Picture the scene…you are coming out of the water on a sunny, warm July day at one of the amazing beaches we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep here in the beautiful South West of England. Almost immediately you are surrounded by curious children asking what you have been doing and what you have seen?
You notice that they are accompanied by a group of adults listening in under the pretence of making sure the kids are ok. Very soon the kids have run off for an ice cream or to chuck stones at the curious bubbles in the water and you are left chatting to the adults , who are now not even trying to hide their interest. They are relieved to hear that there are no dangerous sea monsters or giant killer octopuses off the Brixham Breakwater and are fascinated when you tell them that you saw an amazing cuttlefish, a lobster a conger eel and that you were followed by a friendly seal for most of the dive !
They are always transfixed and it is usually your back that gives way under the weight of your cylinder, before they bore of asking about the marine life. Beach goers ALWAYS want to know what it is like beneath the waters of their favourite beaches. So why, I hear you ask, do more people not dive in UK waters?
Away from the coast, usually on a rainy afternoon in Taunton, without the benefit of a backdrop of a calm blue sea and sunshine, the reaction to hearing you are a UK diver is very different . ”You must be bonkers” is the most common reaction…the polar opposite to the reaction you get when exiting the crystal clear waters of the English Riviera on a hot summers day….and therein lies the rub.
Usually, in the town centre, after questioning our sanity, the non, or warm water divers second comment is almost always “ isn’t it really cold, dark and murky down there ?” The answer I usually give to that question is “ Yes, it can be…..but we don’t go diving on days like that”
It’s much the same as all the other adventure sports in the UK…on a grey windswept day it can be challenging, cold and downright miserable…..but when the weather is good, it is world class…..so get the right kit, pick the right day and see what the UK has to offer, you will be pleasantly surprised. For instance, on a typical 2 dive day at the beautiful Lundy Island, we get to dive with amazingly friendly seals that will actively seek you out to play on dive one and then we are able to explore dive a historic wreck on dive 2….do you need to be an experienced diver to do this? No, These two dives could be your first two dives after gaining your PADI Open Water certification.
In preparation for this Blog, we asked our club members why they love UK diving. The answer that kept coming up again and again is friendship and fun. We love to go abroad, but nothing beats that feeling of turning up for a day out on a UK dive boat with a group of like minded people all wanting to get the best out of a precious day away from the daily grind.
It is impossible write a blog about UK diving without a nod to the amazing marine life we have in our waters, it might not be as obvious as the life in warm water destinations, but for us, that is a massive part of the appeal.
I often describe diving in the Red Sea, or other tropical locations, as diving in a cartoon….you just don’t know where to look. After the initial WOW factor, the fabulous fish and coral start to become just a backdrop and you stop noticing it as you are too busy looking for that Manta Ray, shark or turtle.
In the UK however, marine life is a bit more challenging to spot. But the excitement you get when you spot a conger, lobster or, dare I say, Nudibranch is even more exaggerated due to the fact that you have had to look a bit harder to seek it out.
I spent 10 years diving around the UK desperate to see an Angler fish. The fact that I went on each dive hoping to see one just built the anticipation every time I jumped in. When I finally saw one it was amazing and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The other lovely thing was that all my fellow divers were so pleased for me as well, even to the point that one of our divers actively sought me out having spotted the fish to take me to see it, rather than just continue his own dive!
So when you come up from a UK dive and are sitting on the dive boat sipping a coffee or hot chocolate and munching on a pasty in the sunshine, or having a post dive BBQ on the beach, you really feel a sense of achievement . You do get that in the Red Sea or the Maldives, but not on the same level. Often abroad you come up disappointed with what you didn’t see rather than celebrating all the amazing stuff you did see but had missed by focusing on that big spot you were hoping for.
To finish, what is my highlight of UK diving so far? There really are too many to choose from but if you pushed me…..well you guessed it, it would be the Angler Fish. It was a perfect day, flat calm, bright sunshine, we were the only dive boat on the wreck and i was with a boatload of amazing people who were all out for the same reason, to have a great day and to enjoy the sport that we all love. Oh, and the Angler fish was MASSIVE !!!!