From the beautiful green mountainous expanse that makes up the highlands to the sweeping coastal regions peppered with farmers and castles, Scotland is a place that is both a surprise and delight to experience. History, geography and some of the most iconic culture in the world, this friendly country has a natural and rugged beauty that is easy to fall in love with. And if that isn’t enough, Scotland also plays host to some of the best pubs and whiskey in Europe.
Along the southeastern coast of Scotland, St Abbs, is a small fishing village to the north of Eyemouth on the Berwickshire coast. Originally known as Coldingham Shore prior ro 1890’s, St Abbs was named after Æbbe, a 7th-century Northumbrian princess who struggled ashore here after being shipwrecked and promptly founded a nunnery. This remote fishing village now is surrounded by craggy cliffs and old fishermen’s cottages cascading down into surf-battered harbours.
Given the variety in Scotland’s wild and breathtaking landscapes, the water surrounding St Abbs offers scuba divers some of the most scenic and exciting cold water diving in the world. The sea around the village is unusually clear in contrast to the more silt-laden coastal water further north or south with the exception of the Farne Islands. St Abb’s clear water and spectacular underwater scenery have resulted in Britain’s first voluntary marine reserve being established on August 18, 1984 by David Bellamy.
Diving with Seals in the UK: Diving the Farne Islands will open your mind and touch your soul as you get into the water with some of mother nature’s most playful creatures. Read more about scuba diving in this incredible slice of England.
The region of St Abbs is said to have some of the best shore diving in the UK. In fact, the waters reach depths of about 15 meters (50 feet) just outside the harbour wall and are easily navigated. Unfortunately on our travels, Joey and I didn’t do any shore diving in St Abbs, we opted instead for a day on a dive boat.
Our day of diving in St Abbs began at an ungodly hour of the morning, having sorted and prepared scuba gear for the upcoming day. Following a short trip from our Airbnb accommodations, we arrived at the quiet fishing village just as the sun began to warm the sleepy surroundings. Carting our equipment to the charter boat we make several trips back and forth ensuring nothing is forgotten.
Before departing the harbour we don our leggings and polar fleece onesie feeling more like the Pillsbury Doughboy than a scuba diver with all our layers to keep warm against the frigid seas. The boat ride was a short 15-20 minute journey from the still waters of the harbour to the choppy coastal dive sites.
Leaping from the boat I drop down into the North Sea with a splash, Joey at my side. Together we descend to the bottom at roughly 18 meters (60 feet) deep. Right away, I spy the narrow channels of the gully we would be diving. Kicking closer to the bottom I follow Joey as he navigates the cascading gully covered in heaps of soft coral, anemones and dead man’s fingers. The reef is a flurry of colour with oranges, yellow, pinks and reds bringing warmth to the chilly waters.
Settling in to the dive and observing my surroundings a little closer I see that blankets of brittle stars coating the reef. Their hairy little arms protruded by the thousands from every knock and cranny available between encrusting species. Normally I find brittle stars hard to photograph because of their reclusive hide-beneath-a-rock nature. Not here – there were very active and wideout in the open begging for some camera attention.
After getting over the overwhelming amount of brittle stars I began picking my way along St Abbs’s gully walls. In doing so I allowed the gentle push of the current to carry me along like a discarded piece of flotsam. As I coasted I searched out more of St Abbs sea creatures taking several close-up macro shots of any tiny beast I could find.
I see prickly sunstars suctioned to the rocks and minuscule fish hiding in the plant life. To my surprise and delight, I also spot a healthy amount of shrimp scampering about. The shrimp’s translucent bodies were decorated in red striations. They seemed to pose in the perfect positions on the sponges for a photo op.
Glancing beyond the enclosed gullies I look out at the emerald sea that stretches before me. I can see for roughly 10 meters (33 feet) which I’m told is an average day at St Abbs. The plankton-filled water is home to shoals of fish dancing to the ebb and flow of the surge.
When our air reached an appropriately low level we ascended to our safety stop and then to the surface. Breaking the waterline we wait for the dive boat to circle by and pick us up. We are fortunate that many of the UK’s dive charters are equipped with a hydraulic platform and lift so we don’t need to struggle under the weight of our equipment to get onto the boat. I felt a little like a star performer rising up from the depths of the ocean like Beyonce at a concert.
Our second dive progressed much like the first, boasting lots of life and lots of colour. The only difference was that the other pair of divers sharing our charter had the good fortune of encountering a pod of dolphins during their safety stop. For the couple, it was a magical chance encounter. For us, it was the luck of the draw.
On our way back to the harbour, the boat captain took a detour hoping to find that pod of dolphins. But as luck would have it we came up shy. Regardless, the scenic route made for a wonderful end to a day on the water in St Abbs.
Scuba diving in St Abbs was an immensely gratifying adventure. When it comes to diving in Scotland, this wild and rugged landscape remains unforgettable both above and below the surface. We were told this was a spot worth investigating and after a single day of diving we were left with fond memories and a strong feeling of satisfaction. The location afforded us the opportunity to witness much marine diversity while at the same time not having an abundant amount of divers swarming the boat. In spite of being cheated of a rare dolphin show, St Abbs has certainly left Joey and me with a delicious taste for Scottish diving – one that we would definitely try again.
A half-day diving charter (approximately 4 hours in duration) costs from £45-£50. During this time divers may do up to 2 dives. The boats are typically equipped with bathrooms, refreshments and a rear lift. Some boats have onboard air fills for an additional £4 per tank. These charters do not include the rental of equipment, which can be done out of Eyemouth.
Equipment rental is £60 per day for a full kit or £30 per dive. Extra tanks are £10. It’s important to note that most dive shops/outfitters will only rent kits out to divers that are joining one of their scheduled trips.
The best time of year to scuba dive St Abbs and ultimately Scotland is from May to August when the marine life is most plentiful and migrating species such as basking sharks are in the area. The region is prone to very rough seas, particularly from March to October when the prevailing wind shifts to a westerly direction.
The average underwater visibility is around 6m but 15m is the norm when offshore winds are experienced. The average sea temperature is 7.5ºC in February, 9ºC in May, 18ºC in August, and 10.5ºC in November.
The best dive sites in St Abbs can be reached by boat with a handful accessible from shore. As such divers can book a local charter that hits the coast frequently during the summer months. These charters will require divers to bring their own equipment and have a minimum of an Open Water certification. We would also recommend having plenty of cold water diving experience as there can be current and safety stops are sometimes done in blue water.
Due to Scotland’s northern locality and water temperature, it is most common to dive in a dry suit for comfort and warmth.
Some dive outfitters might require first-time visitors to fill in some paperwork including a medical questionnaire. If on your medical questionnaire there’s a “yes” answer, you’ll need to take your form to your GP to get signed off as Fit To Dive before you can hit the water.
There are several shops in the St Abbs/Eyemouth area that divers can either get tank fills, rent equipment or hire a boat charter.
Have you ever tried scuba diving from craggy shores of St Abbs? What did you think of the macro-diversity in this incredible place? Did you see any interesting species?
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