Well, every trip has to end. On the journey North, having noticed the wild trout in the river Etive when shooting diver portraits, my buddy and I decided to devote a day to shooting those trout. If we had not seen them on our outbound leg, then there would seem to be little reason to put a macro lens on the camera. It was with some relief that, as I swam through a lovely gully in the rock, I saw a group of juvenile trout in exactly the same spot as last weekend. In the event, I spent a couple of hours watching these fish, switching to a snorkel when I ran out of air. It was quite a special experience to watch these entirely wild fish from such a short distance away.
Shore diving in the clear waters off Clachtoll campsite in NW scotland, I discovered a tiny yellow fish clinging to the snoot of my camera’s flash gun. Showing it to my buddy, it jumped ship and took up residence on his housing. The fish was beautiful but absolutely tiny – only 4-5mm long. It is a strange-looking fish, related to the lump sucker and has a strange name too- the Common Sea Snail (Liparis liparis).
I’m told that the mountains of Scotland are rising up, following the melting of the glaciers from the last ice age. That’s roughly how I felt after our first dive; I think I regained another inch of height having toiled up the hill from the dive site! It was worth it though…
We made an early start and left our lovely location on Ard Neakie on the shore of Loch Eriboll in time to dive at slack water in the narrows at Kylesku. Earlier in the trip, we had noted how the current ripped through such a narrow channel.
The water is much clearer here than many of the other lochs we have dived, and any sediment is swept away by the fierce tides. The visibility is not perfect though, and the loch water draining through still held a frustrating amount of sediment.
Sometimes, on a photo dive, everything comes together- subject, lighting, technique. Today was just such a day. On a third dive on the same site, several images worked out, which I knew hadn’t quite cut it on the previous dive “just worked” on the second try.
Having found a good pitch on the loch shore, we decided to stay put for the day. It’s certainly true when they say “if you don’t like the weather in Scotland, then wait 10 minutes”; it’s mostly overcast, but occasionally the Sun breaks through or a squall passes over.
The loch water is pretty clear, due in part to the movement of water and abundant coarse white sand. The dives today were a repeat of yesterday, and I followed the cliff wall to its bottom at 30m, though I did not stay long. Even in the weaker light today, the wall looked pretty impressive, encrusted with brittle stars, anemones and other filter feeders. The highlight of the dive though, we’re the enormous red Sea Hares (Aplysia punctata). These giant sea slugs are over 15cm long and take their colour from the kelp they eat. It’s breeding season and many of these hermaphrodites could be seen hard at it…
I rose before the Sun (even at 4am it is pretty light already) to photograph the sunrise, but it was cloudy, so I went back to bed. We filled our cylinders first thing, up on the main road, where it was unlikely to cause disturbance.
Today we were looking forward to diving the most Northerly Sea Loch, Eriboll and it was with anticipation we made our way to the first shore entry we had identified, Portnancon. Here a track runs down to a tiny harbour, complete with stone jetty. However, the diving did not live up to the picturesque surroundings, being shallow and very silty.
I deterred, we made a leisurely way around the loch, in glorious sunshine, to the little peninsula known as Ard Neakie. After chatting to a local man gathering cockles on the shore for sale in Scrabster, we parked on the beach. The charts indicated a good drop-off on the Northern end of the almost-an-island.
Indeed, this is what we found and after a long surface swim, we dropped into sand in 15m among a huge shoal of small pollack. Following the sandy slope down, we soon found a cliff wall.
The bed was very silty, but the Vis was good as long as we stayed away from the bottom. The wall is encrusted with brittle stars, tunicates, crabs, squat lobsters and huge Sea Loch Anemones.
We ate a well-earned steak dinner on the shore and hatched a plan to dive the same site again tomorrow.
We could see the impressive road bridge below us from our camping spot and, sure enough there was what looked like a good spot to get in the water (though involving a bit of a walk down from the car park), but unfortunately the current was tanking through the narrows at that time.
We identified two other spots: one from the slipway in Kylesku village and the other over the rocky shore to the North of the bridge.
The latter was selected for our dive, but it wasn’t a great choice being full of clinging algae and with very fine silt. Still, there were many lovely crinoids and some very large burrowing anemones to see. However, after the clamber back up the rocks following the dive, a repeat wax not on the cards.
By the time we had blown the tanks, it was too late for a dive at the narrows, so we decided to move North. Gordon Rudley’s book “Dive North West Scotland” is quite dated now (written in the 1980s), but we took his advice to find our way to Droman Pier, which is beyond Kinlochbervie and is outside the mouth of Loch Inchard, so counts as a dive in the Atlantic Ocean!
This proved a worthy detour, with terrific visibility over beautiful white sand and huge kelp sturdily gripping the granite rocks. We saw some Cross Jellyfish (not seen in the South, but otherwise similar to moon jellyfish) and an incredibly docile sleepy dogfish.
The evening saw us past Durness and parked up overlooking the most Northerly sea loch- Loch Eriboll.
Sunday morning dawned bright but very windy. Fortunately, Glen Etive, where we stopped for the night, was sheltered.
After a leisurely start, we dived in the river under the iron bridge. The water level was lower than last time I dived here (April ’10), but this means less current.
The rocks are beautifully sculpted by the fierce flow which scours through at the end of winter and there are many trout to see.
A shallow but very enjoyable dive, with the Sun’s rays bursting though the surface to create dappled light patches in the peat-stained rocks.
As I write this, we have moved North to Fort William, en route to Loch Broom, via Inverness.
The long awaited trip has begun! The Idea for the trip began more than a year ago, between Trev and I on one of our many “dashes” North of the border. “Wouldn’t it be great to get to the top of the map?”. Well, Friday saw us depart on what has become known as “the long hack North”.
Our objective is to dive the most Northerly mainland sea loch , Loch Eriboll, which is on the North coast of Scotland, not far from Cape Wrath (an evocative name, apparently from Norse for “turning point”).
This is a long way from our homes in the midlands of England, so we have decided to take in some fresh water sites we already know, on our way to the top of the map.
Thus, the trusty camper van got us to a convenient parking place near to Birk’s Bridge in the Lake District at 1am in the early hours of Saturday morning.
This site is where a river spanned by the eponymous bridge is cut deep into the limestone with many smooth scalloped hollows carved into the stone. The site is one we have visited in Winter with the river in full flow, and this June morning was in stark contrast with bright sun, fresh green leaves and very modest flow.
The water was crystal clear and there were many small trout to be seen, as well as a large eel. After an hour or so in the water, Trev and I retreated, as the place is very popular with swimmers, many jumping 10 feet into the water to great hoots of appreciation from spectators.
We had plenty of distance to cover in any case and by 9pm, we were ensconsed in Glen Etive, some 250 miles along our great road North.