On a recent diving holiday in Thailand, I got chatting to a guy who asked if I had ever dived in the UK. I had clocked over 170 dives round the world but all in sunny climes and had no yearning to suffer a seasickness inducing boat trip in choppy seas to jump into freezing cold water to see hardly anything due to poor visibility! But, on returning to the UK I consulted my copy of Monty Halls “ultimate guide” to the top 60 dive sights of the world and to my surprise there were more than a few pages dedicated to the British Isles, including Scapa Flow, The Skelligs and Lundy Island. A quick Google showed there were a couple of clubs in the area and in a few mouse clicks I spotted a trip to Lundy on The Diving Club’s schedule.
A month later, armed with my PADI dry suit certification card, I joined the club and signed up for the trip to Lundy.
Lundy Island is the largest island in the Bristol Channel. It is three miles long and a little under half a mile wide and lies 12 miles (19 km) off the coast of Devon, about a third of the distance across the channel from Devon, to south Wales an also gives its name to a British sea area, in the shipping forecast. Lundy has been designated by Natural England as national character area and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as England’s first Marine Nature Reserve because of its unique flora and fauna.
The name Lundy is believed to come from the Old Norse word for “Puffin Island”. It has been occupied on and off since neolithic times, having an eventful history including being granted to the Knights Templar by Henry II in 1160, occupied by the Marisco family in the 13th century where William Marisco acted as a kind of king until captured by Henry III and was the last Royalist territory in the civil war.
For centuries the Island was difficult to govern and was used by English and foreign pirates due to its useful position to be able to prey on Bristol merchant ships. Things calmed down in the 20th Century with possession changing hands in more a civilised fashion, in one instance the island was sold to Martin Coles Harman who also proclaimed himself Kind of Lundy. In 1969 a British millionaire, Jack Hayward brought the island and gave it to the National Trust.
Lundy had a resident population of 28 people, including volunteers. These include a warden, ranger, island manager, and farmer, as well as bar and house-keeping staff. Most live in and around the village at the south of the island. Most visitors are day-trippers, although there are 23 holiday properties and a camp site for staying visitors, mostly also around the south of the island.
With a car laden with kit hired from DiveStyle I drove the three and half hours to Ilfracombe met the guys for (a huge!) portion of fish and chips and some real ale, before turning in for an early night before the weekend ahead.
The next day my propensity to seasickness didn’t let me down on the very choppy 90 minute journey during which more than a few times I sat wishing for the calm waters of Thailand or the Red Sea but eventually, after what seemed an age, we were in the protection of Lundy.
Knoll Pins, East Lundy
I took my first ever scuba jump into UK waters and after a thumbs down, my buddy Clive and I descended. Although poor visibility, even for UK diving, this strangely added to the sense that this was going to be something different, no longer the easy, effortless diving in the Andaman Sea but required a bit more thought and effort.
The site is two emergent rocks, with red dead men's fingers (Alcyonium glomeratum) only found in the warmer western parts of the UK, jewel anemones, cup corals, and trumpet anemones (Aiptasia mutabilis), a Mediterranean species at its northern limit in the south-west of England.
The site had a narrow gulley with five different species of nudibranch including the common slim Polycera-type, a larger white Doridae which was laying a ribbon of eggs and a pale-coloured Okenia-type slug with its back completely covered in tentacles. A lobster was also seen. Mermaid purses (dogfish eggs), as seen on most of the dives.
After signalling we were to surface, my buddy inflated his SMB which unfortunately got its line caught and he shot to the surface like a rocket, I surfaced a bit more leisurely and came up, let some air into my suit for warmth and immediately felt comfortably less constricted round the waist then realise, too late, that I had just consigned Divestyle’s rented weight belt to the bottom of the Bristol Channel, I immediately checked below for other divers, but fortunately my buddy had long since risen to the surface.
Brazen Ward, and wreckage of the S.S. Salado (sunk 1897), East Lundy.
Diving with Pob and Isabel this time we gently moved through the shallows of kelp looking for seals, and we were not disappointed, meeting one after about 15 minutes. In the earlier dive I had spent much of my attention adjusting my kit and getting used to the dry suit, but I was now quite getting used to it and was really enjoying myself. After 40’ we had seen enough of the seal and surfaced.
Pete's Pinnacle, North Lundy near Hen & Chickens
We were meant to find boilers at this site but due to us both becoming a bit disorientated after my difficult descent caused by me not purging my suit of air, we ended up missing the wall and quite a way from our intended area (note to self, take compass bearing at the surface).
Other divers in the group reached the start of the reef which became quite an impressive wall, saw lobsters and edible crabs and descended into the eerie depths to 31 m before ascending to 23m and encountering jewel anemones, a yellow Onchidoris sea slug and those burrowing sea cucumbers (Aslia lefevrei?) with white bodies often hidden in rock crevices and brown emergent tentacles that make them look like anemones.
We saw a few crabs and sea cucumbers and after 40 minutes we called it a dive and surfaced to see a distant boat and not another SMB in sight !
Gull Rock, East Lundy
Hoping to round off the weekend by seeing some seals, kelp was pretty much all we saw for the first twenty minutes of the dive. After considering whether to call it a day and surface we soon changed our minds when I felt a friendly tug on my fin, turned round and there was a plump young seal wanting to play. After a few minutes it was joined by a second one and we had a fine time watching them circle us and come in and out of our vision, very enjoyable experience and just what I was hoping for as the highlight of the trip.
After dropping off the seal watchers the other members of the group were taken further out to kelp covered boulders and finned directly east to drop down to a very nice set of reefs with large rocky 'heads' looming over. Another lobster looking very take-able lived another day. Ballan wrasse, leopard-spotted goby, butterfish (gunnel) in crevice, red dead men's fingers and the pink nudibranch Flabellina pedata (?) which is quite common from Norway to the Med. Lesser spotted dogfish.
A much better return trip to the mainland and long goodbyes at the quay before the long drive home, I will return next year though. All in all great weekend, friendly and helpful buddies, and a great introduction to UK diving. The Diving Club were very helpful; kit passed between divers including weight belts, under suits, socks and even a spare dry suit as the more experienced club members helped out the new divers. Thanks to all my new dive buddies for their warm and friendly welcome, help, lend of kit, my buddies Clive, Pob and Isabel and to Les, Clive and Rob for the dive site descriptions and the attached photos.
Far from putting me off, the weekend has fired my enthusiasm and I have signed up to three more club trips. Now planning a to take a couple of first step technical courses to a equip me for next year’s trip to Scapa Flow and tick off another top site in Monty’s book !
Jim Godsell, The Diving Club – Reading