Mark Evans loads up the Ford Nugget for a few days of camp n dive on the Cornish Riviera with the clan, and is seduced by the lure of Porthkerris’ Drawna Rocks shore dive
Drawna Rocks, or Dragon Rocks when translated from Cornish, is often cited as one of the best shore-diving sites in the UK, and it is easy to see why. It is very accessible, sheltered in all but east winds, boasts an immense variety of marine life, is extremely easy to navigate, Porthkerris Dive Centre is right on site for air fills, gear rental and purchases and, perhaps most importantly, there is an awesome little beach café within staggering distance for apres-dive coffees, teas and pasties!
The site consists of an island group of rocks some 100 metres from shore, with depths ranging from a maximum of 18-22m depending on the tide, to low single digits on the shallower portions.
The ‘Rocks’ lie a short distance north along the shore from Porthkerris Dive Centre, and space allowing, you can park up literally next to the primary entry point. Here the centre has thoughtfully erected a metal-and-rope handrail to guide you safely over the steepest – and slippiest – part of the rocks leading down to the pebbly beach.
You then simply walk into the water, don your fins and mask, and then you can either descend and head east towards Drawna Rocks, or if your navigation skills are a little rusty, you can surface-swim out over the shallows and drop down next to the most-southerly pinnacle protruding from the water.
The ‘classic’ dive than consists of slowly exploring all of the nooks, crannies and gullies – with captivating names such as Cauldron, Chimney Cove, Steep Corner and The Canyon – along the deeper seaward side of the rocks, before eventually making your way around the northern end and coming back along the shore-side of the rocks in shallower water and then making a right turn on to the beach for your exit after venturing into the aptly named Fish Bowl (it is always swarming with chunky, inquisitive wrasse).
I had dived Drawna Rocks on a couple of different occasions in the past, and each time I had been impressed by the sheer amount of marine life that could be found. This visit was no different, and the two dives I did here with son Luke were simply magical.
As well as the usual array of seaweeds in a rainbow mix of colours, and varying greens of encrusting algae, certain areas were adorned with vivid jewel anemones, as well as ghostly dead man’s fingers. We even found a couple of bright pink sea fans, rising delicately from the seabed. Then there were dahlia and snakelocks anemones adding splashes of colour on the sandy bottom or on the rocks/weed.
Fish life was suitably spectacular – shoals of bass and pollack cruised above the fields of kelp, while weird-looking red gurnards foraged in the sand. You couldn’t help but be mobbed by various species of wrasse, which are immensely curious and will inquisitively follow divers as they explore the reef. Common lobster and spider crabs can be found sheltered in the rocks, or bimbling about the seabed, along with common and velvet swimming crabs, and various types of shrimp. On both dives, we even found several large crawfish, or European spiny lobster, wandering about in the open without a care in the world. We also spotted a distinctive John dory, came across some gigantic sea stars, and disturbed a well-camouflaged cuttlefish.
Drawna Rocks is one of those dives that is great for any level of diver, and we spent nearly 60 minutes underwater on both our dives. Newly certified divers will find it the perfect location to take those first tentative steps as a buddy diving team without an instructor in tow, while more-experienced divers will find much to keep them occupied. It makes a perfect afternoon dive for when you return from one of Porthkerris Dive Centre’s boat dive trips. Photographers in particular will love this dive, as there is plenty for the macro enthusiast to hone their skills, but equally, enough wide-angle opportunities for those wanting to capture their buddy alongside some colourful and friendly marine life.
Getting to Porthkerris
Porthkerris is found between Porthallow and Porthoustock on the Lizard Peninsula. Travelling south, you drive through Cornwall along the A30 and head towards Helston. You will the pass the helicopter base Culdrose on both sides of the road and, after passing the base, you will come to an island – turn left here following the road to St Keverne. At the next island turn right again towards St Keverne – you will now travel for five to ten minutes (speed depending) over ‘Goonhilly’ past the telecommunications centre. You then arrive at St Keverne, turn left into the square keeping the White Hart pub on your left, then turn left out of St Keverne past the fire station on your left. Follow the road towards Porthallow and you will pass some gates on your right with stone eagles at their entrance; shortly after this take the next right, (signposted), then next left to Porthkerris dive centre. There is plenty of parking a short distance from the entry point for the shore dive at Drawna Rocks.
Porthkerris Dive Centre
Porthkerris Dive Centre doesn’t just boast a spectacular shore dive, it also offers boat diving from a small hardboat and a whopping great catamaran, as well as having camping available right on site.
Porthkerris is a family run dive centre located on a private beach offering spectacular views out to sea. It has been owned by Mike and Jo Anselmi since 1991 and is a PADI five-star IDC centre, offering everything from Open Water Diver to Instructor level courses, including several Specialties.
The dive shop is relatively small but well stocked with a variety of equipment, and there is a wide range of rental equipment available for hire, including drysuits and semi-drys.
The Porthkerris fleet is the Celtic Cat, a 14-metre catamaran, and the 8.5-metre Celtic Kitten Power Cat. They are all fully licensed and coded to MCA standards; the latter has a 20-mile operating radius, the larger Celtic Cat has a 60-mile operating radius.
A room with a view
We have done various camp n dive trips over the year, utilising everything from tiny two-man tents to luxury tents and campervans, and for this jaunt down to Cornwall, we were making use of a Ford Transit Custom Nugget campervan.
The Nugget makes for a comfortable long-distance cruiser, and it had more than enough room inside for two adults and a 15 year old. The kitchen is usefully contained in the back, leaving the middle for the seats and dining table, a layout we found very user-friendly and actually quite spacious.
From a mobile diving base point of view, one feature we particularly liked was the little shower that plugs in at the rear – it is only cold water, but great for rinsing off camera housings, etc. There is also a spacious fridge for apres-dive adult beverages, and plenty of prep space for evening meals.
At Porthkerris, we were right on the headland looking out over the beach – a truly stunning location to wake up on a morning, open the sliding side door, and sit under the awning with a cup of coffee.
Photographs by Mark Evans and Porthkerris Dive Centre