It is not uncommon for Britains instead of scuba diving in the UK to go abroad to seek warmer waters, one place that tends to get overlooked is Cornwall - sometimes more famed for its surfing than scuba diving. There are actually some fantastic diving opportunities in Cornwall, you may even see dolphins, turtles and seals on your dives (surprised?) with suprisingly good visibility and waters warmed by the gulf stream.
You may be surprised to find an array of brightly coloured corals when diving in Cornwall - reefs that have added the the rich history of Cornwall which has historically been famed as something of a smugglers' lair with the two most dangerous reef hacing claimed more than 200 ships between them.
Shipwrecks in Cornwall
As you can imagine, with reefs claiming so many ships, Cornwall has many wrecks dating back to the 17th century to explore. As early as 1649, The Garland, which was carrying the young Charless II wardrobe was forced onto a reef near St. Ives during a storm. In more recent terms, the Merchant Royal wreck, carrying a hold of silver and gold coins valued at £253,000,000 was discovered in May 2007.
Just a couple of the local wrecks to explore:
HMS Anson Shipwreck (wrecked 1807)
Drawing of the Anson
HMS Anson was a Royal Navy Frigate that left Falmouth on Christmas Eve to reinforce British patrols blockading French Channel ports. Soon after leaving, HMS Anson encountered a storm and turned back to seek shelter but strayed off course.
When Captain Lydiard realised the land ahead of The Lizard - not Falmouth, it was too late. The ship was progressively blown towards the shore and when the anchors failed a desperate attempt to ground the Anson was made, ending in disaster. A mere 100m from the sure the ship hit a reef going broadside towards the shoreline. The mainmast fell into the surf making a bridge of sorts allowing some men to escape across it. However Captain Lydiard and 190 out of 330 men on board died in the surf.
Diving the HMS Anson can be a tricky affair. The whole length of beach from Porthleven to Gunwallow can be treacherous at the best of times. Getting in is easy, but getting back out can prove a challenge with even a slight surf, making this dive more suitable for a boat entry, dispite being so close to the beach.
The large cannon and cannonballs may not be uncovered from the sand and shingle. However each storm can alter what can be seen and when visible (as in May 2004) they make for a spectacular and safe historic dive in less than 9m of water - a dive you will not forget.
Dive with HMS Anson cannon
SS Ilston Shipwreck (wrecked 1917)
Drawing of the SS Ilston
As you can probably guess by the date, the SS Ilston is a World War I wreck. A 2,2426 tonne armed merchantman ship sunk on 30th June 1917 by a U-boat torpedo.
At over 300 feet long, this big wreck lies at a depth of 50m two miles easy of Lizard Point.
The site can be difficult to find and is subject to strong tides. It is possible to dive the wreck on slack water, but unfortunately it doesn't last very long in spring tides. As on all dives around The Lizard the visibility is often remarkable at 20-30m, which makes for a spectacular dive. Clouds of pouting often hover over the wreck with other fish looking for the monstrous congers hiding amonst the wreckage by the boilers.
Marine Life in Cornwall
As mentioned earlier, Cornwall has some interesting marine life. Among some of the more special things you can expect to see are:
Leatherback Turtles (rare - but do visit)
Green Turtles (rare - but do visit)
Noteable Dive Spots in Cornwall
Killegerran Head is a shallow dive with a depth of 8 - 12 metres, so it is suited to novice scuba divers. Composed of a cliff that runs straight down into the water, the visibility here is very good and the abundance of small fish life living amongst the reefs present lots of opportunities for fish spotting or underwater photography.
Killengerran Head is known for the wreck of the Andromeda. The Andromeda is rarely dived however, due to a large amount of kelp.
The Whelps is a reef system dropping off into gullies of 25 - 30 metres. The gully walls are covered in corals and sponges at the higher reaches, turning into fan corals as you descend. Larger fish such as mackerel and cod can be sighted and you can even collect scallops for your post dive supper from the sea bed.
Runnelstone is actually a large complex of peaks and reefs, not in fact a single rock. It is thought to have brought more than 27 ships down so as you can imagine, there is a variety of diving experiences to be found here including The Westminster wreck, which is the largest and most popular wreck in the area. The weather has to be right and good local knowledge is a must as this can be a dangerous dive site. Those with the experience to manage a dive here will be richly rewarded however. Excellent visibility of up to 20 metres and a range of shipwrecks at varying depths complement a varied reef system with lots of fish and corals. Avid wreck divers can explore shipwrecks dating from 1863 (The Febrero) right up to 1920 (The Lake Grafton).
Cornwall Diving Factsheet
Despite their tranquil appearance, Cornish waters can be dangerous (just think about thousands who have perished in shipwrecks on these shores) and their have been fatalities in recent years. Diving safely is possible with good local advice and plenty of forward planning. You can get all the help you need at local dive centres or opt for a liveaboard where all the hard work can be left up to competent skipper. Here are some of the best dive spots in Cornwall.
Average Air Temperature: 11C - 26C
Average Water Temperature: 14C - 20C
Recommended Exposure Protection:You will most likely need a dry suit in order to make sure that you can withstand the temperature lows during the winter, otherwise you can use a semi-dry suit in the warmer months of the summer or a thick wetsuit.
Average Visibility: 15-30m
Coldest Times: November - March
Warmest Times: June - October
Best Times to Dive: The best months to dive in the UK are June and July as the water is at its warmest during this time and it is at the beginning of the diving season, so the crowds aren't likely to be as big as they will be around August.
Worst Times to Dive: The winter months from the end of October up until the beginning of March can be hard on inexperienced cold water divers.
Scuba Diving in Cornwall Video
Recommended Dive Centres in Cornwall
TheScubaSite.com recommends Atlantic Scuba in Cornwall.