Cornwall is one of the most-popular diving spots in the UK, mainly due to the fact that it boasts coastlines to the north and the south, so in inclement weather, you can usually still get a dive in somewhere.
Great Britain is unfortunately renowned for its decidedly unpredictable weather conditions. In the middle of summer you can get caught in a torrential downpour of Biblical proportions, even if it had been gorgeous blue skies and warm sunshine the day before. This can mean that organizing a dive trip to our shores is a risky proposition, especially if you are traveling an extensive distance to get to your chosen location. No one wants to spend hours in the car just to then sit in the car park and watch the rain lash against the windscreen in gale force winds!
That is where Cornwall plays a blinder. There are several reasons why this southwest county is one of the most-popular diving areas in the country, but first and foremost has to be the fact that it boasts both a north-facing and south-facing coastline, separated in some cases by as little as a 20-30 minute drive. This means that if a planned dive on the south coast is blown out, then it is more than likely you will be able to get wet somewhere off the north coast, and vice versa.
The North Coast
There are various hots pots along the northern coast where you can find shore-diving sites, or charter boats/dive centres to help you access offshore locations, but the main areas to look at include New quay, St Ives and Padstow.
Shipwrecks include the Princess Royal, a 2,000-tonne Scottish cargo vessel that sank in 40m after being torpedoed in 1918; the Syracusa, a 1,243-tonne schooner that went down in a storm in 1897 and now lies in 30m; the Sphene, an 815-tonne steam ship that sank in 25m in terrible weather conditions in 1946; and perhaps the most unusual, the St Chamond, also known as the Train Wreck due to its cargo of steam locomotives that litter the seabed around it in 28m.
Reef dives that should be on your list are Poltexas Reef, a tidal pinnacle just off Newquay that is smothered in marine life; Newquay’s Headland, an easy access shore dive which has plentiful seaweed and kelp beds hiding spider crabs, dogfish, pollock and other marine life; and Porthminster Reef (also known as The Carracks), near St Ives, which benefits from a shallow depth (15m) and lots of fish and invertebrate life;
The South Coast
Just like its northern sibling, the south coast is dotted with shore- and boat-diving sites, but benefits from a more-developed diving infrastructure. The main areas to focus on include Penzance, the Lizard, Falmouth and Plymouth. There are a multitude of shipwrecks off the south coast, but highlights out of Plymouth include the James Eagan Layne, an American liberty ship that sank in 1945 after being torpedoed.
She is now well broken up, but is covered in marine life, and makes a fantastic second dive after the nearby HMS Scylla, the UK’s first – and still only – artificial reef. A 113-metre-long Leander-class frigate, she was scuttled in March 2004 and was swiftly colonised by marine growth and fish life. As she is fully intact, penetration is possible, but beware, much of the inside is very silty, and there have been several fatalities in the past where divers have ventured inside without the proper equipment or training.
Other cracking wrecks in this vicinity include HMS Elk, a fishing vessel being used by the Royal Navy which sank in 1940 after hitting a mine, and now lies in 30m-35m with large shoals of fish always surrounding her.
Off the Lizard you can barely dive anywhere without coming across some sunken metal, and as well as the Mohegan (see below), one of the better prospects is the Carmarthen, a 4,262-tonne cargo steamship which was torpedoed in 1917 and now lies well broken up in 20m.
Reef dives to check out include Penzance’s Lamorna Cove, which boasts a plethora of marine life and is also an awesome night-diving location; Silver Steps, an easy shallow dive near Falmouth that can deliver seahorses and cuttlefish if you are lucky, as well as the remnants of several World War One German U-boats; Falmouth’s Pendennis Point, which offers dives to the east and west of a rocky peninsula, and is home to all manner of reef life, which finds solace in the numerous nooks and crannies; the Welps, a granite reef running southwest in Veryan Bay that drops to between 18m-25m and is truly spectacular; the Eddy stone, a crop of rocks topped by a lighthouse south of Plymouth which provide some dramatic drop-offs and walls; and Porthkerris on the Lizard, which has a nice shore dive (Drawna Rock) as well as being a launching point to hit sites such as the Manacles, which features several extremely picturesque scenic dives including drop-offs and pinnacles covered in jewel anemones, sea fans, dead man’s fingers and plumose anemones, as well as numerous shipwrecks, including the tragic SS Mohegan, a passenger liner that went down in 1898, taking 104 people with her.
Topside, Cornwall is a truly breathtaking place and for divers who venture down for a week’s holiday, there is plenty to do on those non-diving days, including heading to top attractions like St Michael’s Mount, the Eden Project, Newquay Zoo, Trebah Gardens, Tintagel, Land’s End, Port Isaac and Geevor tin mine. Away from the crowds, the coastline is littered with small towns and villages, many boasting weathered coves and tranquil beaches. Aged pubs and ice cream parlours are a common sight and either of these can make for an enjoyable post-dive option during the day.
Cornwall really does seem to have all its bases covered, but even then, particularly foul weather conditions can rule out diving on either side of the county. That’s when you can remember the most-important thing about UK diving – even if you’re blown-out, there’s always the pub.
No one wants to spend hours in the car just to then sit in the car park and watch the rain lash against the windscreen in gale force winds!
Just like its northern sibling, the south coast is dotted with shore- and boat-diving sites, but benefits from a more-developed diving infrastructure
Knight moves - Don’t miss Tintagel, the 12th-century ruins steeped in the legend of King Arthur.
Enter another world - A great spot to visit on a rainy day is the Eden Project, the world’s largest rainforest ‘in captivity’. There’s even a waterfall inside one of the giant golf-ball-like Biomes!.
After-dive treat - When in Cornwall, make sure you sample some of the local delicacies, namely scrumptious pasties and, of course, the delicious cream teas. Now is it the jam first and then the clotted cream, or the other way around? I am not getting into that argument!.