Diving in the UK is probably best known for its wrecks. Most divers, if asked to name their favourite reefs, would probably name a site in some far off, tropical waters. Few would list a site in British waters.
But our shores offer some spectacular scenic dives that could rival many found in more exotic climes.
The best of these may be found in Cornwall. Mark Milburn tells us about two of his favourites; Raglans and Porthkerris.
Probably England’s Best Reef, Raglans Reef, The Manacles, The Lizard, Cornwall
Today saw the return of the Friday evening dives – every Friday evening until the nights draw in again. At 6pm from the Customs House Quay in Falmouth, Shaun’s boat Redeemer starts heading out. Our first trip was going to be Raglans Reef, which is one of the many pinnacles (some underwater and some breaking the surface) of the Manacles; a well known reef system which is situated on the Lizard, Cornwall.
We headed out on a flat sea with the sun still glaring down on us. The winds had switched to a westerly, which was going to be fine for the Manacles, but the air temperature had dropped now to around 5 degrees. Thirty minutes later Shaun had dropped the shotline in around 20m of water and we all started to kit up. As the different groups were ready they entered the water.
Heading down the shotline the visibility didn’t look too great, but Raglans is all about the small things. As I reached the bottom of the shot I continued my descent to around 35m. A couple of the other divers went a little deeper, to around 45m, but there is not so much to see down there. The first thing that caught my eye was a nudibranch, coryphella browni. Camera to the ready and shoot! I carried on taking photographs of various anemones (mainly Plumose and Dahlia anemones); there being a huge number and variety of both and a full range of Jewel anemones all over Raglans. As well as these, cup corals, lettuce corals and a few sea fans make the whole reef one of the prettiest dives in the U.K. Then I saw another coryphella browni, and another. Altogether I counted eight different specimens. This was the largest number I had ever encountered on a U.K. dive. There were a number of cuckoo, corkwing and ballen wrasse, blennys, bib and a few large pollack floating around; but they are all ancillary to the small things. The last time I dived on Raglans I came across a free swimming conger eel. No such luck this time, but the nudibranchs made the dive for me.
After several times around Raglans at different depths I found myself at the top of the reef, at 6m. How convenient! Up went the DSMB, followed by me after a few minutes decompressing. It was now dusk; the sun had set and it was time to get back to Falmouth.
After the kit was put away, we went to the Chain Locker, the local public house, where Shaun lays on a big bowl of chips with bread and butter. Hungry work this diving!
Is this one of the worlds best equipped shore dives?
This morning I was going to be in Helston, Cornwall; the home of Buddy, the Inspiration, Fourth Element, England’s largest gunsmiths and the Floral Dance. As I was going to be over halfway to Porthkerris I had arranged to meet three dive buddies there to go for a shore dive, Nev had never dived in U.K. waters before and I thought this would be a good little taster.
Quite a few U.K. divers will already know Porthkerris, but for those that don’t I’ll give a little background. Situated on the eastern side of the Lizard, near St Keverne is a private beach known as Porthkerris. Here there is a dive centre which runs two RIBS and a large catamaran. All the facilities were originally up the hillside adjacent to where the owners live (apart from the compressor room) but now everything has been moved or is in the process of being moved to the car park, right on the beach. So now we have a large car park, part of which you can camp on, or there is a camp site on the side of the hill. The compressor room, toilets, showers, kit shower, burger van and soon the dive shop are all right next to the beach. The most likely dive sites from Porthkerris by boat are the Manacles or the wrecks of either the Mohegan or the Volnay, but Porthkerris is also well known for its shore dive, and that’s what Nev, Andy, Sharky and I did today.
As I was in Helston in the morning I didn’t turn up at Porthkerris until around 1pm. As this is a private beach you have to pay, £2 per car and £3 per diver. I had never seen so many people there before. Apparently most of the University dive clubs like to come down at this time of year. One university had 21 students the other had 50! My dive buddies were already kitted up when I arrived, so I quickly put my kit together while I was trying to eat some lunch. The sun was out, the sky was clear, but the wind was blowing a little too cold for my liking. Once I was ready, we headed across the car park, down the gently sloping rocks (which does have a rope type hand rail) and onto the pebble beach. Fins on and in we go.
Drawna rocks break the surface around 70m from the high water line, they lie more or less on a North South orientation. The plan was to swim towards the southern tip, which is virtually due east and go around anti-clockwise, keeping an eye on Nev as it was his first UK dive. He seemed happy enough as we swam towards the southern tip, a few small wrasse on the way and the usual kelp. As we got to the rocks we looked into the various cracks to see crabs, shrimp and small fish in hiding. The odd Dead Mans Fingers were on any vertical rock, small dahlia and snakelock anemones were occasionally spotted between the kelp as well as the odd wrasse. As we neared the northern tip the fish got bigger. A few large pollack and some large wrasse swam around trying to avoid us. It was at this point I checked Nev’s air – he was fine. I’d thought he may have breathed it up a little quicker in conditions colder then he was used to, but not so.
It’s at the northern point where most people carry on round Drawna rocks, mainly because they do not know that there is another reef that runs east from the northern tip. It’s best not to go there on a spring tide, especially out of slack water, but as it was neap tides off we went. We headed along the south side of the Reef and would cross to the north side when appropriate. This part of the reef has a lot less kelp and a lot more life; snakelock anemones, soft coral, sea fans, dead mans fingers, lettuce coral and more fish. It’s also a little deeper; we managed 15.9m today, but previously I have had 21m. After about 10 minutes we crossed the reef over a gulley that was covered in dead mans fingers, then started back west, keeping the sand on our right. As I was swimming along I couldn’t believe the size of a wrasse resting on the rocks. I quickly manoeuvred my fins to gauge its size; it was about one and a half times the length of my fins! That’s about 3 feet and that was a big fish!
It wasn’t long before we were again at the northern tip of Drawna rocks and started southwards again. The bottom here is covered in small pebbles and has quite a few tubeworms and yet more wrasse trying to avoid us. Previously I have seen pipefish and cuttlefish in this area. All too soon it was time to head west and back to dry land.
Considering the amount of people in the car park and on the beach I expected to see a lot of people in the water, but during the dive we only saw one other group of divers. We didn’t see any on the other reef. The visibility had been affected around the rocks with so many students and divers, but as no-one goes to the other reef the visibility was considerably better around there.
Drawna rocks can be dived at all states of the tide and only gets blown out by easterly winds. The other reef is the more attractive and has more life of every kind – never disappointing!
Nev ended up a little cold though. I did tell him to buy a dry suit!
A video taken at a later visit.