Since March 2020 and the beginning of Covid-19, the UK diving group has seen three nationwide lockdowns and ever-changing guidance on social gatherings, sport, and journey. We swapped scuba masks for face masks and solar cream for sanitiser. And, as we tailored to our new regular, we fed our scuba habit by way of virtual adventures and knot-tying lessons.
Apart from a short lived raise of restrictions in Summer time 2020 (once I had my first correct sunfish sighting), my diving had been on maintain, like a lot of the remainder of the world.
Quick ahead to Spring 2021, a profitable vaccination programme, and the start of the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown. Lastly, individuals might ebook journey between England, Scotland and Wales, meet outdoor in small teams, and scuba businesses could re-open. Time to go diving once more!
Planning my first UK dives after a number of dry months and my first journey away in over a yr, my vacation spot of selection was Porthkerris on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula. It’s house to one of many UK’s top shore dives and solely minutes from the notorious Manacles Reef, the place numerous ships have met their destiny and now present shelter to a plethora of marine life.
I’ve been lucky to go to many occasions earlier than, each time nearly as good because the final. However now, after such a very long time, issues felt unsettled: What if I forgot to pack one thing? What’s it going to be like staying away from residence? Will I even keep in mind tips on how to dive correctly?!
By the point I arrived, these worries have been gone. Kitting up for my first dive in all probability took longer than ordinary (as a lot muscle reminiscence as anything), however rolling again into the water and descending the shot line was like reuniting with an previous pal: as if no time had handed in any respect.
Wrecks and rays
A visit to the Manacles isn't full with out exploring the SS Mohegan, a 145m (475ft) ship with a backstory as fascinating because the dive itself. I all the time relish peering into its large boilers to be greeted by the resident critters.
Nevertheless, this time, it was the smaller, shallower SS Volnay that stole the highlight. In addition to relics from its wartime days, it was brimming with life. Curious cuckoo wrasse got here up shut whereas courting ballan wrasse danced via the scattered wreckage. Metallic plates have been adorned with gorgonians, sea stars, and crustaceans galore. However the standout second got here from a thornback ray resting on a sandy patch close by. I’ve solely noticed a handful of UK rays, often fleeting glimpses — however this one caught round for a fascinating 5 minutes.
Cornish creatures nice and small
Over the weekend, which additionally included visits to the SS Carmarthen, Gull Rock, and Penwin, there was sunshine daily, calm seas, and dolphins escorting our journeys. Underwater, the granite reefs have been carved with gullies, drop-offs, and crevices, every a canvas for invertebrate life resembling plumose anemones, sea urchins, and lifeless man’s fingers.
Visibility was an inviting Eight-10m (26-33ft), making it even simpler to identify spiny squat lobsters and tiny tompot blennies peeking out of cracks, bundles of crayfish, ever-shy conger eels, and even the elusive John Dory. All that remained to be seen was the basking shark; no luck this time, however an excuse to go to Cornwall once more!
Might, June, and July: West Wales
Pembrokeshire’s shoreline is famend for lovely marine life, thrilling shipwrecks, and, extra lately, Wally the Walrus. Dwelling solely an hour’s drive away makes it my go-to UK diving vacation spot, so when native journeys have been potential, I’ve completed my greatest to be there. Being at sea — with the views, recent air, wildlife — makes for a welcome respite from the humdrum of indoor life.
However there’s all the time extra to find, and in June, I used to be excited to satisfy the Langton Grange, a 128m (420ft) steam cargo ship that now lies virtually vertically on Bell Rock, from about 15m (49ft) to 45m (148ft) deep. It’s susceptible to robust currents and changeable circumstances, so a difficult dive that’s not for the faint-hearted. I’d forgotten the distinctive feeling of diving deeper on a wreck of this measurement. The best way the sunshine fades and the enormous superstructure surrounds you. And, in fact, how the dive by no means appears to final lengthy sufficient.
Up to now this yr, my most memorable dive, and doubtless considered one of my favorite websites, is The Smalls, a distant, rocky outcrop about 20 miles (32km) offshore, marked by a lighthouse with a tragic past. As Wales’ most westerly level, it’s notoriously troublesome to succeed in (circumstances need to be good). In fact, that simply makes it much more well worth the wait.
On the best way there, we move Grassholm, an uninhabited island with some wonderful diving itself. Right here, a pod of dolphins entertain us, with one spectacular show leaping 4m (12ft) excessive in entrance of us. Grassholm has almost 40,00zero breeding pairs of gannets. As I lookup, tens, perhaps tons of of those birds are gliding throughout brilliant blue skies whereas the solar beams again onto my face. That is nature’s equal to Headspace, washing away the stresses of the working week. And that’s solely the journey there.
Approaching our vacation spot, my view of the lighthouse, like my pleasure, grows greater and larger. We’re instantly welcomed by the rationale we got here; a minimum of twenty grey seals are bobbing about on the floor, as happy to see us as we're them.
After kitting up and triple-checking cameras, we enter the water. Inside 5 minutes, an inquisitive seal (with an unmistakable silhouette) darts previous for a better take a look at her underwater guests. Then, simply as shortly, she disappears into the blue (although right here, it’s extra inexperienced) with a flick of a flipper. As I swim alongside the kelpy seabed, there’s a tug on my fin — one other telltale signal that it’s playtime.
Over the subsequent 40 minutes, Three-Four of those cheeky pinnipeds accompany us directly. Some are extra curious and daring than others, coming up-close, enjoying with fins and even holding on to them! Seals are likened to underwater puppies, and should you dive with them, you’ll perceive why. A wild creature selecting to work together with you on this approach is a privilege and buzz like no different. I take a look at my buddy, and we'd like no hand alerts. The grin on each of our faces is seen even behind a requirement valve!
A return to regular
I’d questioned if, with individuals in lockdown, there’d be a growth of life displaying up sooner than typical. The truth is, it’s been the other. It’s taken longer for issues to heat up this yr, not simply with diving however other wildlife too. My Might and early June dives undoubtedly felt like one thing was lacking.
However, in the previous few weeks alone, I’ve observed water temperatures nudging up and with it bringing a brand new lease of life. Lastly, these empty crevices and lonely wrecks are once more flourishing. Spider crabs cling onto each rock, dogfish relaxation in gullies, and lobsters peer out from caves. Jellyfish float previous in numbers, and pollock, bass, and mullet cruise by.
And, like marine life, seaside communities are returning too. Stopping for lunch in Dale or ice cream in St David’s, there are kayakers, climbers, and households all having fun with the good outside — reassuring indicators that tourism, and normality, is coming again.
What lies forward for UK diving
Nobody might have predicted that 18 months on, the pandemic would nonetheless dominate headlines. However for the UK scuba diving group, there's mild on the finish of the tunnel with the Authorities’s current announcement to lift restrictions.
Scuba diving is the perfect post-lockdown activity. And though the times are getting shorter once more, the UK diving season nonetheless has lots extra to supply for 2021, with one of the best temperatures and calmest circumstances sometimes falling between July and September.
And whereas I’ve had a couple of journeys scuppered by the fantastic British weather, I’m nonetheless hoping to go to some previous favourites. The James Eagan Layne and Aeolian Sky are distinctive wreck dives on the south coast. Maybe I’ll uncover some new ones too – I’m eager to dive Ireland and the Isles of Scilly.
Overseas journey stays unsure. However whereas I’d like to journey overseas and tick off some extra bucket-list dives (like humpback whales in Tonga or Iceland’s Silfra), I’m actually not in any rush in any respect. In any case, I’ve obtained a world of unimaginable diving to maintain my scuba urge for food satiated, and it’s all on my doorstep, proper right here within the UK.
Bounce right into a UK diving journey
Take a look at the PADI dive guide to study extra about one of the best UK diving holidays, locations to go to, issues to see, and different key journey info. And, in the event you can’t wait to discover the various unimaginable British wrecks and reefs and even go diving with seals within the UK, head over to PADI Travel and e-book your journey right now.