FACILITIES
• Limited parking on pier, but plentiful parking close by
• Good nearby accommodation
• Divers Down (www.diversdownswanage.co.uk) is located on the pier

SELSEY LIFEBOAT STATION
This is one of the few early-year shore-dives within easy reach of London and the South-east. The shallow site is on the end of Selsey Bill and can offer great visibility. Mind you, it can be terrible at times.
Some say the visibility is better when the tide is going out, as the flood brings nutrient-laden water from Bracklesham Bay, but it can be good or bad pretty much on a whim.
It’s a tidal site, and possible to dive only on slack water. Spring tides can mean a very short dive, so look for neaps to get the best out of it.
As the site’s name suggests, it is beneath an RNLI lifeboat station but we are allowed to dive as long as we stay away from the slipway. Get in the way of a descending lifeboat and you’ll resemble a beefburger that’s been dropped on the floor.
The legs of the station are a cornucopia of life. There are all sorts of macro critters such as Arctic cowries, a speciality here. There are also the usual anemones and benthic fauna.
Cuttlefish come here to breed in spring and there are the remains of the old lifeboat station to explore a little off to the left.
The seabed between the two is flat and covered in slipper limpets. It’s a great place to find resting cuttlefish.
The rubble that was the old lifeboat station is a good place to find male lumpsuckers early in the season, but remember that it’s a fair swim back to shore from here, and the tide will change.
Entry and exit is over the shingle beach, which is steep in places, so it’s best to pace yourself if it’s your first dive in heavy gear.
Parking is along the road, which can be busy at weekends, but there is a toilet block for changing and a grassy area for easy kitting and dekitting.

FACILITIES:
• Free toilet block for changing and ablutions
• Roadside parking that can get busy at weekends
• Mulberry Divers for air, guides and advice, www.mulberrydivers.co.uk

EYEMOUTH
The early part of the year puts the UK’s east coast pretty much out of bounds, as its few shore-dives tend to suffer from poor conditions until you reach Eyemouth, close to the Scottish border.
Weasel Loch is the location of a well-established high-water dive-site. In the 1990s, the place was made famous by photographs of a resident wolf-eel. The wolf-eel may have gone, but there is still plenty to keep a diver occupied.
The walk down to the shore is a bit arduous in full kit, so make sure to dive at high water. Low tide drains so much water from the narrow loch that apart from walking down loads of steps you’ll also have to climb over slippery rocks in full kit.
The dive starts inside the loch, which is about 8m deep, but you can swim around the headland to reach a couple of other sites such as Conger Reef and the Grotto. Both are fairly easy to reach, as long as the tide is at slack water.
From here you can either carry on and exit the water around the headland in Leeds Bay or head back into the Loch and finish your dive looking for critters in the nooks and crannies in the side walls.
Eyemouth is one of the North-east’s best-known and loved dive sites. It offers a sheltered dive in most weather conditions, although watch out for strong winds from an easterly direction that kick up the swell and reduce visibility.

FACILITIES
• Plentiful onsite parking
• Good accommodation on site
• Nearby dive centres include Marine Quest (www.marinequest.co.uk) and Aquastars (aquastars.co.uk)

ST ABBS
St Abbs joins its nearby sister Eyemouth to form a marine park, one of the UK’s handful of sort-of-protected areas.
The St Abbs & Eyemouth Marine Reserve is a voluntary reserve, which is not as good as a full reserve, but its status has ensured that it remains one of the most popular dive-sites in the UK.
This is a perfect place for a weekend’s early-year diving, as the sites are varied, shallow and safe. Most of the sites are to the east side of the harbour, with a fairly easy entry and exit point among the rocks. It’s better to enter during high water, because at low tide the entry gets slippery and tricky.
Sites such as Cathedral Rock, Big Green Carr and Broad Craig adorn many dive logs.
Divers travel far to get to St Abbs for good reason – the diving is superb. As long as the weather stays fair, this area is one of the best for early-season diving. Watch the weather, but be comforted to know that the pubs are great for staying warm and dry and out of the wind that can howl off the North Sea at times.
There is plenty of car-parking a short walk from the main shore dives, a lovely café and a Marine Reserve warden on site – what more could a diver want

FACILITIES
• Decent-sized car park
• Good accommodation
• Nearby dive centres at Eyemouth

DRAWNA ROCKS
Known to most divers as Porthkerris, this shore-dive is ideal, as it belongs to one of the best-known dive centres in Cornwall. Porthkerris Divers has an air station, dive shop, classroom space and a café all on site, making it one of the best-appointed shore-dive locations outside of inland sites.
The rocks are diveable when the wind is in any direction other than easterly. When the wind comes from the east, most people head off to Mullion.
The site is made up of a series of rocks with several entry and exit points. You can attain a good dive depth if you desire, and the site is fairly current-free in all but spring tides.
When there are no fishermen around the rocks, it’s also possible to wander well north and get a more varied dive, but still watch out for fishing gear.
I maintain that this is one of the best shore-dives in the country, so as well as a warm-up you can enjoy diving here all the time.

FACILITIES
• Plentiful parking by the site
• A range of accommodation choices in the area plus a café on site
• Porthkerris (www.porthkerris.com)

LAMORNA COVE
It might seem odd to miss the whole of the west coast, but most shore dives are a little too exposed and spread out to really make a weekend or a few days of it. So we come to the very western tip of Cornwall. This area is awash with great shallow,
easy shore dives, and no matter what the weather (except perhaps a full-blown hurricane) you’ll find somewhere to dive.
Lamorna Cove is the most westward of Cornwall’s shallow shore-dives. It’s an easy site to find, park near and enter and exit the water. It has pretty much all you need for a familiarisation dive.
Maximum depth is around 12m and there is a good amount of life, although a little less early in the year. It’s used as a training site for a few dive centres and is usually quite popular with divers. It is exposed in an easterly wind, however.

FACILITIES
• Small car park beside the harbour
• Look for accommodation around Penzance
• Air and nitrox can be bought at Trevair Touring Park (www.trevairtouringpark.co.uk)

PENDENNIS POINT
One of the closest dives to Falmouth (and one of its most popular). You’ll bump into divers getting reacquainted with the water from late February onwards. As it gets warmer, divers tend to get outnumbered by students.
The key element of the dive is several German U-boats from WW1. There’s not a lot left, but they are best seen before the kelp starts to grow around them.
Pendennis Point has one drawback – the walk down. The steps are old and can be slippery, so take extreme care.
At the bottom of the steps, head left to see the U-boats. This is a superb early-year dive and makes the South-western tip of the UK shine.

FACILITIES
• Large lay-by for parking
• Plentiful accommodation choices in Falmouth
• Atlantic Scuba (www.atlanticscuba.co.uk),
Cornwall Divers (www.cornwalldivers.co.uk),
Seaways (www.seawaysdiveschool.co.uk)

TORQUAY
South-west Devon has a number of sheltered sites, and the Torquay area is a popular spot for the early part of the year. Depending on the weather there is always somewhere to dive.
Babbacombe Beach is perhaps the best-known and offers sheltered, shallow, current-free diving. It’s also a great place to find mating cuttlefish, although commercial fishing operations have depleted the stocks here.
Babbacombe also has a cave a fair swim to the right and a great set of rocky reefs to the left. It’s a haven for nudibranchs, too.
There is no great depth to achieve, but you can stay in for ages and dive as and when you want to. It’s quite popular as an evening dive after the crowds of beach-goers have left for the day.
If the wind has blown Babbacombe out, try Meadfoot Beach on the other side of the headland. A site there called Shag Rock is a fair swim from shore, but well worth the effort. It’s a good idea to surface-swim over the shallow seabed to conserve air.
Unlike Babbacombe this is a slack-water dive. You should take an SMB, because it’s a haven for boaters as well.

FACILITIES
* Babbacombe has only a small car park, so get there early. Meadfoot Beach also has one
* Good range of nearby accommodation. Both beaches have great diver-friendly cafes
* Air and friendly advice is available from Divers Down (www.diversdown.co.uk)

BRIGHTON MARINA
Though technically not an open-water dive, this site is a great poor-weather sea dive. Booking is essential and must be made through Newhaven Scuba Centre, which controls the site.
The dive is within the Brighton marina complex. It is 3-4m deep and has quite a few interesting features added for dive training.
It makes a fairly standard tame dive. There are some critters and the odd flatfish to be seen, but you don’t really dive here for the life, more for the feeling of being back in the sea.
It’s an ideal place to sort out weights and kit configurations and test serviced gear.

FACILITIES:
• Plentiful onsite parking
• Onsite shopping centre with abundant restaurants and facilities
• Newhaven Dive Centre (www.newhaven-scuba.co.uk)

EASDALE QUARRY
The Oban area is the gateway to the diving in the Sound of Mull, but it also has a few decent shore-dives to kick-start the new season, and this is one of the most popular.
Easdale was a slate quarry, but unusually it was located right by the coast, and when the sea breached the wall became an inland sea-dive-site.
The quarry is now at the heart of the old mining town, which sees only a handful of tourists.
There is a decent-sized car park, although it is a fair walk from the entrance to the quarry, so it’s best to drop your gear first and then park up.
The sheltered water is generally clear, and it is very good for depth training, as it goes down to 60m. It also has a reputation for being quite spooky, something I can vouch for, although I got spooked on my deep dive during my Advanced Open Water course many years ago. My dives there since have all been event-free.
The sides are pretty sheer so watch your depth, as it can run away with you.
There are some overhangs and nooks and crannies to explore, but most of the life (not that there’s much) is in the shallows. Nothing, it seems, likes to grow on slate.
On paper it looks quite a mundane dive, but it can be fun and is well worth a go if you’re looking to gradually build up depth for some later deeper offshore dives.

FACILITIES
• Drop off kit and park in large dedicated car park
• Limited facilities in the village. Most people stay in Oban
• Puffin Dive Centre in Oban is the closest (www.puffin.org.uk)

LOCH FYNE
Loch Fyne is popular with local clubs and centres, as it offers several good sites and is in a sheltered position most of the time.
There are quite a few sites all the way up the loch, which can provide exceptional diving in the year.
Dogfish go there to breed in February, March and April. There’s a site about halfway along the loch known as Dogfish Reef where they are always found, but you can see them in numbers in most places.
The dive sites start with 13 Mile Reef in the mouth of the loch, the most exposed site and one that sees the greatest tidal force. It is best dived on slack water, and when the wind is from the east.
There are numerous dives on either side of the loch. The A83 runs along its northern shore and the A886 and A815 along the southern shore, which give access to all the sites.
There are car parks and lay-bys near most of the dives. In fact, most dives exist because of the parking rather than anything else. If the weather is in your favour, the area makes a great place to spend a few days. There are several places where good depths are reachable, and the visibility can be impressive if the weather has been kind.

FACILITIES
• Some sites have car parks, others just a lay-by.
• There are numerous pubs and accommodation choices in the area.
• Fyne Diving (www.fyne-diving.co.uk) is in Tarbert and Splashsports (www.splashsports.co.uk) and Aquatron (www.aquatron.co.uk) in Glasgow.