This weekend, rather than hopping on a plane to explore another European country, I opted to stay a tad closer to home (notwithstanding that I could probably have flown to other countries quicker) and explore the beauty and diving available on the West Coast of Scotland. I had recently joined Deep Blue Scuba, a diving club based in Edinburgh who organise trips for members to different areas around Scotland as well as further afield. As soon as I heard there was a wreck diving weekend, my favourite type of diving, you could not get me signed up quickly enough and luckily enough there was space on their final trip of the season to Loachaline – a wreck divers dream. Lochaline is located on the West Coast of Scotland right on the Sound of Mull and this is where we spent the next two days enjoying the diving on offer. According to google maps it takes around 4 and a half hours to get there from Edinburgh but thanks to Ivan’s fantastic and very speedy driving skills we made it in an impressive 3 and a half hours which meant we arrived just before 8 and in time for dinner with the rest of the group. The group was staying at Morvern Diving Lodge, a short drive down to the boat, which was a lovely cosy place with a wood burning stove in the living room and a multitude of different bedrooms, altogether having room for 13 people. The fantastic Kerry was our chef for the weekend and we were treated to a lovely dinner of chicken pie with potatoes and veg for dinner which was the perfect end to a long day of working and driving. For desert we had warm apple pie and a few glasses of wine before we all retired to bed early in preparation for the next day’s diving.
We didn’t have to be at the boat the next again morning until 9.15 and so we managed to sleep in a little before being treated to a feast of a full Scottish breakfast – a great hearty way to start the day. After getting all our stuff ready we made the short drive down to the harbour and unpacked our kit and transferred it to the boat for the next 2 days of diving. The views of the surrounding islands were absolutely beautiful and I have to say I enjoyed my time above water, gazing around at the spectacular scenery just as much as underneath. After a slight drama of someone not having brought all of their kit on board, which luckily we managed to sort with the kindness of the others on board donating their spare kit, we arrived at our first site – The Hispania. This is one of the most famous wrecks in the area and was originally built and launched from Antwerp in Belgium. During the second world war the ship was a bit of a war prize and was captured in Bordeaux. Her final voyage was from Liverpool to Sweden where she attempted to navigate through the Sound of Mull where she hit the reef and sunk as a result. All of the crew had time to evacuate the ship other than the captain who took the decision to go down with the ship. You can only dive it at slack which means that the window of opportunity is relatively short and if you get the timings slightly off the currents can be pretty strong. I was diving with Gareth, a Dive Master who I knew from doing my dry suit specialty course as well as William and Alistair. Unfortunately, one of the others hadn’t been diving for 6 months and was quite inexperienced meaning that just after we went down he panicked and Gareth had to return with him to the surface. Ordinarily this would have been fine but I didn’t have a compass and the visibility was particularly poor so after waiting for around 15 minutes and circling the part of the wreck next to the buoy line I took the decision to end the dive early for safety reasons. This was obviously disappointing but safety comes first with diving and given that I wasn’t sure of the other diver’s ability either I wasn’t willing to take the risk of getting lost on the first dive of the day. Even though we didn’t see much of the wreck, the part I did see was really interesting and I would definitely be keen to dive here again on a future trip.
After everyone had surfaced, unfortunately a lot of people hadn’t had overly positive experiences and it was agreed that this site was not the best for a first dive for future trips, the boat made its way to Mull for a pit stop at Tobermory. This was a bit of a childhood dream for me given that a popular children’s tv show – Balamory – is shot in this town. As we approached the harbour the brightly coloured houses shone out. It was really a beautiful village. Some of the group opted for coffee and cake while the others (including myself) went for a walk around to check out the different houses and then up to the top part of town for lovely views out over the harbour area into the Sound. It was a lovely hour break and I will definitely return to Mull to explore further but soon enough we were back on the boat and gearing up for our second dive of the day at Auliston Point. This was a wall dive and a much easier dive in comparison to the morning. Gareth opted to change up the buddy pairs and so I went along with Claire and Leigh on this one. It was a nice calm dive where you simply floated along the wall looking out for interesting creatures and life. Leigh is a bit of a photographer extraordinaire and so it was great to float behind him and see all of the interesting things he was taking pictures of. It was a lovely calm 65 minute dive and we surfaced really happy with the dive.
Usually on the trip there is a third scallop bash dive on the Saturday but the captain who was following Malcolm’s boat wasn’t keen for this given that it gets dark quite early at this time of year and a seeming lack of interest to refill the cylinders a third time. Regardless it had been a nice day in a truly spectacular bit of the world – why we don’t spend more time exploring Scotland is really beyond me. Since we hadn’t done the third dive we got back to the lodge around 5 giving plenty on time to chill out and relax before dinner. It was a Mexican feast of beef tacos, chicken fajitas and nachos with a lovely salad. For desert Kerry excelled herself with a chocolate mousse cake served with fresh cream and berries which went perfectly with the red wine that we had moved onto. We managed a slightly later evening with wine flowing and a lot of great dive travel chat before calling it a night in preparation for the final day.
It was an earlier start the next day with ropes off at 8.15 but luckily the clocks had been put back an hour and so other than having to ensure we were packed up and ready to go since we weren’t coming back to the lodge it was the same timings as the day before. After another hearty breakfast treat we made our way down to the boat and jumped on board. Our first dive was the Rondo a wreck that was built in Tampa Florida before being renamed the Norwegian Rondo. The ship sank in 1935 after getting caught in a storm. It only took about 30 minutes to reach from the harbour so was a nice quick journey out. It was a very interesting wreck and almost sitting vertically up at an angle. We spent a lot of the dive just exploring, including a plaque that was erected in memory of a diver who unfortunately died while diving here earlier this year. It was sombre and reminded us all that safety should always be the number one concern. After exploring the wreck Claire, my dive buddy for today, and I swam along the reef next to the wreck which was full of massive kelp leaves where there were some tiny nudibranchs. It meant that we got a nice mix of wreck and reef for the dive and another nice 60 minute dive. We just had time to warm up and eat our lunch of a roll, crisps and chocolate before making our way to the final dive of the trip – The Thesis steamship. We were hugely lucky to spot a lone sea eagle at quite close range on the way which was another first and highlight for me. This was by far the oldest wreck we dived on from 1889 and unfortunately had recently collapsed in on itself but despite this I have to say it was the dive I enjoyed most of the trip. There were huge schools of Pollock right around the edge of the ship which really added to the atmosphere of the dive with our lights sparkling of their shiny bodies. Unfortunately we came across another diver who had lost their buddy and so Claire had to take him back to the surface while I finished the dive on a bit of an unsuccessful scallop hunt with Jo and Ivan. Despite the slight setback it still proved to be my favourite dive of the weekend.
We made our way back to Lochaline for the final time and unassembled our kit on the journey back while taking in the last of the stunning views. We quickly packed up the car and then Ivan and I were off right after we said our goodbyes. The journey back was just as speedy but at least this time we were driving in daylight and managed to take in the scenery of Glencoe and the superb mountains we were driving past. A great weekend of diving fun that I will definitely be doing again, there are just so many wrecks to see. Even for non-divers I can’t recommend a trip to this part of Scotland enough – it is truly mesmerising.
PHOTO CREDITS: Many thanks to Leigh Morris for allowing me to use some of his fantastic shots hugely appreciated!