United Kingdom and Ireland
Although the United Kingdom and Ireland might not immediately spring to mind when thinking of exotic dive destinations, the waters surrounding these ancient nations are something of a revelation. Hundreds of years of merchant seafaring have left a rich wreck heritage, the huge tidal ranges and adrenaline-pumping drift dives have to be seen to be appreciated, and fauna ranging from tiny seahorses to gigantic basking sharks all mean the underwater realm here is rich with surprises. The United Kingdom and Ireland effectively occupy two large islands off northwestern continental Europe. England, Scotland and Wales share one, while the island of Ireland sits just to the west, home to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There are almost 24,000 kilometres/15,000 miles of coastline notable for their variety: sandy and shingle beaches, crags, rocks, and cliffs abound. There is an excellent infrastructure of well-equipped PADI Dive Centers and Resorts and an equally large fleet of dive boats, many of which accommodate technical divers. The waters are cool or cold most of the year, so good exposure protection is the order of the day. For those properly equipped, however, these waters serve up some truly memorable dives.
- Scapa Flow, Scotland – In 1919, at least 52 vessels of the German fleet were scuttled in Scapa Flow on the Orkney Islands off Scotland’s Northern coast. Many have been salvaged over the years, but the remaining wrecks provide an eerie reminder of turn-of-the-century naval technology and have become some of the most famous wreck sites in the world, let alone the best dive sites in this area. The wreck dives here include three 177 metre/580 foot battleships and four 155 metre/510 foot cruisers. As the name Scapa Flow suggests, strong tides run here and bring nutrient-rich water that supports abundant sea life.
- Killary Harbour, Ireland – This stunning fjord on Ireland’s west coast lies nestled beneath the mountains of Connemara. Some of the best dives are on the offshore islands, which feature crystal clear Atlantic Ocean water, kelp beds, and abundant marine life including lobster, conger eels and huge schools of pollack. There are some great wrecks here too, and the sheltered waters of the fjord offer excellent dive sites, even if the wind is blowing a bit too hard.
- Stoney Cove, England – Located in Leicestershire, in the UK midlands, Stoney Cove is the busiest inland dive site in the country and with good reason. This flooded quarry offers something for divers of all levels and is a favorite dive-training site. Freshwater fish such as pike and perch head the aquatic cast and there are enough underwater features to keep divers coming back time and again.
- Dalkey Island, Ireland – A short trip from Ireland’s busy capital, Dalkey Island offers some great diving on Dublin’s doorstep. Easily accessed by dive boat, one of the best sites is the South Tip. A jumbled boulder field here tumbles steeply to more than 25 metres/80 feet. Playful seals often join divers and lobsters, crabs and conger eels lurk under the rocks. It’s also a great spot to find the fearsome looking angler fish.
- Cornwall, England – In Cornwall, on the Lizard Peninsula at Porthkerris, there's some excellent shore diving. Sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds, a handy beach entry gives access to a rocky reef close to shore. Invertebrates, including tube worms, anemones and sea urchins colonize the hard substrate, but keep your eyes open as encounters with basking sharks and pods of dolphins are a real possibility.
- Dorset, England - Take a trip to the Jurassic Coast (a World Heritage Site) and you’ll find dramatic, red cliffs preserving millions of years of natural history and surrounding some of the UK’s best dive sites. Weymouth and Portland offer both shore dives (Chesil beach is a popular training site) and the M2 submarine and Aeolian Sky are both top wrecks to visit for more experienced divers. Swanage Pier, at 4m deep, is a fantastic, novice-level shore site where no two dives will be the same.
- Plymouth, England - This buzzing city on the South coast of England has a strong naval and maritime presence – both above and below the water. Several of the UK’s top shipwrecks are easily accessible by boat from here, including the James Eagan Layne, the Persier and the popular artificial reef, HMS Scylla. Closer to land, the Devil’s Point shore dive features a stunning wall stretching down to 40m.
- Pembrokeshire, Wales - Home to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (the only coastal national park in the UK), this area has it all, from beachy shore dives (St Brides, Martins Haven) to countless wreck dives at all depths. The Dakotian sits in just 20m of water while The Lucy offers a more adventurous 40m. For technical divers, the Drina touches the seabed at 60m. Further afield, the island of Grassholm is not only a superb diving spot, but home to one of the world’s largest Gannet populations. Even further, about 20 miles out to sea, The Smalls Lighthouse needs calm seas to be reached, but worth the journey as you’ll be surrounded by seals playing amongst the pinnacles and gullies. Pembrokeshire is renowned for its rich concentrations of marine life including blue sharks, dolphins, sunfish, rays, lesser-spotted catsharks, octopus, lobsters, conger eels, crabs, starfish and more.
- Farne Islands – Off the east coast of the England/Scotland’s border, you’ll find the Farne Islands. Raucous seabirds, steep topography and curious grey seals frame the diving experience here. Dead men’s fingers, anemones and sponges cover the rocks and the startling-looking wolf fish is sometimes found peering out from underneath a ledge in the cool waters.
- Jersey - Offering warmer waters than mainland UK, this Channel Island is a great option for winter months. Plenty of shore diving options offer colourful reefs, rays, wrasse, flat fish, cuttlefish and more. Jersey has one of the biggest tides in the world, creating fun drift dives where you can see rays and plenty of scallops. The historical wrecks that lie around the island are teeming with marine life such as pouting and conger eels. Boat trips further out from the island are also available, where divers can find soft sponges and fan corals covering reef walls and beautiful kelp forests where the resident seals come to play.
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Visibility – Depending on the dive site and conditions, visibility can range from 3-50 meters/10-160 feet.
Water Temperature – Always cool, water temperatures range from 4° C/39° F in February to 14°C/57°F in September.
Weather – Mild wet winters and warm summers. Seemingly endless midsummer days at these latitudes where the sun hardly seems to go down. Air temperature ranges from 15-19°C/59-66°F in the summer to 5-6°C/41-43°F in winter.
Featured Creatures – Basking sharks, grey seals, common seals, wrasse, conger eels, jellyfish, crabs, sea urchins, brittle stars, starfish, kelp and sponges.
Recommended Training – The PADI Wreck Diver, PADI Deep Diver and PADI Boat Diver courses are natural choices for enjoying offshore diving in the UK. The PADI Dry Suit Diver course is a good idea. Look into the PADI Enriched Air Diver Course, if interested.
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited to) security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.
Language – English
Currency – Euro in Ireland and Pound Sterling in the United Kingdom. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
Major Airports – Heathrow (LHR) and Gatwick (LGW) are busy international hubs that service London. Bristol (BRS) and Exeter (EXT) are close to Cornwall, while Newcastle Airport (NCL) is close to North Sea sites (including the Farne Islands). Cardiff Airport (CWL) is a good route into Wales, and Dublin Airport (DUB) is the main entry into Ireland. Both Edinburgh (EDI) and Glasgow (GLA) have good airports for access to the Scottish sites, and Kirkwall Airport (KOI) is particularly useful for access to the Orkney Islands (Scapa Flow).
Electricity and Internet – Electricity is 220V 50 Hz. Internet service is widely available.
Topside Attractions – From the wilds of the west of Ireland to the splendor of London’s Buckingham Palace, you’ll find both the United Kingdom and Ireland steeped in heritage and welcoming to visitors. Check locally for specific things to do based on your dive location of choice.