|I HADNT BEEN TO GILDENBURGH FOR YEARS. I had learned to dive there in 1991, and later completed the open-water section of my PADI Instructor Exam there, but hadnt dived it for fun in some time. |
The lake was as I remembered it, as were the buildings, but a huge project is underway to create a pub, restaurant, hotel and dive school. In 2005 Gildenburgh, like Stoney Cove, should be transformed. Ian Forster is the owner of Dive In, the company that owns Gildenburgh, and he showed me around.
The centre has long been criticised by some divers for various reasons, though I had never found it that bad. The pub-restaurant building should be completed by the time you read this, with the hotel and dive centre not far behind. And with the completion of these projects, British inland diving should enter a new, centrally heated, cappuccino-drinking era that can only be good for everyone.
It was a Friday and by now late in the year. The lake had been quiet all week, so the visibility was superb. I dived with James, one of the centres instructors.
We entered the water at the training platforms and made for the double-decker. I had been at the centre the day the Royal Engineers put this bus into the lake, but had never dived it. It is positioned ingeniously on a steep slope, providing a perspective seldom seen in a lake - an almost vertical wreck.
We descended the slope there through shoals of glittering fry, a few of which had already started to die from the dropping temperature and lay forlornly on the lake bed, waiting for a pike or perch to snap up the free meal.
From the double-decker, we followed a line to the Provost jet, which stands on a specially constructed plinth to keep it off the bottom and prevent visiting divers kicking up too much silt.
Between the bus and plane is a new addition, a Volvo truck. We stopped by it on the way to the Provost, though at the moment it doesnt do a lot for me.
The Provost, however, is one of the few intact aircraft you can easily see under water. It was put down intentionally a few years ago (I was there that day as well) and has proved popular. So far it hasnt suffered as much as the helicopters in Stoney, though it could happen unless the pointing and laughing starts now!
Back on the surface, I warmed up with a hot chocolate - less dehydrating than coffee - and demolished a tasty Italian version of the bacon butty - a salami and four-cheese panini.
Our plan for the second dive was to stay shallow and search for some of Gildenburghs famous pike. We hugged the bank to the right-hand side through a drowned forest, where they love to hang out. A few minutes into the dive, we found a baby pike. It was pike-shaped and probably had tiny pike teeth but had scared eyes, a bit like the velociraptor baby from Jurassic Park.
We soon came across one of its bigger relatives, though it moved off as we arrived. But making our way back, we came across a monster, hanging between the branches of a freshwater mussel-covered tree.
This pike knew it was the boss. It hung there without moving as I approached so closely that I could count its scars. I was looking a nightclub bouncer in the face.
It was a very pleasant, gentle dive - the kind I relish, but rarely get the chance to enjoy in the sea. Boats, currents, swell, depth and darkness keep the mind focused on staying alive.
Who needs an expensive spa in which to unwind Give me this any day.
I drove through the small town of Whittlesey with my computer beeping in the back somewhere. The sun was setting and flaring red through the light cloud cover, and I was in good mood. The journey was complete.
I had experienced some of Englands finest all-weather, freshwater diving and met some great people, seen some interesting wildlife and learned a little more about my fellow-divers.
I had covered almost 900 miles (at least 50 trying to get out of Bristol), used the RAC once, got through several litres of air and some of the best bacon and sausages that ever graced the inside of a bun.
At home that night, I read a few more quotes by good old G K Chesterton and found one quite apt: There are two ways of getting home; and one is to stay there.
This time I couldnt agree, however. Staying home should never be an option - theres too much fun and adventure to be had outside and under the water.
|The Provost jet. |
|Gildenburghs famous double-decker bus. |
|The Volvo truck is said to be proving popular |
|A menacing hook-jawed pike. |