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The summer sunshine had sent the temperatures inside my drysuit soaring and it was with some relief that we plunged under the refreshingly cool water. As we slipped down a steep incline, shafts of sunlight bounced around us and colourful dragonets and little gobies darted along the sandy bottom.
Sinking a little deeper, the scene changed quite rapidly. The light grew dimmer and the atmosphere became rather eerie - it felt colder, too. A shoal of silvery pollack hurried away above some huge boulders covered in brilliant pink and red encrusting algae.
Switching on our torches revealed a host of weird creatures scurrying about the rocks. It was as if our lights had signalled an air raid and they were darting for the safety of their bunkers. Among them were strange squat lobsters, some brown, some red but most of them bright orange, with exceedingly long claws. They tucked themselves into the many cracks and crevices along the rocky slope, leaving only their heads and arms visible.
As well as the squatties there were prawns, hermit crabs and velvet swimming crabs, some waving their claws above their heads like loaded rifles. But the real stars of this strange place were the squid. Like spaceships patrolling the reef they appeared out of nowhere, as we moved still further down the slope. Lightning-fast and incredibly agile, they spent the next five minutes playing hide and seek with us, shooting in and out of our lights, before eventually disappearing altogether!

SHELTERED ALL YEAR ROUND
At 41 miles long, Loch Fyne is just two miles short of being Scotlands largest sea-loch. Furnace Quarry, on its north-western shore, is one of the last places where you would expect to find a great dive site. On the surface it looks bland, with huge, ugly boulders lining its side, but much of the loch is bordered by impressive mountains and tree-lined hills, and many of the dive sites are in stunning surroundings.
Loch Fyne is nowhere near as popular as the Sound of Mull, thankfully, yet it is a great area to explore and to which to bring your family. There is plenty to see and do, whether its visiting a castle, museum or a wildlife park. There are boat trips, horse-riding and fishing, and if you are energetic you can always go Munroe-hopping!
The best time for these non-diving attractions is in summer, but one of the great things about Loch Fyne is that because it is sheltered from even the worst of weather, you could dive here 365 days a year if you wanted to. Only a complete freezing-over could be a problem, because a layer of fresh water does tend to collect on top of the loch in winter.
We arrived in Inveraray one February morning last year to see snow and ice covering the north section of the loch. It didnt put us off diving - we just drove a little further south, to where the ice ended. The water was on the chilly side, my watch-thermometer recording just 3C in the surface layers, but the temperature rose to a balmy 6C once we had passed the thermocline in about 6m!
Loch Fyne is incredibly deep in places and offers many excellent wall dives. Some sites can be dived from the shore, although it is often more comfortable to use a boat. For instance, to get to Stallion Rock, just a couple of miles south of Furnace, involves trekking down a steep hill through the woods and then clambering over boulders. You need to be fit!

DOGFISH ORGY
This wall dive is considered one of the most impressive in any Scottish sea loch and is rated with many open-ocean sites. The wall plunges from the surface to 30m or so and is covered in life. Its overhangs and crevices are home to a whole bunch of creatures from seasquirts and sponges to tubeworms and anemones, including a species called protanthea, thought to be specific to Scottish sea lochs and discovered relatively recently.
The crevice which runs along the bottom of the wall often holds surprises. On a dive last spring my buddy and I counted at least a dozen dogfish, many wrapped around each other. Mass mating Congers and occasionally large cod and pollack can also be encountered here and on the sand youll even find a few scallops. Just down from Stallion Rock is another popular site, Kenmore Point, a similar dive down a fairly sheer wall to 35m and again better dived from a boat - the alternative is to park near some cottages and make your way through the locals gardens!
Both wall dives are within five miles of Inveraray, the main town, situated on the most northerly part of the loch. To reach them from the shore you need to drive south and past them into Furnace, then take the dirt road past the quarry for a couple of miles.

SHAKE-DOWN BY THE TEAROOM
If you are staying in the Inveraray area you can launch your boat from the slip at the Argyll Caravan Park and visit a number of other excellent sites, including the Miniard Narrows, where a boulder slope runs away to 50m; An Oitir Shoal, a drift dive with the chance of seeing seals; and Eilean Aoghainn, a wall dive to 20m on to a bottom of brittlestars and dahlia anemones.
Ten or 12 miles further south is Stonefield Castle and Barmore Island. Here are a number of good sites, with little walls and gullies. Sgeir Mhaola Cinn is probably the pick of them. There is also the wreck of the Arran III, a steamer lost in 1932 on the west side of Sgeir Leathann. An easy dive, perfect for trainees or for a shake-down dive, can be found opposite the Tearoom on the road south of Furnace.
All the sites mentioned so far can be dived fairly easily using Inveraray as a base but there are a number of good dives on the other side of the loch if you prefer to stay in Strachur. The sites tend to be a little more accessible than Stallion Rock and Kenmore Point. Just north of Strachur are the remains of Creggans Pier, an excellent dive with much marine life, although care should be taken, as the steep muddy slope drops to some 90m! St Catherines is a good dive for divers of all levels as there are two reef systems, one running between 15-25m, the other between 35-70m. Im told that there is a wreck here at 50m with some sort of vehicle chassis on it.
Gorton Point, Twin Reefs and Cable Junction are all good dives, with plenty of depth and marine life, and are all within about 10 miles south of Strachur.
My friend George Telfer knows the area better than most and claims to have found a couple of new sites, including one he calls Mothers Day Reef. It runs parallel to the shore, between 7-38m, just a couple of hundred metres on from Gorton Point.
Ive yet to see any basking sharks, though sightings are often reported by divers, especially in the southern part of Loch Fyne in July and August.




Divernet

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE From Glasgow take the A82, then the A83 through Arrochar on Loch Long. From Edinburgh take the A85 to Crianlarich then the A85 to Dalmally, then the A818 to Inveraray.DIVING DETAILS: For air and boat hire use the Argyll Caravan Park Dive Centre three miles south of Inveraray on the A83. The centre is run by Willie McCallum (0374 823001) and although closed in winter you can still launch your own boat from here.)
ACCOMMODATION: Plenty of choice, including the comfortable Loch Fyne Hotel in Inveraray (01499 302148), which has a pool. Killean Farmhouse has seven holiday cottages with self-catering or B&B (01499 302474). Argyll Caravan Site has several caravans for hire (0374 823001) and Cairndow Stagecoach Inn offers good en suite accommodation at the top of the loch, with spa baths and saunas in some rooms (01499 600286).)
FOR NON-DIVERS: Inveraray Castle, Inveraray Jail and Argyll Wildlife Park near the caravan site are great for kids. For other activities from fishing to horse-riding. check with the Tourist Office on 01499 302063. Inveraray makes a good base from which to explore the south-west and mid-west Highlands of Scotland.)
HAZARDS: Considerable depths and moderate currents.)
COST: Accommodation between£18-35 per person per night.)
PROS: There are lots of good dives for trainees. Its all within driving distance if you live in the UK, and with plenty of affordable accommodation it makes a good option if either your budget or time is tight.)
CONS: CONS: Very cold water all year round, with moderate currents that could catch out beginners. Boats are needed to avoid overland treks to sites. Midges can be an irritant when youre not diving!
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