There’s huge variety in what you can see in the water around Skye; one day you might be immersed in a waving forest of kelp, another might find you deep in the darkness of a sea loch.
Anybody that spends a bit of time here at Otter Lodge is bound to notice that diving is a big part of our life. The evidence is everywhere; from drysuits hanging out to air, to pictures of unusual sea creatures in our hallway. Skye might not be up there with the Great Barrier Reef as one of the world’s most popular diving destinations, but with a bit of exploring it’s amazing what you can find here. We even have wrecks; the HMS Napier offers interesting and accessible boat diving just up the road, near Kyleakin.
Local Shore Dives
All kitted up, but no boat? You’re not alone. We’ve been exploring the possibilities of shore diving around south Skye and the mainland and have a few pointers.
There are different marine environments, but some are tricky to access
A roughly thirty mile radius around Otter Lodge encompasses a really wide range of habitats: from very sheltered sea lochs such as Loch Duich to channels with fast-running currents such as Strome or Kylerhea. What are admittedly harder to get to are more open and exposed locations, as the obvious points of entry near the road tend to be in sheltered bays and inlets. This can present you with some serious hiking or swimming in order to get to a promising looking rocky headland!
South Skye shore dives are low-key
Gordon Ridley, author of the 1985 classic guide, ‘Dive North-West Scotland’ described South Skye as ‘rather featureless’ for divers. To be honest, there is an element of truth in this – despite some pretty thorough searching we’ve yet to find a shore dive here that has the wow-factor of some of the more well-known mainland sites. Even so, if you have the time or the inclination, there are places still worth checking out, especially if you’re interested in marine life. We visit these sites regularly and are amazed at the diversity. Sometimes you’ll get loads of thornback rays; other seasons might bring stalked jellyfish.
Dramatic diving in the mainland sea lochs
We’re only ten minutes’ drive from the Skye Bridge which opens out loads more opportunities for diving; in Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Carron. There are some real shore-diving highlights here; particularly at North Strome (Loch Carron) and southeast of Eilean Donan Castle (Loch Duich). Visiting Loch Duich can sometimes feel like a night dive, particularly when the weather is gloomy and there’s a thick layer of peaty water on the surface. But this only seems to add to the otherworldliness of steep rocks that drop off into blackness.
Prepare to be independent
Unsupported shore diving requires a certain level of cautiousness and this is particularly the case out here on the wild, west coast. We’re meticulous at checking tides and currents, but the most surprising thing about our seas is how little information has been recorded about some bits. It’s one of the reasons we love diving here; but it comes with extra responsibility. I have to admit we generally avoid even a smidgeon of current, with the odd exception of a drift dive where there is a good run of easily accessed shoreline.
Phone signal coverage can be patchy and in the absence of a radio licence, Martin and I carry an emergency locator in the car (you could, of course, dive with one). It’s definitely worth noting if there are people living close to your dive site you could call on in the event of a mishap; quite a few places around here are holiday homes.
Make friends with the locals
There’s a lot to be gained by talking to people. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious place to leave your car while you dive so if you spot a local resident, have a quick chat. We’ve only had a couple of occasions diving here where there has been a bit of initial hostility, and in both cases it was related to previous incidents of people parking inconsiderately. However, most folk are interested in what you’re up to and the conversation will frequently move from parking to items lost from boats, or moorings that might need a ‘wee check over’.
Come to terms with the weather
People don’t come to the west coast of Scotland expecting wall-to-wall sunshine. There are times when we get some pretty strong winds and this is definitely when shore diving here has the advantage over boat dives. If things are getting choppy on a surface swim, simply descend into calmer conditions. You can choose your site based on wind direction. There are coasts facing just about every point of the compass here and there can be a vast difference in conditions between, say, a west facing dive site and a shore facing north.
And cylinder fills?